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.
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.
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.
French Winophiles Explore French Grapes Outside of France
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- Allison & Chris at AdVINEtures share French Grapes Around the World: Chardonnay in BC’s Okanagan Valley.
- Andrea of The Quirky Cork declares Ooo la la! French Grapes in Turkey!
- Gwendolyn of Wine Predator examines Bordeaux Grapes Growing in West Coast Vineyards.
- Jeff of FoodWineClick! takes A Reluctant Look at French Grapes Outside of France.
- Jill of L’Occasion features Rhône Grapes in Paso Robles.
- Melanie of Wining with Mel offers French Grapes Around the World: Spotlight on Niagara Gamay.
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings examines Elevating French grapes outside France at Texas’s William and Chris Vineyards.
- Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles looks at Roussanne 9009 km from Home.
- Susannah of Avvinare posts Petit Manseng Flourishes In Virginia.
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm is Exploring Malbec outside of France Paired with Pineapple Teriyaki Salmon.
- And host Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla surveys Gamay Around the Globe: From Burgundy to the Willamette Valley + Mussels, Pici, and A Bottle from New Zealand.