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Profiles,Viticulture,Wine,Wine Writer

Winter hardiness of Durif (Petite Sirah)

Because I’m one of the founders of PS I Love You, and have been the executive director since its inception (Sept. 2002), I get asked everything under the sun that has to do with Petite Sirah. I’ve become the “Go to Girl.”

I’d say about 95 percent of the time, I’ve got the answer; because I’ve either already researched that aspect or been given the info, having already been asked once before. Occasionally, however, someone comes up with a completely new question, and that just happened. I felt like I knew the answer, but didn’t want to make a mistake, so I called one of my vineyard sources and left a message.

This is the worst time of year to be asking any viticulturist questions, though… Harvest and exhaustion take over their lives; unless, of course, one happens to be on a vineyard tour with a vineyard manager. This just happened as part of the agenda during the Wine Bloggers Conference.

There I was with Jim Murphy (above of Murphy Vineyards LLC) as a resource, so as we moved from one place to another, I asked the question. I preferred to not involve the group in the the Q & A, because it wasn’t relevant to what Jim was talking about during his presentation; but I needed the answer to get back to my E-Mail query.

[Q] “What is the winter cold hardiness of Durif. I know the winter hardiness of Syrah is quite low compared to a variety like Cab Franc. How would Durif with the peloursin genetics compare to pure Syrah. More/less/equal hardiness to winter bud kill? I have read that durif can recover from spring frosts which are a separate issue.”

According to Jim Murphy:

[A] “No vitis vinifera survives a hard frost. It’s also location, location, location. In the same vineyard, with the same clonal selection, same trellising system, and same exposure to the sun… Frost can happen in one spot and destroy all of those vines; but not hit the surrounding area, and those vines are fine and survive. Vitis Vinifera grape vines just don’t survive frost, bud break included.”

This is what keeps vineyard managers up late at night… When there’s a possibility of frost, vineyardists have to go to their vineyards and protect them. There are fans that blow air around, to keep frost from settling. Some vineyard owners get their over head irrigation going, because this practice also doesn’t let frost settle. I can’t even tell you how many times Paul Foppiano (Foppiano Vineyards) has told me about his being up all night.

Frost + Grape Vines = Death in the Vineyard

2 Responses to “Winter hardiness of Durif (Petite Sirah)”

  1. Zachary Strassman says:

    Soo sorry but you efforts didn’t answer the question. Cabernet Franc can survive to -16F in winter with little bud kill. Syrah survives and fruits the next year to -10 F. Survival of 50% of buds with no damage to cordons represents the ability to fruit the next year. A single grape bud is actually three buds in one. A large primary bud and smaller secondary and tertiary. Under a microscope you can describe winter damage by how many of these buds turned brown from falling to deep in temperature. Do you know any growers in Amador or Oregon they might have the answer? Now how about Durif?

  2. admin says:

    Hi, Zachary,

    I was on a tour with a group of wine bloggers, so perhaps Jim didn’t understand to what depth you needed an answer, and generalized (it seems, from your own in depth answer).

    In a bud, I did know that you can see the next season’s fruit cluster, but didn’t know that there are three buds in one. I can see where one might freeze and leave the other two – that you’ve mentioned – in tact. I’ve got one Washington state winery in the group that I can source, but the WA state winery – Masset – grows fruit in the high desert of Washington, so the freezing issues aren’t as drastic as what you’re mentioning.

    This sounds like a UC Davis question, although Paul Draper (Ridge) or Robert Brittan (formerly of Stags’ Leap Winery) might be able to answer this for us. I’ll just have to track them down. They’re both very busy, especially this time of year with harvest just wrapping up.

    In California it’s Petite Sirah, where we don’t have these kinds of freezes, so my growers scope of experience and understanding is coming from a warmer climate, than – say Australia, where Durif has a completely different terroir – and for me very subtle flavor differences.

    I’ll dig deeper, and return with an answer.

    I really appreciate this dialogue, because it’s definitely way past superficial, and will benefit a lot of people with the same question and answer, once resolved. — jo

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