Organization,Petite Sirah,PS I Love You,Viticulture,Wine,Wine HIstory,Wine Making,Zinfandel

Robert Biale Vineyards Unique Point of View

Robert Biale Vineyards is commemorating 25 years of their dedication to preserving historic vineyards. It’s not just about growing wine grapes for the Biale team. It about history, people, wine grapes, terroir, and the best use for all of it. Tomorrow, I’m headed to the winery to enjoy what they feel is the best of their best: Robert Biale Vineyards’ Vintage Review Tasting. (I’ll also blog about today’s event in the future.)

I remember the day that Robert Biale Vineyards became part of PS I Love You. I have to admit that I didn’t know the winery at the time, but Jose (my partner) surely did. He told me, “Congratulations, they’re a real cult winery.” I was new to understanding who the key players of Petite Sirah were back then. I’m definitely more in tune with who’s who, now, and Robert Biale Vineyards is part of the crème de la crème. The winery has participated on our board of directors, with partner Dave Pramuk being a Past President and sitting on our board for years. Also, on occasion, Dave has sought my help with editing his writing. He’s a great story teller, and I just edit his work, without changing very much at all… Mostly the dreaded punctuation that most people ask for help to finalize a great document.

For the rest of this week, I’m going to share their story. Perhaps it will inspire others, and perhaps it will be fun reading for those of you who aren’t in the business of wine. The story has broken down into the following:

  1. Robert Biale Vineyards Unique Point of View
  2. Napa Valley’s Early Forefather Aldo Biale
  3. A New Generation, the Founding Partnership
  4. Perpetuating and Saving Zinfandel, Our Dedicated Vineyard Partners


Robert Biale Vineyards Unique Point of View, by Dave Pramuk

Co-Founder of Robert Biale Vineyards with Robert (Bob) Biale

As a wine lover, wouldn’t it be cool if you could go back in time and taste the wines that our forefathers made over a century ago? Well actually, you can. Zinfandel, having been planted wider than any wine grape in California history, still thrives state-wide; and, many vineyards are among the oldest producing grapevines in the world. When you’re a winemaker in search of complex wine character and a sense of place, these old plants are living treasures.

We have been on a quest to realize the full potential of California’s historic vineyards, and to create greater understanding about the joyful pleasures and true character of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Honoring the wisdom and labors of our forefathers, and keeping the agricultural and social traditions alive that are unique to American wine, it doesn’t get any more gratifying than that in the wine business…

At Robert Biale Vineyards, where a Twenty Fifth Harvest Anniversary is being celebrated this fall, these examples of old vineyards in Napa Valley are very rare and considered by its founders and fanatics to be revered, historic sites. They are living landmarks – if you will – that capture the very essence of California wine quality: fruit purity, ideal balance, a strong sense of place, and an unabashed, unrivalled hedonistic pleasure. After all, our oldest vineyard sites are the near-magical deposits of soil, where our pioneering winemakers first chose to plant wine grapes. The more we make wine from these “heritage vineyards,” the more we realize that our founding farmers’ instincts and wisdom were remarkably spot-on. Farmed at low yields, with the utmost care, and made with minimal handling and intervention, our wines speak directly from the ground through the vine to the glass. This allows us to peer into the natural power of the site that our ancestors saw, while revealing a winegrapes’ fullest potential and expression of character.

And here’s the kicker: isn’t it interesting that our immigrant ancestors planted so many Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vines?

Zinfandel was a grape variety of uncertain origin in those days, but they knew it was hearty, adaptive, and ideally suited to their native rugged terrain and sun-washed growing season. Zinfandel, being tightly bunched, thin of skin, and sensitive to its surrounding conditions, distinctly reflects its environment, much in the same way as Pinot noir does. And, like Pinot, it’s more vulnerable in less than ideal conditions to bunch rot, mildew, and sunburn.

We now know that Zinfandel is one of the world’s most ancient wine grapes, having been traced back nearly a millennium, to the Dalmatian Coast and Central Europe. In the 1830’s, it then immigrated to plant nurseries in New York and Boston, where it was propagated and sold as a flavorful table grape. Once Zinfandel reached California in the 1850’s, the adopted son put down reputation roots across the entire state. And, it thrived in its newfound ideal home.

