Shelburne Vineyard announced the first public release of a new red wine varietal to Vermont oenophiles. The varietal, called Petite Pearl, was released for tasting on Nov. 14 at the Vineyard Tasting Room on Shelburne Road in Shelburne, just in time for the holiday season. Shelburne Vineyard may be the first Vermont winery to bring the Petite Pearl to market.
Petite Pearl is a new cold-hardy hybrid grape released to growers only in 2010 when Shelburne Vineyard planted just one experimental row. In 2012 the vineyard followed with a full 2.2 acre planting, having vetted the vines’ suitability for Vermont’s growing environment. Petite Pearl represents the vanguard of a second generation of cold hardy grapes building on the success of the first generation that is known for grapes like Marquette, La Crescent, Frontenac, and Louise Swenson that have spearheaded the rise of Vermont’s wine industry.
The grape makes a richly toned, garnet-colored wine with complex savory herbal notes and earthiness and a somewhat higher level of tannins that has excited northern winemakers.
This year’s Petite Pearl release is from the 2013 vintage and followed a small, 2012 experimental batch vinted in a single glass carboy from the 2012 harvest and tested last year. Based on early testing of the juice, Shelburne’s Vineyard Manager and Winemaker Ethan Joseph chose to give the grapes extended fermentation of about 20 days on the skins, the process which extracts the color and tannins from the grapes.
After fermenting and aging the resulting wine in oak barrels, Joseph prepared a series of test blends, bottled and poured in a blind tastings to a panel of vineyard staff who evaluated it for taste, color, aroma, and finish. “We learned from that 2012 carboy that Petite Pearl has excellent potential as a complement to our dry red wine program,” Joseph said, “and blended with a small amount of Marquette, it produces a beautiful wine with nice overall mouthfeel and a moderate tannin profile.”
The Petite Pearl is a hybrid grape bred by Minnesota viticulturist and author Tom Plocher, who has worked extensively with Vermont grape growers for test plantings that have proved their hardiness even at temperatures below -32°F. Ethan Joseph further explains that he finds the vines “incredibly well behaved, with an open growth habit that gives it good sun exposure, supporting a clean, disease free harvest and even ripening.” Today, wine from the larger 2014 harvest remains in oak barrels for aging to be released in 2016.
Shelburne Vineyard was founded in 1998 with three acres of vines on leased land and produced its first wine in 2001. Today the vineyard grows a total of about 16 acres of grapes about 13 of which they own, and in 2014 they produced about 45,000 bottles of wine. The vineyard specializes in northern varietals and is known for their sustainable production of award-winning wines including Marquette, Louise Swenson, La Crescent, Riesling and Ice Wine which consistently bring home top medals from national and international competitions.