Melon de Bourgogne: the white grape variety at the base of Muscadet
Melon de Bourgogne (or simply Melon) is a white grape variety originating, as its name suggests, from the Burgundy region. It is better known as Muscadet , the name of the wine it produces. It is the dominant grape variety in Nantes on the coast of Brittany. Like any grape variety, it has its own characteristics. But its history is very particular, because its predominance in the region of Nantes is the result of a terrible winter.
History and kinship
Melon is a grape variety whose history is long and takes place in several places. As its name suggests, it originates from Burgundy. But it was removed from this vineyard in the 15th century, as other varieties proved to perform better in this climate. However, its vine's ability to resist frost made Melon attractive to winemakers in Anjou , where it was also marginalized by other grape varieties.
At the same time, it was attracting the attention of Dutch distillers further downstream, who needed large quantities of wine to make cognac. The Dutch therefore began planting it in the 17th century near Nantes, the most convenient port for shipping wine to Holland. The Nantes region was mainly dominated by red grape varieties . But when the winter of 1709 devastated the vineyards, freezing coastal waters, Melon was one of two grape varieties to survive. Since then, it has dominated the entire Loire-Atlantique, in particular because of its historical resistance to this terrible winter, but also because of the demand from Dutch traders in the 18th century.
Today, it is cultivated on more than 11,000 hectares of French vineyards , and occupies the largest single- varietal vineyard in Europe. It is also known by the names of white Burgundy, muscadet, green Burgundy, white bourguignon, white melon, pétouin, white malin … Moreover, it gives a generally low acid and very pleasant wine.
Regarding his family, the white Burgundian would be part of the great family of Noiriens. Like 16 other grape varieties, it would come from cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais blanc (old variety now extinct).
Ampelography and skills
The white burgundy grows alongside a young twig with a red tip. Its leaves have a yellow-green appearance when young. Adults, the latter have an orbicular shape, a slightly open petiole sinus, straight tooth edges and a revolute limb. It is also the shape of its leaves that earned it its name melon, because of the resemblance to the shape of the fruit of the same name. In addition, its berries are rounded and small, and the clusters are small to medium in size.
White Burgundian has an upright habit, and the eyes at its base are generally not very fertile. That's why it requires a little big size. It has excellent cultivation skills on clay-siliceous and cool soils. Moreover, it is susceptible to diseases such as mildew and gray rot, due to the compact nature of its clusters. On the other hand, it is not afraid of powdery mildew and eutypiosis.
Melon ideally produces dry, balanced, light white wines with discreet aromas. Although its wines were originally rather neutral, the producers have refined their winemaking techniques, in order to produce wines with distinctive attributes. Precisely, white Burgundy often goes through aging on lees, which involves bottling without filtration and at the latest at the end of June. This vinification method gives roundness, suppleness and additional freshness to the wine; it also protects the wine from oxidation .
For the most part, Melon wines are best drunk young, two or three years after bottling, due to their poor aging potential. But in exceptional vintages, some Muscadet sur lie can be stored for several years and, in rare cases, for decades.
The main names
Despite its name, which indicates its origin, white Burgundy reaches its best expression in the Loire . Thus, it represents the only grape variety of the Muscadet, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu and Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellations . It is rarely planted elsewhere, but it is still found in some ordinary and Grand Ordinary Burgundy wines .
Discover other articles on various other grape varieties such as our article on Carignan .