Monticello AVA Where the Petits Are All The Rage

Virginia Wines and the Monticello AVA

The Virginia wine scene, especially in the Monticello AVA, makes the Petit varieties exciting and popular. Those Petits are Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot. Jefferson Vineyards takes its lead with the Petit Manseng and Veritas Vineyard and Winery with Petit Verdot.
The Virginia wine scene, especially in the Monticello AVA, makes the Petit varieties exciting and popular. Those Petits are Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot. Jefferson Vineyards takes its lead with the Petit Manseng and Veritas Vineyard and Winery with Petit Verdot.

Virginia Wine

Virginia wine history dates back to 1619, when the House of Burgess passed Acte 12, requiring Virginia colonists to plant vines. It was Thomas Jefferson who furthered the planting of vines. In 1873 a Virginia wine won Best Red Wine in Vienna. In 1970 there were six wineries and 30 planted varieties. Today there are 300 plus wineries, eight AVAs, and 5000 acres of vines. The most planted is Cabernet Franc, with 645 acres. Chardonnay follows, with 547 acres planted. Petit Verdot has 455 acres, Merlot 447 acres and Petit Manseng 179 acres. These varieties grow in soils comprised of iron, clay, sand, loam, and granite.

Monticello AVA

The Monticello AVA is named after Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, which lies in the center of this AVA. Located in central Virginia, the AVA received its designation in 1984. The area lies along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Approximately 30 varieties grow in the area. This AVA’s inspiration comes from Thomas Jefferson’s dream to create vineyards surrounding his home, Monticello, that produce high-quality wine. Although Jefferson was never able to fulfill his dream at the time, today, this AVA produces some acclaimed wines.

Petit Manseng Monticello background
Petit Manseng with Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello background. Photo Courtesy of Jefferson Vineyards

Petit Manseng

The Petit Manseng grape is a white variety grown primarily in southwest France. Many know the grape from the Jurancon region. The berries are small with thick skins, which form loose clusters. The grape is often used for a late-harvest dessert wine; hence it is left on the vine till December. The grape also creates distinctive dry wines due to its naturally high acidity. One finds flavors of honey, nuts, and citrus. The first American winery to produce Petit Manseng was Chrysalis, a winery in Middleburg, Virginia.

Petit Verdot

Petit Verdot is a red grape most often known for its use in Bordeaux blends. The grape ripens later in the season, adding tannin, color, and flavor to a Bordeaux. Its popularity as a single varietal has increased, especially in the United States. Petit Verdot means small green due to the vine often producing small grapes that do not develop properly. Although the berries are small, the vine produces more than two clusters per shoot.

Monticello AVA Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot
Monticello AVA Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot

Jefferson Vineyards

Jefferson Vineyards is steeped in history. The site of the vineyards today in the Monticello AVA was the same site where Thomas Jefferson and Italian viticulturist Philip Mazzei first planted grapes in 1773. It is also the site of Virginia’s first wine company.

After convincing him to become his neighbor, Jefferson gave Mazzei 193 acres of land. Mazzei later purchased another 281 acres and built a house on the property called Colle. Mazzei not only contributed to planting vineyards, but he also played a part in our country’s foundation and the wording of the Declaration of Independence. Congress recognized Mazzei in 1994.

By 1930 the house was dismantled. In 1939, the Watsons and Shirley and Stanley Woodward Sr. purchased the property. William Adams Delano, a relative of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, redesigned and rebuilt the house on the foundation of the original home.

Jefferson Vineyards' Colle House today
Jefferson Vineyards’ Colle House today. Photo Courtesy of Jefferson Vineyards

In the 1960s, to prevent development and commercialization of the area between Monticello and Ash Lawn Highland, the Woodwards purchased an additional 400 acres next to Colle. Following the purchase, the Woodward estate entered into a conservation easement through the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.

By 1981, the Woodwards hired Gabriele Rausse to plant Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other grape varieties. That began the establishment of two vineyards. In 1986, Professor Mario di Valmarana designed a new winery building in a Palladian style. At this time, the Woodwards launched their winery called Simeon Vineyards.

In 1993, the second generation, Marie Jose and Stanley Woodward, took over the winery. To honor Jefferson’s dream, they changed the winery’s name from Simeon Vineyards to Jefferson Vineyards.

Jefferson Vineyards moved into its third generation of Woodwards in 2013, with Alexa and Attila Woodward taking the helm.

