Meunier, like Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, is one of the many
mutations of Pinot Noir. The name comes from the appearance
of its leaf undersides and shoots, which look as though they've been
dusted with flour (meunier is French for "miller").
It is also simply called Meunier, or sometimes Gris Meunier in France. In Germany,
it is known as Müllerrebe (miller grape) and
home turf for meunier is the region of Champagne. Its value
in this extreme Northerly appelation is that it buds later, yet ripens earlier
than pinot noir. Pinot meunier therefore usually avoids early
spring damage from frosts or coulure and also is normally harvested before autumn rains bring the danger of bunch rot. It can be more reliably productive
than either pinot noir or chardonnay in this regard and yields of quality fruit frequently reach 6-8 tons per acre.
As an indication of its significance, it dominates the Champagne district of Marne, where meunier is two-thirds of all plantings. Meunier makes up one-third of all Reims district vineyards and 26,000 acres, nearly 40% of overall vineyards in the entire Champagne appellation.
Unlike parent pinot noir, meunier has very few clones.Meunier is a moderately-vigorous variety and does well in almost all soil types1. There is little variation between vineyard locations in crop production. Clusters may vary in size, but are are tightly-packed and the appearance of second crops are typical, rather than occasional.
Only a single mutation of the outer layer of cells causes the differentiations between members of the ancient wine grape family of pinot (variants pinot noir, pinot gris/grigio, pinot meunier, and pinot blanc). With this single layer removed, plants grown from thus-altered scions would be genetically identical to their pinot noir progenitor.
meunier has a slightly higher natural acidity than pinot noir
and gives some brightness, fruitiness, and spiciness when included in Champagne blends.
It is, on the other hand, lower in color and tannin than pinot
noir and wines that use meunier in their blend may not be as
long-lived2. Short longevity also keeps it from many appearances bottled as a stand-alone varietal red wine, although
some areas of France bottle a rosé made predominantly from meunier.
After France, Germany has the most plantings of meunier and it is becoming increasingly popular there. A
little meunier is planted in Australia, where it was originally called Miller's Burgundy and occasionally still
does appear as a varietal red, but mainly survives to bring the authentic mix of Champagne varieties to sparkling wines. There is also a little meunier planted in New Zealand.
Nurseryman Antoine Delmas was first to bring meunier to California in 18503. Several pioneer producers made red meunier wines in Santa Clara and Napa counties. Although other modern California producers (Etude, Handley) have occasionally offered it, only Chandon consistently bottles varietal Meunier; most of the state's 200 acres was planted in the Carneros AVA during the 1990s, primarily for use as a sparkling wine component.
1. Limestone soils tend to cause meunier vines to etiolate, lose their green chlorophyl color and turn whitish. RETURN
2. In spite of its profusion in Champagne, few producers will talk about meunier as an element of their blend; the exception is Krug, who boasts of including meunier and, contrary to what local wisdom would presume, also has a reputation for making one of the longest-lived Champagnes. RETURN
3. Delmas also brought French snails to California, for which many home owners and gardeners would not be inclined to thank him. RETURN
1. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003
2. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006
3. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998
4. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010
5. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983
6. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996