This is the story of the Petit Verdot grape variety in the vineyard and how it ended up in our glasses. When you meet the grape, the way you look at its wine will change, and you’ll appreciate the wine you’re drinking.
Petit Verdot is a red grape variety thought to have originated from Gironde, the southwest department of France that hosts Bordeaux. The name Petit Verdot means “small green” probably to take attention to its high acidity, or the small unripe green berries that the bunches can have when the weather condition during flowering is unfavorable.
It’s one of the allowed red grape varieties in Bordeaux, together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Carménère. In Bordeaux blends, Petit Verdot is used for its dark color, high tannin and acidity, and also complex aromas, including floral such as violets, or spicy notes.
Haut-Médoc is one of the highly reputed areas of the left bank of Bordeaux, making powerful red wines with good aging potential. This September, all the vineyards in this area were getting ready for the harvest time as usual, soon after it was time for Petit Verdot. Let’s have a deeper look on Petit Verdot and its journey in Haut-Médoc.
When you see Petit Verdot vines during summer, you’d be surprised to see how much grapes it can carry, it can produce more than 2 clusters per shoot. If it’s not regulated, you can end up with a really high yield. That’s why there’s a limit for that in the appellation rules. Another characteristic that might take your attention is the shape of its leaves which look like small hearts.
Petit Verdot shows later flowering and veraison in comparison to other varieties of the region, such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, said the viticulturist of this Petit Verdot plot. However, he added, it’s very fast in the period between veraison and ripening. This harvest, it happened as expected and Petit Verdot was just ready to be harvested just after Merlot and before Cabernet Sauvignon. In the literature, you’ll often see Petit Verdot will even have later maturation than Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on microclimate, and preference of the producer.
This year, at the beginning of September grape tasting activities started. The berries had notable acidity and there were some small and immature berries in the bunches, which was not surprising for Petit Verdot. A week later, they already had a good decrease in acidity. When Petit Verdot grapes reached their optimum maturity in the third week of September, the berries were tasty with a good sugar and acidity balance. They were ready to be hand harvested.
Hand harvest is generally preferred in this area for quality and for keeping integrity of the grapes until reaching to the winery. Although technology in harvester machines is incredibly improved, hand harvesting is still a valid method to respect the vines and their fruits. Moreover, it provides an advantage in the selection of the grapes. In our case, the harvested Petit Verdot grapes went to the first selection table right in the vineyard. Before they were put in the bins, the leaves and immature bunches were selected by hand. Following, the tractor took the bins to the reception of the grapes at the winery where the grapes started their journey of winemaking.
At the winery, Petit Verdot passed from destemmer, for separating the berries from the stems. Although quite efficient, there might be still some stems left after this process, so some wineries prefer using another step, such as automatic sorting machine, or sorting table to clean more. Final step is to pass from the hand selection of the berries in a sorting table, to make sure only the healthy and mature berries were able to reach the tank. These painstaking sorting steps are very important for quality of the wine, especially for varieties like Petit Verdot which can have unripe berries within clusters.
The selected quality berries are transferred to a wooden tank for fermentation. After inoculation of yeast, Petit Verdot started the fermentation and finished it in a week. During this period, different cap management techniques such as pump-overs and punch-downs were made. After a week full of alcohol production, it still stayed ten more days in the same tank to continue with maceration and malolactic fermentation. Once it’s ready, the wine is drained, and separated from its pomace. Final destination is the oak barrels where Petit Verdot wine will age during months.
Tasting Petit Verdot in each step of the journey is another experience, grape juice, fermenting wine, and final wine. Before fermentation, the juice was the pure representation of nature, you could feel the soil which the grapes are coming from, and you could smell a fruit garden. The magic of winemaking is keeping the primary aromas coming from the grapes and obtaining the secondary aromas that develop during the fermentation by yeast action. Achieving this process successfully, Petit Verdot became a promising young wine. Although it will be only a part of the blend, it could even be a single varietal wine with its stable dark cherry color, pleasant red fruit aromas, strong body and good acidity. Going further we’re expecting to have aging to soften the tannins, balance out the acidity, and add tertiary aromas such as toast and hazelnuts. It’ll be interesting to see how the aging plays a role months later in this wine’s organoleptic characteristics.
This was the story Petit Verdot had been going through from vineyard to wine glass in Haut-Médoc during harvest 2015. Respecting the characteristics of the grape in the vineyard, applying correct winemaking techniques and aging allows Petit Verdot to express its best characteristics, and ready to take its part in Bordeaux blends.
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