Grolleau or Grolleau Noir is a red wine grape varietal grown primarily in the Loire Valley - France. The name is derived from the old French word ‘grolle’, meaning ‘crow’ and said to reflect the deep black berries and leaves of the vine which resemble that of a crows feathers. The grape is most commonly used to produce rosé wine, particularly in the Anjou region. Though Grolleau can make low-alcohol red wines which are very juicy and food friendly.
In the Anjou appellation, for red wines - Grolleau Noir has a maximum permitted amount of 10%. This is the reason why several produces make wines classified as ‘Vin de France’, because they use 100% Grolleau and hence do not meet the rules of the appellation. The first documented plantings of Grolleau occurred in 'Charente' in the early 19th century.
Current research and DNA testing believes the grape is likely related to the ancient varietal Gouais Blanc. The grape's greatest popularity occurred during the mid-to-late 20th century with the widespread marketing of Rosé d'Anjou wine, of which Grolleau was the principal component. Often blended with Gamay, Grolleau-based Rosé d'Anjou was a sweet wine.
The area planted to Grolleau has dropped significantly since the 1950s which had almost 12,000 hectares planted. Towards the turn of the 21st century, Rosé d'Anjou and by extension Grolleau, started to fall out of favour in lieu of the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon dominated rosé Cabernet d'Anjou. Now there is only a little over 2000 hectares scattered throughout the Loire Valley.
The Grolleau vine is found mostly in the Middle Loire region where it is a permitted grape varietal for the rosé Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) of Anjou, Touraine and Saumur AOC. The grape is limited to just rosé wines and is not permitted by AOC regulations into the red blends of these regions. It is also permitted as an ingredient in the sparkling wines of the Crémant de Loire, Anjou AOC and Saumur AOC.
Grolleau is a high yielding grapevine that ripens reliably and relatively early for the cool climate Loire Valley typically right after Gamay, producing medium-sized bunches. The vine tends to bud early which renders it susceptible to damage from spring frosts. Its long branches make its susceptible to wind damage, requiring that it be planted near hillside shelter. Grolleau is sensitive to several grape diseases including excoriose (dead-arm) and stem rot.
The wines that this red grape produces are known to be quite neutral, having markedly high acidity levels and a slight bit of sweetness to balance it out. The wine which is produced by the Grolleau is notably low in terms of alcohol content, while having high acidity levels. It is also quite often combined with the Gamay grape varietal to produce various blended wines. This grape varietal is also permitted in various AOCs of the region.
The grapes are typically thin skinned with few phenolic compounds, but after veraison they produce colour ranging from grey to bluish/black depending on the clone. There are currently five clones of the Grolleau vine authorized for viticulture in France. Grolleau produces light bodied, often made in off-dry to medium sweet style, leaving some sugars in the wine to balance with the acidity.
Grolleau (a.k.a. Groslot) is responsible for one sixth of the Loire’s total production and the third most cultivated red grape varietal after; Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Grolleau is also used in blends to make drier rosés such as the 'Rosé de Loire'. When yields are controlled it can make charming rosé wines as well as an early drinking style red wine. Also used in the production of sparkling wine for its ability to produce fine bubbles.