Musings on Petit Verdot
Other than reading about Petit Verdot being grown and used for blending purposes in Bordeaux (and certainly drinking some in various Bordeaux blends), I really knew nothing about the variety in 1983 when I was beginning to develop the vineyard on Bradford Mountain. I planted 20 acres of rootstock in late spring of 1983 (unfortunately it was AXR1 and was subsequently replanted 10 years ago) and late summer went off looking for sources of scion wood to graft this rootstock to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Having just left as winemaker/GM for Mount Eden Vineyards/Saratoga (Santa Cruz Mountains) to move to Dry Creek Valley I knew I would use the La Questa selection of Cabernet Sauvignon that Martin Ray had planted on the Mount Eden property from cuttings he obtained from the La Questa/Rixford vineyard in Woodside (the story goes that Dr. Rixford planted his vineyard in Woodside from cuttings he obtained at Chateau Margaux). I was in need of really good Cabernet Franc and Merlot budwood and having visited Newton Vineyards, was aware that Ric Foreman winemaker/founder (but sadly for him, not owner) had put a lot of effort in obtaining the best selections available at that time. Ric had since moved on to start his own winery, but the winemaker at Newton was a good friend, John Kongsgaard (classmate/next door neighbor at UC Davis), who gladly offered me whatever budwood I needed. When I arrived at Newton with my foreman to make the cuttings, John showed us the various blocks of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, explained their pedigree and gave me his opinion of the different selections. In passing he also mentioned that Ric had planted a small block of Petite Verdot vines. He said the vines had nothing in common with the other Bordeaux varieties and the fruit ripened very late on their mountain, but he found the wine intriguing and suggested I cut some buds and try it out on my new vineyard. Which I did. When the original planting on Bradford Mountain came in production in 1986, we began selling some of our Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and a very small amount of Petit Verdot from the vineyard to Ridge Vineyards for their CP (Cabernet Program, one of their wine clubs). Paul Draper was very intrigued with Petit Verdot, becoming a friend of Phillipe Dourthe and spending time at their Bordeaux chateau where Petit Verdot was grown. When we began the planning to begin replanting on the Monte Bello Vineyard (I was Vineyard Manager for Ridge Vineyards from 1985-1990) Paul made sure we include a block of Petite Verdot in the plans and we took cuttings from our small planting on Bradford Mountain to be made into benchgrafts for Ridge. In the early 1990's, in a conversation with Diane Kenworthy who at the time was the viticulturalist for Simi Winery, the subject of Bordeaux varietal clones came up. When I mentioned that we had planted some Petit Verdot in the early 1980's, Diane asked me what clone it was and did it set a decent crop. Other than telling her I obtained the budwood from Newton Vineyards and it had been planted there by Ric Foreman in the early 1970's, I didn't know anything more regarding its origins, but it did normally set a decent crop. She told me it must be what UCD called clone 1, because they had planted clone 2 in their vineyard in Alexander Valley and it set very little fruit and clone 1 was said to bear decent crops. She also had done some research on the origin of both clones of Petite Verdot then available in California and gave me that information. Clone 1 was originally brought into California from France in the 1870's and first planted at the UC "Farm" in Albany (near Berkeley). In the 1880's the University of California established a field station near Jackson, California in the Sierra foothills to study fruit trees and grapevines in that area. Though tended through prohibition in the 1920's, in the 1930's when the depression became a reality, the University cut funding for the field station and it was all but abandoned. In the 1960's, Austin Goheen a USDA plant pathologist was assigned to UC Davis and tasked with finding disease free plant material to start a "mother block" for the Foundation Plant Materials Service, which would then make it available to commercial nurseries and growers. In doing his background research, Dr. Goheen found records from the Jackson Field Station showing the varieties that had been grown there. He went up to the location and though it was very overgrown with trees/vegetation he was able to find some of the original vines, including the Petit Verdot. He made cuttings of the varieties he was able to identify and planted them in the "foundation block" at UC Davis. Clone 2 was a selection from France that Dr. Goheen had sent over in the 1960's as well.
Though we primarily grow our Petit Verdot for blending with our Cabernet Sauvignon blend (as well as for our Cabernet Franc based blend we call Agraria/Big Barn Red), in 2010 we bottled our first varietal Petit Verdot (though blended with 25% other Bordeaux varieties). Our current release Petit Verdot is the 2012 vintage and is 75% Petit Verdot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot & 6% Malbec (all from the estate vineyard on Bradford Mountain).