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The next big thing in wine: petit verdot

The Next Big Thing in wine after Rhone clones, merlot madness and Cal-Italians?

It will be small improvements, says a wise old man on the mountainside west of Calistoga.

"I'm not resting on my laurels," says Al Brounstein, who well could and perhaps should after 25 years making Diamond Creek's cabernets that now sell for $60. He and his wife, Boots, were on the two-week tour with other Napa vintners, although at 77 age has stooped his height, and Parkinson's disease has robbed him of a steady hand. Yet he still seems at least 6 feet tall and sees clearly that the future is in the details.

His next small thing?

"Petit verdot," Brounstein said. "That's what the French are doing. My friends at Pichon-Lalonde have it, and I've got an acre of it, too."

Although the grape is difficult to grow and its contribution to a red blend are mysterious, "It doesn't seem to have much of anything, but it just enlivens every part of the wine," he said.

Like other American growers, he has expanded his red wine from a pure cabernet sauvignon and is using the other classic Bordeaux grapes, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec (tried but rejected) and now petit verdot, which also is enjoying a renaissance in France.

"I've got the last one now," he said, but he is looking forward to tasting it in new vintages. "Some of the best things in my life have come about in the last 14 years (since he developed Parkinson's). I figure I've got another good 14 years."

_ CHRIS SHERMAN

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