Petite Sirah followed a parallel path from France’s Rhone Valley to California. This began around the 1880’s, after a botanist named Francoise Durif developed a new variety through the pollination of Peloursin with Syrah. The variety quickly became favored by California winemakers for its inky color, density, reliability, and versatility in blending. It was also commonly interplanted among Zinfandel vineyards, and spread across the state. During Prohibition, Petite Sirah survived as an excellent variety for shipping to other states for home winemaking.  In Napa Valley, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel – the unheralded European orphans – became so accepted that they accounted for nearly half of the valley’s grape production until around 1970.

Today, Zinfandel comprises about two percent of Napa Valley production, where it once held at nearly 25 percent for decades… both before and after Prohibition. Petite Sirah accounts for less than one percent. In 1976, soon after Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were judged as superior to their French counterparts – by French judges in the historic “Judgement in Paris” – instant market pressure mounted to replace older Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and “mixed blacks” vineyards. Winemakers wanted more fashionable French varieties. This nearly doomed the time-honored heritage vineyards, which had performed so well for so long, as a casualty of modern day marketing. Progress was a two edged sword: a boon for the reputation of Napa Valley; but, a shame that so much of our traditional American legacy grape growing and winemaking, which had existed for a century, was lost.



The Diabetic Wine Lovers Guide, a pairing that works

The Diabetic Wine Lovers Guide… Do you think it can happen?

I know it can, because I have someone who, once he was “pre-diagnosed,” took his life into his own hands, and still drinks wine today, but lost the “pre-diagnosed.”


  • Change of eating habits.
  • Paleo diet, which precludes starches.
  • Joined a gym.
  • Is now in the greatest shape of his life.
  • Just shy of his 20 year old pounds.
  • NEVER stopped enjoying wine.

I was asked if I’d accept a copy of The Diabetic Wine Lover’s Guide. Heck, yeah. I’m all about health, organic foods, and delicious wines (in moderation with the wines).

This is one of the best books ever written for a diabetic, because today’s modern world knows more than ever about wine. Author Theodore Berland has created a very important body of work. Inspired by Harvey Posert… if you’re in the wine business and you don’t know who Harvey is, look him up for his great accomplishments… Theodore Berland has many degrees (B.S., A.M., FAMWA) and is an award-winning medical writer. He’s authored more than 20 books and has written for magazines, newspapers, and medical journals. (Side note: He’s also has written three plays.) This is a serious writer, and so this book cannot be taken lightly, by anyone not willing to listen.

Throughout The Diabetic Wine Lover’s Guide, he reminds his readers to work closely with their medical professional(s), and even suggests that if one’s doctor isn’t up on the latest research, this book provides a clearing house for those not yet up-to-date on the latest findings. Nothing is more concise and in one place, for learning what’s happening today with the latest studies and findings.

Read this book if:

  • Diabetes is in your family.
  • You’ve been pre-diagnosed.
  • You know someone pre-diagnosed.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You love someone with diabetes.
  • Your doctor isn’t yet enlightened.

I love Theodore’s history of diabetes. His statistics, however, I DO NOT love.

The US government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reported in the May 2014 issue of “The New England Journal of Medicine,” (1) that the number of U.S. adults with diagnosed diabetes in 2014 was 26 million. “Another 79 million,’ it commented, have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing the disease.”

The Diabetic Wine Lovers Guide ~ Jo’s Commentary

We all have choices:

  • Eat anything we want to, and wearing out our bodies with over indulgence.
    • Then, rely on drugs to “fix” us on a daily basis.
    • And… live with the drugs’ side effects on top of the problems with diabetes
  • Take our lives into our own hands.
    • And get real.

Diet, exercise, eating properly, and a positive attitude will take you to great places. This books suggests it all to you, too, in much more detail. With as many Americans who are either diabetic or per-diabetic, this book should just fly off the shelves. It’s staying on mine. I’ll buy the book for others. This one is a keeper.




