If you have not tried the wines at Cavender Creek, you may not have come across a white wine made from Petit Manseng grapes.  With its name, you can probably guess that it comes from France (and for fluent French speakers, you will not be surprised that it has a close relative called Gros Manseng, which has bigger grapes).  The name Manseng may have meant something in olden times, when it was first documented in 1562.  But what that actually meant then has disappeared into the mists of time.

This variety comes from South West France, between the Pyrenees Mountains and the famous region of Bordeaux.  It has been grown around Jurançon  for centuries.  It is rumored that King Henry IV of France was baptized with Jurançon wine in 1553.  Like many grape varieties, it fell out of fashion in the face of increasing concentration on big name varieties like Chardonnay.  The only foreign plantings were in North Spain (where it went by the unpronounceable names of Ichiriota Zuria Tipia and Izkiriot Ttipi).  A microscopic amount grew in Uruguay (brought there a hundred years earlier by settlers from Spain) and in Japan. 

At the start of the 21st Century, Petit Manseng was only number 365 on the global wine production rankings.  Then winemakers around the world started to take notice of this overlooked grapes.  It is expected to become “fashionable” like another almost extinct grape, Viognier.  Within ten years, Petit Manseng reached number 260 in the global rankings.

In USA, production of Petit Manseng, at Chrysalis Vineyards in Virginia started at the start of this century.  Success there led to more growers taking it up, and thus it arrived in North Georgia.  The flinty decayed granite of the Southern Appalachians seems to suit the vines, and our hot summers enable sugars to develop in the grape, balancing its natural high acidity.  And by harvesting the grapes late when they are partially dried out, it is possible to make sweet white wines from this grape – just as they do back home in France.

Cavender Creeks offers two vintages of this wine for you to taste and compare.  And if you do try them, in years to come you will be able to amaze your friends by telling them how you were into Petit Manseng before it was raved over by followers of fashion.

Robin Hall

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