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Petite Sirah,PR 101,PS I Love You,Wine

Why is Petite Sirah still so obscure, you might wonder?

I hear this wonderment all of the time about Petite Sirah… “Why is it still so obscure?”

Well, one would think that it is. What it is, though, is a best kept secret, sort of like my grandfather’s blueberry patch.

As a kid, we’d go blueberry picking, high up a mountainside in Wales, Maine. Even though there was no one around for miles, when we picked, the only sound we could make was the smacking of our lips as we ate wild blueberries and picked a few.

Check this out… There are currently 923 Petite Sirah wine brands.  … 923 … In 2002, there were only 62 producers and growers combined. Today, there are also 165 growers. The math? It’s 1,089 wine companies directly involved with Petite Sirah. [According to the Wine Institute, in 2014, there were 4,285… We’re close to 2o percent of wine companies involved in some degree with Petite Sirah.

I call that a best kept secret

I used to send these facts and figures to wine writers once a year. Then, one year a Eurocentric American wine writer told someone that he was sick to death of getting my press releases about “how much Petite Sirah there is…” I may have done Petite Sirah a disservice by even believing that this could have been more than one writer, but being in PR, I decided to stop offending anyone. (Dumb move.)

LESSON #1: I would have been better serving Petite Sirah by immediately removing this person from the PS media data base, I now realize. If someone tells me that he or she doesn’t like Chardonnay, for instance, I now know to just remove that person from distribution, not stop the message and/or samples across the board.

LESSON #2: Don’t try to convince. It’s probably not going to work and that’s spinning wheels for just one person. Move on to send the message to those who are interested in knowing.

I recently just had to write off two more people who write about wine, because they both just trashed Petite Sirah. So, I’m just keeping a list now. If someone doesn’t like Petite Sirah, that’s okay. I’m betting both of them would eat foie gras in a heart beat… Something that will never touch my lips, once I learned of the origin. We all have our preferences.

Who loves Petite Sirah?

Let’s start with winemakers, because it’s a winemaker’s wine.

Instead of the usual marketing rule of 80 percent to 20 percent… I dare to say that it’s more of a 90 – 10 percent share. Most of the small producers are only crafting 500 or fewer cases of Petite Sirah, of the close to 1,000 producers that I’ve identified. It’s a winemaker’s wine, first and foremost. I can hear what happens behind the scenes…

“Okay, boss, I’ll give you all the Cab you want, but PLEASE let me just make about 10 barrels of Petite, because it’s my real ‘pet’ project. We’ll can sell it in the tasting room, you can have it for an eclectic ‘wine-of-the-month’ feature, and it will be great with our wine and food events!”

I see the owners cave, to keep the winemakers happy. And, they completely sell through the 250 or so cases, before the following vintage. It doesn’t ever hit the store shelves, it isn’t sent to wine writers for critical review (why risk a nasty review, when it’s guaranteed to sell though?), and it’s a cash cow (because it doesn’t have to go through a wholesaler and then a retailer). Yeah… that’s what I see all of the time.

Wine Writers

On Steve Heimoff’s recent post: Save the date: Petite Sirah in Paso Robles, Feb. 6, Steve nailed several things:

  1. It’s nothing short of amazing how Petite Sirah has become a major variety and wine.
  2. It didn’t exactly happen overnight; there have been plantings of “Pet” (as the oldtimers called it) since the 1800s in California, but consumers never really caught on to it as an independent variety, until [PS I Love You was] created [as a] trade organization, in 2002.
  3. California acreage of Pet is way up, clocking in at a record 8,825 acres in 2014, nearly double what it was ten years previously. Granted, that’s not much compared to Cabernet Sauvignon (nearly 80,000 acres) or even Syrah (18,000 acres), but it’s more than either Cabernet Franc or Grenache—and almost more than the two of them combined.
  4. Beyond acreage, the number of Petite Sirah producers in California continues to soar, from fewer than 100 in 2001 to more than 900 last year.