Top 10 intriguing things about Spain and its wines

Spain and its wines

  1. Paella is a rice dish, not a seafood dish. (Whew, I’m allergic to sea food, so I’ll cozy up more to see what that protein is.)
  2. Ten top regions in Spain:
    1. Andalusia
    2. Asturias
    3. Basque Country
    4. Catalonia
    5. Castilla y Leon
    6. Extremadura
    7. Galicia
    8. Valencia
    9. Madrid
    10. Valencia
  3. The exciting nightlife in Madrid kicks off late – around 2:00 a.m.
    1. Okay, I’ll be totally missing that, unless I sleep all day.
    2. Maybe jet lag will make it easily possible for the first night.
  4. The beret is associated with France; but Basques, in northeast Spain, invented the beret.
  5. The main grape used for the white wine Rueda is Verdejo; although, the wine is often a blend, with the rest usually being Sauvignon Blanc).
  6. La Rioja is Spain’s most famous wine region, and we usually immediately think of red wine. It also makes good white wine, too. White Rioja is made from the Viura grape, which is also known as Macabeo.
  7. Spain has over 2.9 million acres of planted grape vines.
    1. This makes it most widely planted wine producing nation
    2. But, it’s the third largest producer of wine in the world: France is largest, followed by Italy.
  8. At the end of the nineteenth century, Spain’s sparkling wine emerged as “Cava” in Catalonia.
  9. The 80-20 Rule: It’s estimated that over 600 grape varieties are planted throughout Spain; but, 80 percent of the country’s  focus is only on 20 of the grape varieties.
    1. Very common in most countries – like Portugal and Italy, for instance – that have a tremendous amount of indigenous grape varieties that have evolved over the years.
  10. Just as Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, and Porto only comes from Portugal, Sherry ONLY comes from Spain.



Boyd Broland and their Birds, BoDean Company to the rescue

Boyd Brolan and their Birds…

We’re all just happy birds of a feather here in wine country, or so we thought. This is Wise Acre Farm, right in the middle of Windsor, California’s wine country. This is where hospitality is part of our daily due diligence.  This is a farm where I’ve brought my grandchildren. It’s great to see the source of your food. And, it’s marvelous to go on tour with the farmers and meet the hens laying one’s eggs.

I’ve been wanting to write this story for several days, but time hasn’t permitted. This explains why I’m coming to the party late, but I just got some dynamite lit under my chair that makes me very happy.

I took this image on July 30, before the storm, when all was happy! These young farmers really have the passion.

THE PLAYERS: Bryan Boyd, Raina Brolan, and the Birds

Free-range egg farmers Bryan Boyd and Raina Brolan have had so many challenges, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would be so unkind as to deny access for what is about eight cars a day.

At one point they had a bird disease,  which spread through their hen population, devastating it and perhaps their spirits for a bit. We all patiently waited until they could recover, including offering donations for living expenses. I was there for them, and know that a lot of other people were, too. Raina became retrained for a job, and had to leave her daily hen mothering. This wasn’t that long ago, either.

Now, they’re recovering, beginning to move forward nicely again, and their immediate neighbors just closed them down over a few feet of road access. Those of us who want to buy our wine country, free-range eggs have been told to take a hike, not by by Bryan or Raina, though. they’ve let us know of alternatives for a short while. Still, the sting of their neighbors is very hard to take, with such nice people just trying to make a decent living.

It was a day like any other. I needed free range eggs, the kind where I drive by the farm every day and see the hens promenading. This day I drove to my bank first to get cash (it’s a long process, not usual to buying eggs), I then drove to the egg stand and read this sign: “Closed, due to Windsor Oaks Vineyards and Winery is not letting us use their driveway anymore. We’ll reopen when we can build our own road,” the short version.

Are you kidding me? ~August 5, 2015

The story hit the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Yeah, it’s that big of a deal. [I knew it was a big deal, too]

August 5, 2015


Standoff with winery forces Windsor egg seller, Wise Acre Farms, to close farm stand

After almost four years of selling fresh eggs from a stand just off Arata Lane, Wise Acre Farms closed down its direct-to-consumer operation, rather than get into a court battle with Windsor Oaks Vineyards & Winery, which owns the road to the farm.

August 9, 2015


Close to Home: Sonoma County’s David vs. Goliath story

It’s a classic David vs. Goliath story, with the wine industry as Sonoma County’s Goliath. Its high-paid lobbyists and marketers re-branded this region from our cherished, natural “Redwood Empire” to their commercial “Wine Country.” Goliath hoards more than its fair share of water, agricultural land and road space. These wine barons run a wine empire.

August 12, 2015


Windsor egg stand to reopen after asphalt donation

Wise Acre Farms owner Bryan Boyd, who shut down his drive-up egg business when Windsor Oaks Vineyard & Winery insisted he no longer use a small stretch of their road, said the “generous donation” from BoDean Co. will enable him to build a new driveway.

“This will be the key to moving forward with the construction project,” he said Tuesday.

ACCORDING TO Josh Cleaver:

Windsor resident Josh Cleaver, director of sales and volume control for BoDean, said he was very impressed with the local sustainable egg operation and wanted to help out after reading of Boyd’s plight.

“If we can help in any way, I thought let’s do it,” Cleaver said. “It’s an organic, small business. People want to see those things succeed.”

