Country of origin: France
Berry color: Blue-black
Common synonyms: Merlot noir, Merlau rouge, Crabutet noir, Plant Medoc, Alicante, Seme dou blube, Seme de la Canau, Semilhoun rouge, Bordeleze belcha, Medoc noir
Comments: The TTB-approved prime name is Merlot.
Little is known of the origin of the variety, but it has been cultivated in the Bordeaux region since the eighteenth century. The first true botanical description was in 1854 by V. Rendue who described it favorably for blending with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon and as a component of the great wines of Medoc. A resurgence of planting in France since the 1970s, particularly in the south, makes it the third most planted black variety there. Antoine Delmas imported the first vines to California in the 1850s; only a few acres existed after Repeal. It was included in the California planting boom of the 1970s, and plantings soared after 1987. Merlot acreage grew faster than that of any other world-class variety in the 10 years that followed with the exception of Viognier. It is also widely planted in Italy, Central Europe, and South America.
Merlot has medium-high vigor with a trailing growth habit. Excess vigor quickly creates a dense canopy due to lateral shoot development. It is adapted to cool to warm climate regions. Merlot does well on deep, sandy loam or well-drained soils that have good moisture-holding capacity.
Merlot is susceptible to poor fruit set if cool weather occurs during bloom, which often contributes to seasonal variations in productivity. Its own-rooted vines tend to accumulate high levels of nitrogen compounds, including nitrates, during bloom, especially during cool weather. Thus, judicious and moderate nitrogen fertilization is recommended; post-bloom applications are advisable. The use of resistant rootstocks tends to minimize or even eliminate this problem. Merlot is somewhat sensitive to soil problems that involve zinc deficiency, salinity, and cold, excessively wet conditions.
Historically, Merlot was primarily used for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties to add softness and fruit complexity, shorten aging requirements, and to hedge the risk of cool, late-ripening conditions in Bordeaux. In recent years it has also become popular as a full-bodied, high-quality varietal wine that can be marketed sooner than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis is the source of Foundation grapevine material for the nursery industry, and the staff can provide information about possible sources for obtaining this stock.
The National Grape Registry (NGR) contains information about varieties of wine, juice, and table grapes, raisins, and grape rootstocks available in the United States. Growers, nurseries, winemakers and researchers can find background information and source contacts for those grape varieties in this single convenient location.
Fidelibus, M, Christensen, L, Katayama, D, Verdenal, P and Cathline, K. 2007. Fruit Characteristics of Six Merlot Grapevine Selections in the Central San Joaquin Valley, California. Am. J. Enol. Vitic. 58(2):259-261. Abstract