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Amid Smoke and Climate Change, Napa Embraces an Imperfect Red Grape

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Petit Verdot is an important and late-ripening variety in both Bordeaux and the Napa Valley, mostly used as a blending grape in Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines. Known for its dark color, thick skin, high tannin content and spicy intensity, it is one of the most expensive grapes per ton, which is a direct correlation to its scarcity.

But over the past few years, winemakers have come to rely heavily on this grape because of its intensity and dark color. But that doesn’t mean Petit Verdot is without its challenges like, yes, the intensity, deep hue, and worst of all, propensity to soak in smoke.

Petit Verdot is extremely prone to smoke taint, which has been a growing problem of late, most notably in 2020.

“In 2020, the [Glass] fire did not get to our property, and thanks to the wind direction we didn’t have a lot of smoke, says Bryan Kane, who makes a 100% Petit Verdot for Howell Mountain Vineyards. “We did not get much smoke influence on the grapes, except for Petit Verdot — it’s a smoke soaker — so we don’t have any 2020 [vintage], but the rest of the vintage was one of our best ever overall.”