West Coast Trousseau

An obscure grape found in the Jura region of France and in the Douro region of Portugal has become indelibly linked to the rise of some of California’s most renowned boutique wineries

As recently as the 1960s, California hosted thousands of acres of Trousseau Gris, though at the time it was better known as Grey Riesling. Today, however, a single 10-acre vineyard in Sonoma County remains the only source of this light-skinned mutation of Trousseau Noir in California, and there are only a few small plantings in Oregon. While Trousseau Noir vines are slightly more common, my estimates suggest they likely total less than 75 acres across the two states combined.

Nonetheless, these two grapes and the wines they produce have played an outsized role in redefining what California wine can be, and have fundamentally changed the fortunes of more than one winery. More than one of those producers thinks the grape may be better suited to many coastal sites in California than Pinot Noir, especially in the face of a warming climate.

A tale of two Trousseaus

According Wine Grapes, DNA studies demonstrate that Trousseau originated in the Jura region of France, but the grape also has a long history on the Iberian peninsula, where it is more commonly known as Bastardo and features as a historical component in port. This was probably the primary reason the grape ended up making its way to America (given the 19th century love of fortified wines), though no one is entirely sure when and how that happened.*

Some theorise that Trousseau Noir may have been one of the hundreds of vine cuttings imported by Agoston Haraszthy from Europe in 1861. Thanks to a rumoured dispute with the state of California over the expenses from his trip (ultimately leading to Haraszthy’s supposedly refusing to provide his cuttings to state officials for cataloguing), no authoritative records of what he imported remain. 

According to Thomas Pinney’s A History of Wine in America: From Beginnings to Prohibition, Benjamin Wilson, a prominent wine producer in the Los Angeles area between 1852 and the early 1870s was known to have been producing Trousseau Noir. And a published report from the University of California at Davis in 1885 shows that several other producers in both northern and southern California were producing Trousseau Noir in both still and fortified varieties by 1883.

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