One of the favorite questions for Virginia wine aficionados to ponder is this: What is Virginia’s red grape? Having a single varietal that you can bottle and sell is vital in today’s wine market, and it sure helps if that grape is big, red, and easy for consumers to remember. See, for example, California Cabernet Sauvignon, Australian Shiraz, and Argentinean Malbec. For many years Virginia vintners have been pushing Cabernet Franc with mixed success. Now we may have found our breakout star, the grape that’s going to make Old Dominion vino famous. Say hello to Petit Verdot.
Petit Verdot is one of the red grapes used in the French region of Bordeaux, where it predates even venerable old Cabernet Sauvignon. But it’s merely a blending grape there, adding tannins and color to the main players. For years its acreage in France has been dwindling as vintners tire of dealing with its habit of ripening much too late in Bordeaux’s cooler climate. California and Australia, where late ripening isn’t a problem, have experimented with PV, but given the dominance of each area’s star grape, it’s unlikely that it will make much of an impact in those places. In Virginia, however, Petit Verdot solves a few problems common with other reds, namely an inability to retain acid and tannins. Our wines have long seemed thin and lightweight when compared with the fat, bold, Wall Street trader style of wine favored by critics and consumers alike. We’ve never had a big red. Until now, that is, with the purple and brooding Petit Verdot.
By my count 12 wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail make a varietal Petit Verdot. I am uncertain who first bottled the grape on its own, but Jefferson Vineyards got going early, producing one in 2001. Both White Hall and Veritas put out a PV in 2002. Three years later the grape came alive in the state with everyone who had previously been on the Cab Franc tip scrambling to produce a Petit Verdot. The aforementioned wineries all still make great PVs, with Pollak, Michael Shaps, and northern Virginia’s Linden being three more to seek out.
In addition to California and Australia, you’ll find the occasional 100 percent Petit Verdot in Italy, France and South Africa, but basically no one is truly excited about it except us. Petit Verdot is a wine we can call our own the way Oregon has taken possession of Pinot Noir. We’ve got a long way to go, however. In 2007, the acreage of Petit Verdot in Virginia still wasn’t enough for the state agricultural survey to bother measuring it.
This, wine lovers, is a call to action. It’s time to start ripping up Norton to make way for Virginia’s great red hope. The most important work has already been done for us. A website called The Ultra Geek Store offers I Heart Petite (sic) Verdot stickers, thongs, throw pillows, maternity clothes, baby clothes, dog clothes…Everything we need to start a revolution!