Petite Amie Wine Romances Midwest Winemakers
Cuthills Vineyards owner Ed Swanson has had a girlfriend for six years, and his wife Holly knows all about it. But Swanson’s paramour is not a human; it’s a white wine grape called Petite Amie, which is the French term for girl friend. Across the Northern tier of the Midwest, Petite Amie is romancing winemakers who like its cold hardiness and its distinct floral bouquet. Mark Wedge of Fieldstone Vineyards in Minnesota, who also makes a Petite Amie, said he’s “never made another wine with the unique rose petal aromas of Petite Amie.”
Petite Amie is a Morio Muscat and Swenson red hybrid developed by David MacGregor in South Haven, Minnesota. Swanson, whose winery is near Pierce, Nebraska, was one of the first commercial vineyards to grow Petite Amie starting in 2005. He reports that it can be a slow-growing cultivar, but the vines can tolerate temperatures of approximately 26 below zero. Swanson also said that Petite Amie grows in moist, low areas with silty soil that most grapes don’t tolerate. High nitrogen soil also does not bother Petite Amie, Swanson reports.
Mark Wedge’s Petite Amie wine won a silver medal at the 2008 International Cold Climate Wine Competition, but he has not released another vintage for Fieldstone since then. That’s because the one Petite Amie grower he relied upon began using his Petite Amie harvest to make his own wine. Wedge reports that three additional Minnesota vineyards are now growing Petite Amie and one grower should be able to supply enough fruit in ’12 for Wedge to produce a vintage.
Wedge said no chemical deacidification is required with Petit Amie, but he does use aggressive cold stabilization to bring the titratable acidity into line. Petite Amie is well within the acid range for hybrids at 12 grams per litre at press. Wedge said that Petite Amie does not have issues with herbaceousness and does not require fining or filtering. Prior to fermentation and after pressing, Wedge recommends chilling for 24 to 48 hours to let the sediment drop out. For fermentation, Wedge uses basic yeasts supplied by Lallemand.
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Bill Shoemaker, a Senior Research Specialist for the University of Illinois in St. Charles, Illinois, has been growing Petite Amie for five years in his experimental vineyard. At the moment, he is in the process of making his first wine from this year’s small harvest. Bill used basic fermentation, early racking, and cold stabilization at below 20 degrees to make his first batch of Petite Amie.
Shoemaker believes Petite Amie can grow well in cold climates, although he reported that many of his grapes, including Petite Amie, were damaged by a -27 low temperature during the winter of ’09. At the time of the extreme cold, Shoemaker said his Petite Amie vines were still young. In Shoemaker’s experience, vine immaturity combined with any health problems going into dormancy can swing cold tolerance by as much as 5 or 6 degrees. Shoemaker was positive on the varietal though. “I think Petite Amie makes a wonderful wine and our crop for next year should be much better,” he said.
Nebraska’s Ed Swanson, who, according to Lisa Smiley’s 2008 profile of the varietal actually named it in 2004 or 2005 with MacGregor’s permission, said that Petite Amie is a “decent seller.” Wedge agrees that the varietal has characteristics that appeal to wine drinkers. “People like this wine; it’s fragrant, but not overbearing,” Wedge said. Swanson said that Petite Amie also makes a good blender, especially with LaCrosse for which it provides additional character.
Petite Amie vines can reportedly be purchased through David MacGregor’s Lake Sylvia Vineland Nursery in South Haven, Minnesota.
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