Maréchal Foch: The Forgotten Grape of the Okangan

Wine is getting expensive these days. A bottle of Okanagan red usually costs upwards of $20. The best stuff goes for over $150. Ouch. Yes, I understand that only so much wine of so high a quality can be produced per acre, that the land costs way too much, and French vinifera grapes are awfully picky to grow at the northern limit of their range, and all that, but I also understand that back in the 1970s, we used to grow Maréchal Foch grapes. Their yields are high, they are ridiculously easy to grow, harden off well, and survive all but the coldest winters. Foch makes a dry wine, rather dusty on the palette, that’s really good for roasting lamb on an open spit or sloshing into glasses at a barbecue, and that’s pretty much what most people want. Foch was a victim of NAFTA, however, and was pulled out by the mile. And then, the creation of the VQA system for French varietals restarted the wine industry into the success it is today. Curiously, among those hundreds of Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons, some vineyards are still happily producing Foch, on old vines, and are selling it at a premium. I get that. Here it is as a port, even:

Maréchal Foch Produced in a Port Style

Okanagan Falls

What I don’t get is why on earth we don’t plant a thousand acres of this darned thing and produce wine that would blow the $9 and $10 European farm wines and imported by tank truck and Bottled in B.C. wines out of the water. I just don’t get that. Wine for regular folks? Now that’s a concept.  And while we’re at it, why not try to reproduce that amazing Meritage that a small group of us in Keremeos produced every year for a decade, as long as we could still get the grapes: equal parts of Foch, Chelois, and Chancellor. Each hit one part of the palette well; knitted together by 6 weeks in an oak barrel they were a gem.

I love a $30 or $40 or $50 dollar bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, but I love a $10 Malbec, too. It’s a rough but sturdy country grape. There’s honour in that. This guy at Urban Diner will likely disagree. If we could increase the yield per acre by a factor of, say, 5 or 6, we sure can.


3 replies »

    • Thanks for the tip! I assumed it would be pretty great. I like the fact that Wild Goose wines are grown on alkaline river rock, rather than the heavy clays of the north or the light sands of the south. You can taste it in the wine, and it’s complex and exciting. Winston and I walk past there several times a year. Hint: Meyer around the corner under the bluff has a fantastic but really pricey Pinot Noir. It is pretty grand, though.


      • Oh, interesting to learn that, about the river rock. It does flavour the wine. The Pinot Gris is kind of flinty. I love driving up onto that ridge too where the winery is. Wonderful air and vistas.


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