Monday, December 30, 2019

Dry Petit Manseng Ascends in Virginia During 2019

"Petit Manseng is one of the key white grape varieties of South West France. Used predominantly in Jurancon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, it is most commonly vinified as a richly sweet wine with stonefruit characters such as peach and apricot, citrus and sweet spice." --
Twenty years ago, two Virginia wineries planted plots of Petit Manseng using cuttings from Virginia Tech’s Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center experimental vineyard near Winchester.  The extension agents recognized that the grape's thick skins and loose clusters would be advantageous during Virginia's humid summers.  Soon afterward Jennifer McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards petitioned the precursor to the Alcohol and Trade Tax Bureau (TTB) to approve Petit Manseng as a valid grape variety so that the grape's name could be used on a wine label. However, before approval was granted,  Horton Vineyards was able to label their first Petit Manseng vintage as that grape name because it had submitted the wine label as a place name and not as a grape name. Pretty sneaky. Over the succeeding years, Petit Manseng made small strides in the Virginia wine industry, but primarily as a dessert or off-dry offering as its inherent acidity balances residual sugar -- reminiscent of Riesling.

However, today it is dry Petit Manseng that has elevated the grape to public consciousness within the Commonwealth as two were included in the 2019 Governor's Case Club. During the 2019 Denver BevFluence Experience, we received samples of these wines which consisted of the Governor's Cup winning Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2016 ($25) and the gold-winning Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2016 ($30). What makes these wines exceptional is that they maintain the grape's inherent bright tropical characters and provide a newly discovered depth and weight. he Horton version includes five percent each Viognier and Rkatsiteli which help explain some stone fruit character and both were fermented primarily in oak introducing Burgundian techniques.

These two wineries are linked with other interesting facts. In 1991, when Horton's first crop was harvested, they leased Montdomaine Cellars as a production facility for the next 5 years and used the Montdomaine trademark during that period. In 1995, Michael Shaps moved to Virginia to work at Jefferson Vineyards as head winemaker and general manager and in 2007 he and a partner purchased that same Montdomaine facility to open Virginia WineWorks. And recently longtime Horton winemaker Mike Heny, who started production of the 2016 Horton Petit Manseng, left in late 2017 for a similar position at Virginia WineWorks. Heny was then replaced by Andy Reagan who conducted the final blending trials for the Petit Manseng and it was Reagan who had previously succeeded Shaps at Jefferson Vineyards. Plenty of winemaking talent making the rounds in Virginia. Cheers to 2019.

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