MaryAnn Worobiec’s Wine Spectator: Against All Odds… Despite challenges, California Petite Sirah is gaining acreage and winning fans, MaryAnn Worobiec ~ Issue: December 15, 2015

  1. Petite Sirah from California offers inky black colors, bold flavors and tannins to match. It has the ability to be expressive when bottled on its own, can add structure and color to red blends, and has a reputation for aging well. But despite Petite’s growing presence in the Golden State, it can be a conundrum for both winemakers and wine lovers.
  2. Though most of the best Petite examples are made in small quantities and sold direct from the wineries to consumers, there are some terrific examples at the value end of the spectrum…
  3. Petite has a loyal following, including a fan club called PS I Love You, as well as talented California winemakers dedicated to showing the grape’s potential… Despite the myriad difficulties it faces, Petite Sirah is on the rise in California, both in terms of plantings and number of producers. Acreage for the grape has had its ups and downs over the years, reaching its heyday during the 1970s before plummeting to its lowest point of about 1,750 acres statewide in 1995. These days, almost 10,000 acres are planted to the variety, which is great news for fans of big, rich, hearty wines.

The Consumer

Fan are dedicated, or all of this wine would sit on shelves and would break the backs of wineries that have a “pet project,” which is their best kept secret. This image is of Dave Mounts and “Honey Airborne,” a consumer. She came to  California to learn about Petite Sirah, and one of the places where I took her was to Mounts Family Winery and David’s vineyard. He’s not only is a grower, but David Mounts is also a passionate producer of Petite Sirah.

4 Responses to “Why is Petite Sirah still so obscure, you might wonder?”

  1. Randy Caparoso says:

    Congrats also goes to you, Jo, for your industry-model work with this varietal category. All grapes should be so lucky to have as consistently focused and energetic a spokeman.

    For the record, I’ve never understood journalists who categorically trash certain varietals. The best examples of every grape are obviously just as much a reflection of appellation origin as viticultural/winemaking style, not to mention commercial needs of brands. This accounts for the wonderful variation of quality and style, and we all know the former is in the eye of the beholder (except in the cases of the most egotistical journalists).

    But variation is what also what makes varietal categories so interesting. Who wants sameness? That said, American Petite Sirah is the epitome of that, and even more so today: as you say, 923 brands produced today… 923 different chances or ways to say “I love you, wine!”

  2. William Moore says:

    January 12, 2016

    Your article about Petite Syrah intrigued me. I’m a home winemaker who’s made Petite Syrah exclusively for about 30 years now. I became aware of this grape when I moved to San Francisco in the early 1980’s. I’m originally from Southern California and the retail winemaking shop I dealt with in Los Angeles only was able to get the usual varieties for home winemakers: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc etc. I’ve made decent wines from these grapes, but the limited availability of quality grapes from top AVAS was limited. When I moved to the Bay Area due to a job transfer years ago , I hooked up with Great Fermentations in San Rafael California, which due to the owner retiring several years ago, unfortunately closed for business. Jay Conner, the owner had many great connections for quality wine grapes in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino. Lake counties as well as Lodi. His Petite Syrah came from the Parducci winery in Sonoma County. The wines I’ve made from the Parducci vineyard grapes have garnered awards from the Marin County Fair and the prestigious Sonoma County Harvest Fair home winemaking competitions respectively . I’ve become quite good at making wine at home and hope to eventually re-locate from the rat race of San Francisco to either rural Sonoma or Mendocino County. Petite Syrah, although an ancient grape variety and an obscure wine grape as vinified as a varietal, makes some amazing and delicious wines!

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Randy. What a beautiful tribute to this body of work that I’ve been so focused on for the last 14 years. I can thank Louis Foppiano for his family’s efforts and his believing in me, when I turned that corner to champion the variety. And, yes, you’ve said it better than I ever could…

    “This accounts for the wonderful variation of quality and style, and we all know the former is in the eye of the beholder (except in the cases of the most egotistical journalists).

    But variation is what also what makes varietal categories so interesting. Who wants sameness? That said, American Petite Sirah is the epitome of that, and even more so today: as you say, 923 brands produced today… 923 different chances or ways to say “I love you, wine!””

    Thanks so much…

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Bill, what a great story about your own efforts. Thank you so much for sharing. Home winemakers of Petite… I wish we could capture how many of you there are… It just proves what Randy Caparoso just wrote in a comment:

    “This accounts for the wonderful variation of quality and style, and we all know the former is in the eye of the beholder (except in the cases of the most egotistical journalists).

    But variation is what also what makes varietal categories so interesting. Who wants sameness? That said, American Petite Sirah is the epitome of that, and even more so today: as you say, 923 brands produced today… 923 different chances or ways to say ‘I love you, wine!’”

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