A Spotlight on Petit Manseng in North Carolina

Continuing with our series of bringing lesser known grapes into the spotlight, we take a deeper look at Petit Manseng. This small cluster and small berry grape make a very interesting wine that most people have never heard of. This grape has great potential here in North Carolina and there are already a few vineyards who have jumped on the Petit Manseng bandwagon. One of which is Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery in the Yadkin Valley.

A brief history of Petit Manseng

Petit Manseng grapes from Wikipedia.

Petit Manseng grapes, image from Wikipedia.

Petit Manseng is a variety from the south-western part of France, specifically the Béarn region. Of all the grapes in the Manseng family, Petit Manseng is most often used to make wine. The other two grapes, Gros Manseng and Manseng Noir, make a lesser quality wine. It has a long history in Béarn and is highly revered for producing a liqueur-like wine with intense flavors and a rich texture.

The grape itself has an early bud break and ripens late into the season. For this reason, it does require a climate that has long summers preferably with a hotter period right around harvest. If allowed to hang on the vines until fully ripe, potential alcohol levels easily reach 15%+ when fermented to complete dryness. Many vintners choose to leave a bit of residual sugar and stop fermentation early. The resulting wine is highly aromatic and has a bold tropical profile often enjoyed after a meal as dessert.

Petit Manseng on the East Coast

Petit Manseng has found its way over to the new world wine regions. Due to its thick skins, small clusters, and small berries, many vineyards along the east coast are turning toward Petit Manseng as an easy to care for wine grape. The grape is well-known throughout Virginia and much of the production takes to the sweeter side of the scale.

North Carolina vineyards have also been planting Petit Manseng. Unlike Virginia, North Carolina Petit Manseng is most often made into a dry wine. This does drive up the alcohol level just a touch (many are in the mid 15% range). The resulting wine typically has bold fruit notes and a full-bodied profile.

Petit Manseng at Jones von Drehle

Three vintages of Petit Manseng from Jones von Drehle

Three Vintages of Petit Manseng from Jones von Drehle.

One of the vineyards that is producing Petit Manseng is Jones von Drehle Vineyards & Winery. Jones von Drehle planted their first grapes in 2007 and have about 30 acres in total. Here you’ll find the standards like Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But you’ll also find a few other unique varietals like Malbec, Tempranillo, and Grenache.

Jones von Drehle has just under 2 acres of Petit Manseng planted in their vineyard (with plans of adding another acre in the next year or two). They planted Petit Manseng in 2009, so the vines are more established. In the vineyard it behaves very well, being resistant to disease and other vineyard pests. Humidity, fungi, and mold have little effect on the loose clusters and the thick skins keep most everything out.

As we mentioned, Jones von Drehle produces a dry Petit Manseng. The idea came when two of the owners, Chuck and Diana Jones, drank a Juraçon Sec (a French dry Petit Manseng). They absolutely enjoyed the wine and were determined to create one of their own. This year marks the fifth vintage of a dry Petit Manseng at Jones von Drehle. With more Petit Manseng being planted in the upcoming years, they plan on experimenting with the varietal. We don’t have any firm details just yet, but Chuck and Diana promise it will be interesting.

Our Own Tasting

We held our own library tasting with three of the vintages we had on hand. We tasted the 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages. Read on for our tasting notes as well as some technical information about each vintage.

2015 Petit Manseng – Harvested on 9/8/15 at 25.8% brix, 15.6% ABV. Overall this was a bright and fruity wine. The fruit ranged from pear to tropical pineapple. The nose was floral with a touch of honey. The alcohol was a little more noticeable on this wine but faded out with a soft spice.

2014 Petit Manseng – Harvested on 9/24/14 at 24.2% brix, 14.3% ABV. The fruit on this wine was much more intense with white peaches and a mineral rich mid-palate. The wine was also slightly more acidic which gave it a crisp honeyed-pear finish.

2013 Petit Manseng – Harvested on 10/4/13 at 23.7 brix, 14.4% ABV. The extra time in the bottle for this wine helped bring out more of a musky nose. A slight petroleum note could also be found (which is common in older white wines with high acidity). The flavors had mellowed out and turned to an almost oily texture, covering the tongue evenly. The flavors leaned toward candied pears and a rich honey complexity.

Of the three wines, the favorites of the group were split between the 2013 and 2015 vintages. Those who liked the 2013 enjoyed the complexity and depth that vintage had to offer. Those who liked the 2015 enjoyed the fresh fruits and cooling effect the higher alcohol brought with it. All three wines, in our opinion, showed really well and each had their own characteristics unique to that vintage.

More Information

If you’ve never had Petit Manseng before, we highly recommend you head out to the vineyard and do a tasting. Their current vintage is the 2015 which is available in their tasting room. They also distribute to wine shops and restaurants throughout the area so you may even find an older vintage if you look there.

Jones von Drehle Vineyards is located at 964 Old Railroad Grade Road in Thurmond, NC 28683.

 

Check out our other posts about Jones von Drehle on our blog.

Posted by Matt Kemberling

Leave a Reply