Petit Manseng Flourishes In Virginia

Rotonda at the University of Virginia

When I was a girl, my parents took me to Jefferson’s home and to the University of Virginia. I remember how impressed I was with the campus, the State, and how much I wanted to seem like a college student although I was only 13. Fast forward many years and I found myself at the Society of Wine Educators conference, I attended a seminar about wines from Virginia entitled, “Virginia: the Bordeaux of North America?” A pretty big claim but I was willing to listen because the speaker was none other than Jay Youmans, MW from the Capital Wine School. Jay is a wonderful speaker and a lovely person to boot, as well as being an incredibly knowledgeable member of the wine community.

Photo Credit @HortonWebsite

We learned during the lesson that male settlers in Virginia in the 1600s were called to plant at least 10 grape vines. We also learned that Thomas Jefferson tried to grow grapes in Virginia for 30 years in the 1700s but failed to produce even a single bottle of wine. George Washington too apparently struggled at Mount Vernon to produce a wine but to no avail. In 1873, a Virginia wine was finally made from Norton. Eventually, in the 1900s a series of wineries were opened. In 1973, Chardonnay was grown successfully at the Waverly Estate while in 1976, Gianni Zonin established Barboursville Vineyard.

Today there are 280 wineries in Virginia and the state is the sixth largest wine producing state behind California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. Red and white grapes originally from France grow here. Two whites of note, Viognier and Petit Manseng. I took the road less traveled or better, my focus today is Petit Manseng.

Petit Manseng hails from Southwestern France. It grows in Gascony, Jurançon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh,  In France, it often produces gorgeous sweet wines but in Virginia, they also make it into a dry wine. According to the Horton website, “It is famous for being the only wine used to baptize a royal child namely Henry IV.” Petit Manseng is a white wine variation of the black Manseng grape. It is called Petit because it has small berries.

According to the Virginia Tech website, Tony Wolf brought the grape to Virginia after having bought budwood from NYS Agricultural Station in Geneva, NY. He gave it to a few wineries, including Horton whose Petit Manseng hooked me.

The founder of the vineyard first began making wine in 1983 in Madison County. He began to understand what the weather was and what grapes were needed and he began to travel to France to for the right grapes. Virginia has long summers but it is very humid and needs grapes that have thick skins and loose bunches to avoid rot.

Viognier and Petit Manseng both fit the bill, along with other varieties and planting native Norton. In 1989, Dennis and partner Joan Bieda bought 55 acres and Horton Vineyards was born. They used an “open lyre” training system, which promotes ripening and gives air to the vines.

Petit Manseng 2016

Today, Dennis is no long with us but his legacy lives on and grows with his wife, daughter and granddaughter, Sharon, Shannon and Caitlin. They are doing very well and won the coveted Governor’s Cup. In 2019, 510 wines were submitted from about 100 producers, all crafted from 100% Virginia fruit. Their Petit Manseng 2016 won best overall wine.

Other wineries have planted Petit Manseng and are working on different versions of the grape including Veritas winery. The winery was started  in 1999 by Andrew and Patricia Hodson. They planted 5 acres of grapes which has blossomed into over 50 acres these past 20 years. The couple who actually hail from the UK and have three children. Their eldest daughter named Emily is the head winemaker.  The other two children George and Chloe also work in the business.

Others are working with Petit Manseng as well, Early Mountain Vineyards, King Family and Williamsburg Winery.

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14 comments

  1. Thanks for the introduction to wines in Virginia. I remember dropping my college boyfriend off at U.Va on my way to Italy (long story!) but I don’t remember drinking any wines. I’ll have to fix that if I ever get back out there. Cheers, Susannah. Thanks for joining us this month.

  2. Never tasted a bad wine when I was wine-tasting in Charlottesville. I didn’t try any Petit Manseng while I was there. I was too focused on the reds. Can’t wait to revisit and explore their whites.

  3. Thanks for reading. @Pinny you should definitely try the white wines, @Andrea I have had a couple from France @Camilla I’d love to hear that story and @Jeff I loved your cranky post :).

  4. We have yet to get to Virginia but not only have we not been there, we’ve never had a Petit Manseng…anywhere!

    • Petit Manseng is not that common there or in France, except in certain parts of the Southwest. When you do get to Virginia, don’t miss out on this one though, especially with some spicy cuisines. Perfect pairing. Cheers and thanks for reading. Susannah

  5. I can totally picture you at 13, wandering the UVA campus and imagining yourself as a student! And thanks for another nudge to expand my knowledge of Virginia wine. It’s an area I have little experience with but am so very curious about it.

    • You are funny Lauren. Yes I wanted to get away from my parents in the worst way and be a student. Virginia wines are great, you need to try some. Cheers.

  6. Virginia is so steeped in our countries history. The pilgrims really were sent here to try and grow wine grapes for the crown, which at the time was an epic fail (poor Thomas Jefferson). It’s been a few years since I have visited and while I am unfamiliar with Horton, I do love King Family and Veritas. It is likely at one of those two wineries that I tasted my first Petit Manseng.
    Thank you for spotlighting this region and this wine.

    • Hey Robin, Horton has some wonderful wines, particularly this one and a long history. It’s interesting how involved the state was in the founding of this country. Cheers.

      • There are so many wineries to explore. Horton will definitely be on my list the next time I am able to explore Virginia Wine Country!

  7. Great story! Thanks for sharing. I’ve often been impressed with VA’s wines when I’ve had a chance to try them, and this one sounds so interesting. Also love the bits of history woven throughout and that the family’s women have taken up the mantle at the winery.

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