With a range of soils, microclimates and more than 65 grape varieties cultivated for wine, Virginia is rich with viticulture diversity. While Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most planted varieties in the state, many lesser-known grapes are thriving in vineyards throughout the commonwealth. One such lesserknown variety is Fer Servadou (Fer for short), a grape indigenous to Southwest France and thought to be the genetic grandparent of the carmenere grape. Drs. Bruce Zoecklein (ret.) and Tony Wolf, professors of viticulture at Virginia Tech, first planted Fer in vineyards at the Winchester Agricultural Research and Extension Center in 1992 to evaluate the grape’s suitability for Virginia’s climate. They found that Fer “can produce a wine of medium body with firm yet sweet, supple tannins, lively acidity and intense varietal aromas and flavors.”
Jenni McCloud, founder of Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, was one of the first winemakers to plant Fer in Virginia. In the late 1990s, McCloud planted just less than an acre of the promising grape, which served as a source for vine clippings to start the Fer vineyard at Hillsborough Vineyards. Located in the town of Purcellville, about an hour drive northwest of Washington, D.C., Hillsborough Vineyards is now home to the largest planting of Fer Servadou in the U.S. Husband and wife Bora and Zeynep Baki purchased the 36- acre Hillsborough property in 2001 and planted the initial vines in 2003. Today, Hillsborough is home to 12 acres of vineyards including four acres planted of Fer Servadou. The Bakis’ son Kerem, who studied enology and biochemistry at Virginia Tech and serves as winemaker at Hillsborough, recognized the potential of the grape during a trip to Southwest France. “A little over 18 years ago when my family and I got the vineyard bug we took a trip to southwest France to study what is referred to as homoclines, regions of similar climates to our own, to help us determine what grapes we should plant at Hillsborough,” says Kerem.
“During our tour of the Jurançon, Madiran and Gaillac regions [in southwest France], I ran into these wonderful wines that I had never tasted before from these strange grapes called Petit Manseng, Tannat and, of course, Fer Servadou.” Wines made from Fer Servadou tend to be dark ruby in color, medium-bodied, supple and concentrated; known for red currant, rhubarb and fig aromatics with mango (unusual for a red wine), dried cherries and white pepper flavors. Kerem makes two red wines with the Fer Servadou grown in the Hillsborough estate vineyard—Ruby, a blend of Tannat, Petit Verdot and Fer; and Bloodstone, usually 100 percent Fer with a splash of Tannat. Just 325 cases of each wine are produced each vintage. Seek out this lesser-known, unique grape for a compelling Virginian wine. “Even though people have never heard of this grape before,” says Kerem, “when they taste it, they love it!”