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France,Viticulture,Wine

Petite Sirah Has a Père dans le Rhône

The wine industry has opened up the world to me, which includes having contacts all over the place. It’s a great experience, because I’ve always felt like a citizen of the world, belonging to it all, honestly.

My PS I Love You group has drawn lovers of Petite Sirah to me as well, from Australia, Israel, and France, which includes Gilles Liege. Gilles lives in the Rhône, and finds it an abomination that France doesn’t recognize Petite Sirah’s lineage as one of its own. He’s also concerned that we, in the United States, have been perfectly happy to have Petite Sirah become one of our American heritage cultivars. He’s not knocking us in the process, but just doesn’t appreciate losing the French history on this grape from his own indifferent government. He feels it’s an injustice to the birthright. I couldn’t agree more, but I’m not going to argue with the French governmental agency responsible for giving up this variety. I’m just happy to embrace it as our own, as any good adoptive parent would do.

The following is Gilles Liege’s latest Email to me about his current progress. Please know that he writes to me in French, I translate it with Yahoo’s BabelFish, and write back to him the same way in reverse. We’re probably both missing a few things in the translation, but he thankfully keeps me up with images from his vineyard, and they say a lot about the Rhône. We’ve all heard about the rocky soils… Well, here’s the proof from a vineyard that’s been fallow for the last 100 years.

Gilles first wrote to me in 2006, and I’ve been in on his process since then. Why? Because he’s decided to grow some Petite in France to see how it will do. When former Stags’ Leap Winery winemaker Kevin Morrissey went to France, I connected the two of them for a visit. I’m very happy to help Gilles in any way that I’m able, considering Petite’s lineage with his native country.

Gilles’s Email always contained some images that are worth sharing.

In his latest Email, he talks about the stones he must face in his daily toil. He writes like a poet:

I go along with the stones, as if it was the work of a convict, or as if courage was obligatory… There I have arrived. On the other hand, I acknowledge my incompetence to produce the beverage, while my friends wait with skepticism (from some) and admiration for the most faithful between them. It can be with your friends to link our efforts; and this will enable me to take again hope, so that my wishes are carried out.

Thank you again to Jo Diaz which supports me in my a little insane passion. Sincerely, Gilles

PS:  My vineyard is located at Nantet (Bridge of Lignon) on the edge of the Loire, to 500 m altitude, southwestern sun exposure.

  • I have gone up terraces, land given up for approximately 100 years, that Phylloxéras had eradicated.
  • Type of vines planted in 2003 /04/05/ and 06 for the replacements. White: Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne are 400 seedlings on the whole, 200 of marsanne. Marsanne seemed to start after three years of stagnation. Rousanne is happy and gives good result. [Gilles has had trouble with the Chardonnay, and is probably going to pull it out and replace it with something else better suited.]
  • Red: Petite Syrah (Serine in Ardeche) seems to have found its happiness in the sunny terraces of this Valley. Gamaray (crossing of Gamay with Rechensteiner) remains to prove reliable, pushes little (to be seen). Grenache pushes well but does not mature, I will double-graft the 50 seedlings in Mondeuse or Pinot or Chatus Conclusion. At the end of these four years, much of stocks burst quickly (20 per annum), Marsanne was hard to push, but seems now to adapt. For some, I will return on the type of vines more typical and traditional.

I think what Gilles Liege is doing is so admirable and worth sharing… It’s a testament to a lot, including how hard the work can be when putting in a vineyard by hand, and also how rocky the Rhône truly is.

He also sent this butterfly image to me in May of this year. I’m able to watch his vineyard ~ Flora and fauna ~ come to life before my eyes, and it’s a remarkable wine industry friendship to have. I’m honored.

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