Petite Sirah winemakers know firsthand why PS is a winemakers wine. I know that, too, as the founding director of PS I Love You. But most wine writers still don’t understand. So, I asked some winemakers that I know, “Why do you make Petite Sirah?”
They tell great aspects of this story.
Larry Schaffer, tercero wines
I love Petite Sirah for a number of reasons. It’s an ‘underdog’ variety, one that doesn’t get the notice nor the ‘publicity’ I believe it deserves . . . especially as a variety that’s almost entirely exclusive domestically now. I also love that it can be produced in a fruit forward style that’s approachable young – something that’s not historically been the case. And I love the unique blueberry fruit quality that it attains in Santa Barbara County, where the grapes for my Petite Sirah are produced.
Collin Cranor, Nottingham Cellars and Vasco Urbano
Petite Sirah is a winemaker’s best friend. Its distinctly layered berry, dark fruit, cocoa profile, and gripping tannins fit the profile of what wine drinkers and winemakers love. The difference between the maker and the drinker is the maker knows this, and the drinker just orders a Cab or a Zin when he is at the store or out to eat. But, once you get a drinker in the tasting room, PS flies.
Aside from its obvious value as a varietal in the tasting room, PS goes a long way in the cellar. Put it this way, almost every red I produce gets a little Petite; be it in the final blend or topping it throughout its life in the barrel.”
Dan Gustafson, Gustafson Family Winery
In 2002 I planted my vineyard at 1,800 feet above Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Petite Sirah was my first choice as I thought it was under-rated as a standalone wine having been a workhorse blending grape for decades. Always a Bridesmaid and seldom a Bride… Today, our Petite Sirah is our flagship wine of the eleven we produce. It’s a key part of our identity and our success.
George Guglielmo, Guglielmo Winery
When I graduated from Fresno State in 1967, I convinced my father that it was time to start a varietal program. Our heritage was blended red and white wines. Of our 70 planted acres that we grew then, and still today, it was/is mostly Petite Sirah. Our first single variety was our 1969 Estate Petite Sirah, and it’s been our signature wine ever since. Obviously we were quite pleased when, recently, Wine Enthusiast awarded us 90 points for our 2007 vintage! This was a very proud moment for our winery and our heritage.
Petite Sirah, not Zinfandel, is the uniquely Californian grape. Because of its thin skin and tight cluster, it cannot be grown in most of America, nor does it do well in its native Rhône Valley. Unlike Syrah, PS’s other parent, Peloursin imparts a generous central core of fruit. More than any other grape, PS changes with climate, elevation, and soil from the soft, feminine cherry-aroma’d Russian River to the hard, aggressive sage-and-tar Howell Mountain offerings. We think our minerally, fog-free, deeply purple, lake-cooled blueberry/lavender Petites show off the natural advantages of our Lake County terroir as well as any cultivar. Sometimes we just want to bud the whole place over to Petite.
Eric Cohen, Shoe Shine Wine, the poet of our group
PET reminds me of Venice Beach– seen by many as unlike any other in the world…
Venice Beach, like PET, has
Plenty of brawn from the weightlifters
In-your-face attitude from the hustlers
Sex appeal from the bikini-clad
A little heirloom wow from the roller-bladers
Showmanship and flash from the hoopsters
All the color in the world from the beautiful freaks
Nuance, tension, and contemplation from the bohemians
Youthful nonchalance from the members of southern CA’s post high-school exploratory committee
A dynamic range of flavor contributed from the international passers-by
And some graceful wisdom from the wrinkled elders
All gloriously basking, so happily together, in the one and only California sun.
Natalie West Cuthbert, who made Petite for Foppiano Vineyards for many years
Petite Sirah is the perfect all around “Big Red”. It has wonderful tannin structure that is silky and strong while also offering wonderful fruit on the nose and palate. If grown and made correctly it is never herbaceous, ages wonderfully, and is also drinkable now!
Zane Dobson, PaZa Vineyard & Winery
Petite Sirah is important to us for more than just a few reasons. Initially we planted our PS block, along with Barbera and Primitivo blocks, simply because we enjoyed these wines, and everyone always told us to grow what you like, and you’ll like what you grow. Also, based-on other growers’ success here in Placer County, we were confident of their potential to produce really great wines.
More than any of these original reasons for loving our Petite Sirah are the results. 2010’s vintage will be PaZa’s first estate grown releases, and while we’d thought Barbera might steal the spotlight, Petite Sirah is destined to be the star.
As a “winemakers wine,” in my limited experience, I find that it’s not fussy, and without fiddling around with it – it reveals great character and complexity.
In the tasting room – Petite Sirah is a blast, and for the folks who don’t yet know about PS, we love to turn them on to its Cab-like personality.
Pat Spangler, Spangler Vineyards
Why do I make Petite Sirah? As though I have a choice? I absolutely love, love, love petite sirah. I must have at least 20 different petites in my personal cellar. This is not a wine I make for the winery; I make it for me. Yes, even up here in Oregon. Found the right area, convinced the grower to graft it over for me, and now we are the only Oregon member of PS I love You – Not just an organization, a true belief…
John Rudolph Winemaker, Milagro Vineyard
For me the choice to grow Petite Sirah and make wine with this varietal had a lot to do with the place where we found ourselves when we decided to start our vineyard. We grow our grapes on two acres in the southern-most portion of Santa Clara Valley on a southeast facing slope of alluvial soil deposits at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Petite Sirah grows well here in our warm coastal valley about 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Having a connection to historical winemaking traditions in Santa Clara Valley was important to us. Petite Sirah has been grown in Santa Clara Valley since first generation immigrant farmers planted it here in the early part of the twentieth century. Petite Sirah was originally cultivated as part of field blends that benefitted from the richness and color that this black grape added to the wines of that era. Petite Sirah has a depth of color that never ceases to amaze me. The inky violet color deepens unbelievably as the maceration process progresses. Petite Sirah is a very rewarding grape to work with as it has the capacity, when the vineyard is well managed for yield and ripeness, to express multiple layers of flavor which carry over into a remarkably long finish. For me the luscious aroma in our small winery when Petite Sirah is in the fermenters is almost reason enough to work with this grape.
Charlie Barra, Barra of Mendocino
Well, I’ve just finished my 66th harvest, and I’ve been growing Petite Sirah for 50 of those 66 years. Petite Sirah was the grape we chose to launch our brand, BARRA of Mendocino, in 1997. It is a stellar wine that, if made and aged properly, consumers fall in love with. And, more astute wine aficionados know that there’s no finer combination to please the palate than a filet mignon and a glass of Petite Sirah. It’s becoming known as the cult varietal.
Allen Price/Stephanie Trotter Zacharia, David Fulton Winery
We have a Petite Sirah vineyard that was planted 150 years ago. Making Petite Sirah from this dry-farmed vineyard is like history in a glass. The roots go down 25 – 30 feet pulling nutrients from all those different layers of soil. The resulting character is incomparable. Deep, dark and delicious.
Lastly (the second response to come in; but this one’s a video, and makes for a perfect ending), Marco DiGiulio gives it a great finish (there’s a winemaker pun in there)…
Girard Winery offered this video with their winemaker Marco DiGiulio, who talks about bringing the Girard Petite Sirah to a winemaker tasting as not being “fair,” because everyone loves Petite Sirah.