Carmine is a vinifera cross variety that you will
not find in many shops or vineyards or wineries. It was developed by Dr. Harold Olmo
(1910-2006) of the University of California in 1946. (http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/inmemoriam/haroldolmo.htm)
Dr Olmo created Carmine to be a Cabernet alternative for California’s ‘cool’ coastal regions.
It never gained significant acreage in California but can be found in Pennsylvania, Michigan
and Oregon, and New York. We have one row of Carmine that was planted in 1984. Why just one
row? That was all we could get from U of California and we continued planting down the hill
above the shop, leaving no room for expansion. Carmine is the 4th row of vines above the shop
and is a joy to watch in the fall. The leaves turn reddish-burgundy. We have concluded that it
is not a virus but a trait. It tends to overcrop, so we thin the fruit. If the fruit isn't
thinned we have noticed a very distinct bell-pepper taste and aroma. The bell-pepper
characteristic is generally a sign of unripe grapes. Carmine is sold as grapes only.
This unusual grape variety is a vinifera cross of Carignane, Cabernet
Sauvignon and Merlot. It is a very dark reddish-purple wine that is almost opaque in the glass.
Ripe blackberry, black raspberry, luscious fruit and tobacco in the nose and on the palate is
highlighted by a distinct herbal note of tarragon. It is full and ripe in flavor with juicy
fruit and tart acidity over a base of dark chocolate, with substantial tannins drying out the
The wine goes well with red meat, duck or roasted dishes of any ilk; it
makes an intriguing match with a smoky-spicy Szechwan-style dry-shredded beef stir-fry (holding
back on the chili peppers). Try some other spicy food pairing with this red.
It's difficult to predict how long to age Carmine, some years it finishes
into an unbelievably easy drinking wine (those shouldn't be cellared more than a year or two).
Other years the monster tannins can be quite rough those might cellar well for several years.
Then there are those in between finishes. Experience will dictate how long you should
hold the wine. One of our winemakers has made Carmine almost
every year since the first crop and could write this part better than I. If tannins get
the best of you, fine with gelatin to reduce the harshness caused by excessive tannin.
Culturally the buds are quite winter tender, a bit better than Cabernet
Sauvignon and considerably better than Merlot. Vine survival is considerably better than Cab
Sauvignon. In the winter of 2004 we lost 85% of our Cab Sauv but only 16% of the
Carmine. As mentioned above, it over-crops and must be thinned. It ripens a week or two earlier
than Cab Sauv. It is no more difficult to grow than Chardonnay or Riesling - Tom thinks there
is a place for Carmine in the Finger Lakes. The first crop (about 85 lb in 1989) was given to
Bill Murphy of Rochester. The wine Bill made from those grapes won BEST OF SHOW at the 1989
National American Wine Society Convention.
September 2011 We were pleased with the following email:
I enjoyed reading your Carmine (Wine) web page and was surprised
to see the mention of Dr. Harold Olmo as the source. I purchased
his home near Davis, CA and we have the original Carmine vines still
going on the property. They were in bad shape from years of neglect
but we have many of them back and doing quite well.