Gouais Blanc is an ancient white wine grape varietal - that is not planted or seen a great deal today. But it is an extremely important ancestor to many traditional and well known European grape varietals. The name Gouais derives from an old French word - ‘gou’, a colloquial reference to its historical status as being a grape of the peasants.
In medieval times, Gouais Blanc is believed to have been widely planted across central and north-eastern France. It was used to produce simple, sharp white wines and with only a hint of residual sugar. Primarily used to blend with less acidic grapes to give it a bit of lift to the wine - or distilled for use in brandy's or fortified wines. Typically grown in poor soils that were not suited for the much more highly regarded Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris.

 

Its history long before medieval times is not known with great certainty, and is the subject of much conjecture. Gouais Blanc has been proposed to of originated in Croatia (specifically Pannonia), but the Vitis International Variety Catalogue currently lists it as originating from Austria, which can be interpreted as likely originating somewhere in Central Europe. Gouais Blanc was also grown in the Jura, but phylloxera almost wiped out the varietal in France, and it now survives only in the INRA collection at Domaine de Vassal, Montpellier.
DNA research in 1999 identified Gouais Blanc as the parent of a large number of classical European grape varietals. Having been widely grown in proximity to Pinot Noir, the two varietals had many opportunities to cross. The vine crosses obviously showed good vigour and were widely propagated. This means that many of today's successful grape varietals have Gouais Blanc as a parent; Aligoté, Melon, Gamay Noir and the most famous of which is Chardonnay. It also produced Riesling when pollinated with the wild grape Traminer, and when crossed with Chenin Blanc it produced Colombard.
As mentioned, Gouais Blanc until now has survived mostly as a museum curiosity. Since the middle ages there have been regular attempts to ban the grape from areas of France, which probably says something about its characteristic winemaking qualities. However, Gouais Blanc has continued to be commercially grown in several vineyards in Switzerland and in recent years, a few historically interested wine producers have started to plant small amounts of Gouais Blanc, it has also been grown for over 100 years in Rutherglen - Australia.