Petit Manseng is a high-acid white grape that has its origins in southwestern France in the region of Béarn.
Petit Manseng is the main variety of the Jurançon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh appellations in France. It has likely been grown in the Jurançon since the mid-16th century. The grape also has an established home in the Basque region of Spain, where it was said that a few drops of the wine was used to baptize a future king of France, Henry IV, in his home in Navarre.
While southwestern France calls Petit Manseng its own, there are increased plantings of the grape in the Languedoc in France, Piedmont of Italy, and Uruguay, where it was brought by Basque colonists. In the United States, the grape is planted in California and Virginia.
Petit Manseng was brought to Virginia by Tony Wolf of Virginia Tech in 1987, along with other varieties, to see how they would adapt and grow in Virginia’s climate. The grapes are small, thick-skinned, cold-hardy, and grow in loose clusters which allows for drying in Virginia’s humidity, and lessening the risk of mold and rot.
Thirteen years after Tony Wolf brought Petit Manseng to Virginia, Horton Vineyards released the first commercially made wine made from the grape in the state. As of the 2017 Virginia Commercial Grape Report, there were 62 fruit-bearing acres and 14 acres not mature enough to bear fruit in the state.
Wines made from Petit Manseng have high acidity which is a hallmark of this grape. The high acidity also makes them a great candidate for making an off-dry or sweet wine, as the acidity can be countered with sweetness to create a beautifully balanced wine. Also, the high acidity means that the grape can hang late in the vineyard while retaining that acidic brightness as the grapes become shriveled and the sugars concentrated. The late-harvested grapes can be made into outstanding dessert wines. Wines from Petit Manseng will usually be highly aromatic, with aromas and flavors of peach, citrus, mango, passion fruit and pineapple.
There are many producers of Petit Manseng in Virginia including Michael Shaps, King Family Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, Lovingston Vineyards, Glen Manor Vineyards, Grace Estates, Linden Vineyards, Granite Heights and many more. In fact, Granite Heights Winery in Opal Virginia (outside of Warrenton), will be in store at City Vino pouring four of their wines on Saturday, February 23rd, from 12 Noon to 4 p.m. including a wine made from Petit Manseng, in addition to their multiple-award-winning 2012 Lomax Reserve (most recently awarded gold in the 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup) and others. Please come out and meet Toni Kilyk