Of the many notable trends in Virginia wine — significant year-over-year sales growth and new winery openings, vintners partnering on collaborative winemaking projects, and winemakers finding success with lesser-known varieties — the growing number of wineries releasing sparkling wines may be the state’s most exciting emerging wine trend.
Established Virginia winemakers and new operations alike are getting in on the fizz movement.
Charlottesville-based consultant and vintner Michael Shaps recently released a sparkling wine made from Cabernet Franc as part of his Wineworks label, noted Loudoun County-based winemaker Jordan Harris has a tasty new cuvée that he released as part of the Boneyard Wines label, and newcomer to the Virginia wine industry, Greenhill Winery in Middleburg, which officially opened last August, launched with a new blanc de blanc (sparkling wine made from Chardonnay).
While just 20 of Virginia’s 250 wineries currently offer a sparkling wine — nearly 50% more than just a couple years ago — a number of wineries like Breaux Vineyards have plans to release new fizz this year. Breaux will soon release a sparkling Rosé made from Vidal Blanc with a splash of Cabernet Franc.
One of the most anticipated new sparkling wines is the latest from Claude Thibaut — an extra dry Blanc de Blanc called Xtra Brut — was officially released last weekend.
Considered the father of Virginia sparkling, one could make an easy argument that Thibaut is the primary catalyst for Virginia’s emerging sparkling trend. A fifth-generation French winemaker, Thibaut brought his sparkling wine expertise to Virginia — from California, by way of Champagne, France — in 2003 to produce bubbly for Patricia Kluge’s fledgling winery, Kluge Estates (now Trump Winery).
He has since had a hand in producing many of the state’s top sparklers. Given the cost of equipment needed to produce sparkling wine coupled with the bubbly learning curve, much of the state’s fizz is made by Thibaut, or at Trump Winery under the guidance of sparkling winemaker Jonathan Wheeler.
Thibaut and his business partner Manuel Janisson, hosted a reception to celebrate the official release of Thibaut-Janisson Xtra Brut at Brookville Restaurant in Charlottesville on Sunday.
Like Thibaut’s well-known Blanc de Chardonnay, Xtra Brut is made from 100% Monticello AVA Chardonnay. Thibaut’s new cuvée is more like the classic (aged) Champagne style that I personally prefer — dry with a hint of toasted oak.
Xtra Brut has only only 4 grams of sugar per liter, half the 8 grams used in the Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay. One-third of the Chardonnay juice in the Xtra Brut is aged in oak compared to just under 10% for the Blanc de Chardonnay. This touch of oak provides the toasted hazelnut and baked apple notes that I appreciate in my favorite Champagnes.
With only 100% Chardonnay cuvées in his portfolio — FIZZ, Blanc de Chardonnay, and now Xtra Brut, and the very limited release 2008 Cuvée d’État — fans can’t help but wonder when Thibaut will release a Pinot-based wine.
“Four years ago one of our growers planted some Pinot Noir using a Champagne clone and I hope to get the first substantial crop this year,” Thibaut told me I when asked him about producing a Pinot-based sparkling wine to round out the Thibaut-Janisson portfolio. “Rose or Blanc de Noir? I am not sure yet.” Your correspondent cast a strong vote for a sparkling Rose!
Look for the Xtra Brut in your local shops. With only 80 cases produced, this bubbly will go fast!
Congratulations Claude on your newest release!