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Petite Sirah – The State of the State, with Matt Moye of Vincent Arroyo

Here’s some Petite Sriah insight from Mathew (Matt) Moye of Vincent Arroyo:

With Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon commanding an AVERAGE of $7,500 per ton, how can I put out a $40.00/per bottle Cabernet? How many people are buying $70.00+ Cabs?

How did we get this expensive so fast? Is this sustainable? We’ve jumped almost $2,000 per ton in just five years for the variety.

Here, at Arroyo, we grow 10 different varieties on our estate; how many growers in the Napa Valley can say that? It used to be common to grow several varieties, but now its either Cab, Cab, or Cab. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cabernet; but, I don’t think I could drink it every night. It would get boring. Not every steak commands a Cabernet. 

A Petite Sirah is awesome with a nice filet. A Tempranillo goes fantastic with a Santa Maria Tri-Tip.

Life is just too short to drink just one wine.

Lots to think about here.

First of all, Petite Sirah is a niche wine, a cult wine, with ardent followers. In 1999, Robert Biale Vineyards and a Napa Valley grower collaborated with Biale to replace a one acre block of Cabernet Sauvignon in Rutherford with heritage clone Petite Sirah. Today the Petite Sirah vineyard has been increased to three acres.

Did you know, for instance, what Robert Parker stated in one of his Wine Advocate magazines, many moons ago about Petite? It didn’t go unnoticed by me at the time. He wrote that the first wine he tasted was a Petite Sirah and he fell in love with it. Why didn’t that get lots of attention? Probably because at that time, there were fewer than 100 growers and producers combined, with only about 3,000 acres being grown of Petite. So, to find it was more like a scavenger hunt than an easy trip to the grocery store.

Today, there are nearly 1,100 growers and producers, compared to 2002 (when there were only 62 growers and producers). Acres have grown, producers are producing it, and if you STILL don’t see it on wine lists and grocery shelves:

  • Nielsen doesn’t count all of the cases of PS sold through wineries, selling directly to the public. Right now, they’re reporting that it’s only 300,000 cases being sold a year.
  • Nearly 1,000 wine brands of the 1,100 above sell directly to consumers.
  • Those 1,000 have anywhere from 100 cases to 500 cases that they hold back.
    • So there’s a lot more than 300,000 cases made of Petite.
    • Imagine an average of just 250 cases/each winery x 1,000 wine companies = another 250,000 cases being sold.
    • Huge case numbers are not seeing wholesalers’ warehouses.
    • Awareness has grown and passion goes hand in hand with that awareness.

You might ask yourself, “why is it not leaving the winery?”

  • It’s a winemaker’s wine. They love making and enjoying it.
  • The winery love sells every bit of it, including selling out early, we then have to wait for the next vintage to be ready.
  • If they send it out for review, and it gets into the hands of a wine reviewer who has openly stated that he hates it (and some have), they risk getting a bad score.
  • It’s a lot harder to sell to people who live by the scores, if the above happens, so the wineries just don’t risk sending it out.


I also wonder how many Master SOMMs can even explain Petite Sirah to you, because American Heritage Varieties isn’t a course being taught in their studies. I see errors all of the time about Petite Sirah, including how it’s spelled, for instance.

  • Petite Sirah is a synonym for Durif. (false)
  • It’s illegal in the US to put Petite Sirah on a label, according to a TTB ruling. (false)
  • Petite Syrah is a variety grown in France, and it’s a Syrah, not a Petite Sirah. (false)
    • Syrah (father) and Peloursin (mother) cross bred by Francois Durif = Petite Sirah.
    • It’s no longer a Syrah grape, it’s DNA was altered.
    • It would be like saying you’re your mother, or you’re your father.
      • Ixnay on the amenay “Petite Syrah.”

I listen most days in the week to Petite Sirah vintners, and today Matt Moye has the biggest concern of all. What if Napa becomes so Cabcentric that every single vineyard of Petite Sirah is squeezed out? This is what keeps him (and me) up at night, because we simply love the stuff. No Petite Sirah lover should miss going to the following Napa Petite Sirah wineries. These are the passionate producers who have been supporting the Petite Sirah cause.

Make sure you call ahead. Some are by appointment only… It’s a cult kinda thing, right?

And, my next story on Petite will include another appellation that’s keeping the Petite torch burning. I’ll do this until I’ve covered every single area and winery.


2 Responses to “Petite Sirah – The State of the State, with Matt Moye of Vincent Arroyo”

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    “Petite Sirah is a synonym for Durif. (false)”
    But that’s true. Among other sources, see Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, pp. 316-317.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    EDITED MY COMMENTS to Bob. I misunderstood that he was validating my point. He’s given you the Jancis Robinson’s validation, too:

    This is a teachable moment for the TTB ruling that has pronounced that Petite Sriah and Durif are synonyms.

    YOUR PROOF: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2011/10/27/2011-27812/approval-of-grape-variety-names-for-american-wines

    IN SHORT: IN 2002 – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms proposed that Durif be approved as a synonym for Petite Sirah. The proposal failed, because it was grouped in with Primitivo and Zinfandel, also being considered. The latter proposal was too contentious to pass. Dr. Carole Meredith was a geneticist at UC Davis, at the time. “To my mind, Petite Sirah is Durif. There is no doubt about this. Some Petite Sirah vineyards, especially old ones, often contain a few vines of other varieties, but when we analyzed the DNA of vines that look like Petite Sirah, more than 90% of them are Durif. The few that are not turn out to be Peloursin, which is the mother of Durif and looks a lot like it.In a taped transcript of the 2002 Petite Sirah Symposium at Foppiano Vineyards: BATF is now considering whether or not to allow the name Durif to be used as a synonym for Petite Sirah. I think that there’s a fair bit of confusion on this subject, so it might be useful if I simply review what Petite Sirah is.”

    I was successful in 2010 – passed in 2011 – with a second petition, because it is what it is and needed historical accuracy. And, it was my job. I had a lot of research and discovery to do, plus a lot of informing the TTB, etc., waiting for the comments: time, etc.

    Approval of Grape Variety Names for American Wines – A Rule by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau on 10/27/2011

    Comments Received

    TTB received 35 comments in response to Notice No. 116, most of them generally supportive of the proposed amendments. Of these, 28 specifically support the proposal to recognize Petite Sirah and Durif as synonyms. Many of the latter are identical letters that cite the DNA research, summarized in Notice No. 116, of Dr. Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) into the identity of the Petite Sirah grape variety. They also cite as additional evidence two publications that recognize the names “Petite Sirah” and “Durif” as synonyms. One commenter expresses concern about new clones being required to be marketed as “Durif,” a name he notes has little market presence. In response to the last comment, TTB notes that the proposal to recognize the names as synonymous will not require that clones be marketed as “Durif”; in fact, the reverse is true: The proposal will allow growers and vintners to use the names interchangeably.

    List of approved names.
    Durif (Petite Sirah)
    Petite Sirah (Durif)


    Federal Register Approval of Grape Variety Names for American Wines.htm

    Please search on any of it. The case is proven. Not everyone keeps up on all things in this business. It so very hard to do. I only know what I know, because I’ve been eating, drinking, and sleeping with Petite Sirah for the last 16 years. You hit the world’s go-to person, cleverly disguised as a wine blogger.

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