The Vineyards

Four vineyards comprise the Jefferson estate. Upper Vineyard is considered the most historical site because it sits on the land originally purchased by Mazzei in 1774. The vineyard planted in 1981 consists of 12 acres with Rabun clay loam soils. This vineyard is planted with eight varietals Riesling, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Manseng.

Apple Vineyard, planted in 1998, faces southeast and consists of Rabun clay soil. The vineyard contains Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot vines.

Sunnyfield Vineyard lies at the base of the mountains. The soils are Rabun clay loam. Plantings occurred in 2003 with Petit Manseng, Merlot, Cabernet, Franc, and Petit Verdot.

Finally, Church Vineyard, planted in 1983, has now been replanted in 2014. It is home to Jefferson Vineyards Pinot Gris vines and some Chardonnay, which flourishes in the Myersville Silt Loam soil.

Jefferson Winemaker Chris Ritzcovan

Raised in a family of gardeners and home winemakers, it is only natural that he got the bug for making wine. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in environmental science and urban planning, he found his way to Jefferson Vineyards in 2007 via a Craiglist ad for an assistant winemaker. He left the winery after a year to go to architecture school but found the work tedious and yearned to return to winemaking. Chris returned to Jefferson Vineyard and became head winemaker in 2013.

Chris Ritzcovan Winemaker Jefferson Vineyards
Chris Ritzcovan Winemaker Jefferson Vineyards Photo Courtesy of Jefferson Vineyards

Veritas Winery

Founders Andrew and Patricia Hodson met in Nottingham, England. They both worked in the medical field, Andrew as a neurologist and Patricia as a nurse. They moved to the east coast of the United States in the 1970s. In the 1990s, they moved to Florida. They had a passion for wine and, in 1999, purchased Saddleback Farm, a horse and cattle farm, a 50-acre property in the Monticello AVA. Patricia decided to plant grapes on the farm, and in 2001 they released their first vintage. Andrew also tried his hand at winemaking.

Veritas Winery Aerial Shot
Veritas Winery Aerial Shot. Photo Courtesy of Veritas Winery

Veritas Winery is a family-run business with all of Andrew and Patricia’s children working there. While Emily is the head winemaker, George runs business operations, and Chloe is the project manager. Chloe’s husband, Elliott, is the assistant winemaker.

Veritas’ goal combines old-world winemaking practices with state-of-the-art technology that captures each varietal’s regional character. The name Veritas comes from Roman historian Pliny the Elder’s observation, “In Vino Veritas” – “In Wine there is Truth.” At Veritas, they believe the truth in wine comes “straight from the vineyard as an expression of the land.”

The Vineyards and Soils

Lower and mountain vineyards make up the Veritas estate. The lower vineyards contain Edneytown loam soils, a fine clay-based soil lying on top of granite. In the mountain vineyards, one finds Edneytown Peaks Complex soils, a stoney soil consisting of granite, schist, and shale. Grapes planted in these vineyards include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.

Veritas Winemaker Emily Hodson

What happens when you take a year off from school to help your parents move from Florida to Virginia and help her parents start a winery? Passion takes root; what was supposed to be a year is now over 15 years. Emily returned to school for her Masters’s degree from Virginia Tech in oenology. Today she is the head winemaker of this family-owned winery.

Veritas Winery Winemaker Emily Hodson
Veritas Winery Winemaker Emily Hodson. Photo Courtesy of Veritas Winery

The Wines

Jefferson Vineyards Petit Manseng: The juice ferments in barrel for four weeks, followed by racking off its lees and returning to used and old barrels for five months of aging. I found a bright wine with high acidity and lemony and zesty flavors. On the nose, aromas of honey and tropical fruit prevailed.

Jefferson Vineyards Petit Manseng
Jefferson Vineyards Petit Manseng

Veritas Winery Petit Verdot: This wine combines Petit Verdot primarily with Merlot. The wine ages 16 months in 50% new oak. On the first sip, the wine seemed big. As the wine sits, the wine softens, and the acidity comes through with floral aromas and hints of dark fruit. The wine is intense and concentrated, with blackberry and black currant flavors and hints of tobacco and baking spices.

Veritas Petit Verdot
Veritas Petit Verdot

These two Petits, although very different, show the quality of wine that is inherent to the Monticello AVA and the Virginia Wine industry.

Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.