I just spoke with Bryan, who told me that the generous offer from BoDean Company begins their process to have a driveway built, by their paying for the asphalt. There will still be structural change costs. I immediately thought of helping them again, with this process. My heart goes out to them, with this latest challenge. Let’s just say, there’s a story coming down from my site (a first for me in almost 10 years of publishing wine country stories); and, in its place, this one is going up.



Books,Wine,Wine Writer

Lettie Teague’s Wine in Words is headed toward one of the best wine books, ever

I just finished reading Lettie Teague’s Wine in Words, Notes for Better Drinking. Lettie is as much the resource as she is charming. Easy to read, personable, this valuable book is headed toward being one of the best wine books ever sold, historically… It’s a major keeper! Congratulations to Lettie Teague.


How do I love thee, let me count the ways:

  • Begins her book with fun things to know.
    • I agree that it’s boorish to be a bore with wine, as much as those who are this way with wine tend to think it’s more important to be superior.
    • Wine really isn’t about superiority; it’s about enjoyment, on any and all levels.
    • Most winemakers would agree that they appreciate enjoyment over pomposity.
  • Very easy and enjoyable book to read, for the novice and pro alike.
  • Lettie finds that tasting wine blindly is funny and truly useless; I agree.

I found her quote by Albert Einstein enlightening and perfect for today’s methods of operation, given the World Wide Web’s presence: “Never memorize anything you can look up.”  This was in relation to those who feel the need to study each vintage, and then wax poetic. I haven’t had the time, in my 23 years of learning about wine – with the exception of a few Margaux – to memorize vintages of importance. Lettie states that having a bit of knowledge will help you, when you’re looking at a wine list and don’t recognize one single producer, but it’s not life or death.

In regards to Einstein: I do remember reading that Albert Einstein’s brain was studied after death, and it was his amount of internal connections that made him considered to be such a genius. He didn’t have to memorize, he just made lots of connections to other related information, as he stored what was important to him.

From LiveScience.com: More brainy connections

The team found that, overall, Einstein’s brain had much more complicated folding across the cerebral cortex, which is the gray matter on the surface of the brain responsible for conscious thought. In general, thicker gray matter is tied to higher IQs.

Many scientists believe that more folds can create extra surface area for mental processing, allowing more connections between brain cells, Falk said. With more connections between distant parts of the brain, one would be able to make, in a sense, mental leaps, drawing upon these faraway brain cells to solve some cognitive problem.

Lettie Teague’s Need to Know also reminded me of being in Portugal. As I just wrote, there’s something here for everyone, from novice to pro. The most important aspect of her book is its approachability. It’s filled with her life experiences with wine; which could be misconstrued as anecdotal, as I write this, but it’s not missing the important facts and evidence. Lettie Teague is a pro, who draws upon her lessons and experiences to enliven her stories.

I loved her when she was at Food & Wine magazine. I followed her to the Wall Street Journal, and I’m so pleased that she got to write this book, which is her fourth.

According to her Website:

She has won three James Beard Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and her work can be found in the 2009 Best Food Writing Guide (DaCapo Press). She was recently inducted into the Wine Media Guild’s Wine Writers’ Hall of Fame…





Top 10 intriguing things about Argentina and its wines

Argentina and its wines

  1. Argentina is the world’s fifth largest producer of wine.
  2. Eighty percent of Argentina’s wine comes from Mendoza, South America’s largest wine producing region. (Yesterday, I wrote about the Grove Street Malbec. This is where the wine got its origin.)
  3. Spanish missionaries planted the first Vitis vinifera wine grapes in Argentina around 1550.
  4. Grapevines were shipped across the Atlantic by Michel A. Pouget, a French agronomist.
  5. Argentina boasts having the finest Malbec vines in the world, because they’ve not ever had phyloxxera, nor have they been grafted like elsewhere in the world, including France – Think Bordeaux.
  6. More Malbec is grown in Argentina than anywhere else in the world.
  7. The small town of Maipú, near  Mendoza, is so packed with wineries that it’s easy to hit five or six in a day.
    1. I never want to visit more than three in a day, because I will learn more about those three and have more intimate memories.
  8. Argentina’s Torrontés is a naturally occurring cross between Criolla negra and Muscat of Alexandria.
  9. Cabernet Franc is flourishing in Argentina as a cultivar.
  10. The Grape Harvest Festival in Argentina is world class, according to the Travel Channel.
    1. So it must be great… being right up there with Boston’s Wine Festival.
    2. I would have picked the Santa Fe Chile and Wine Festival, personally, having been numerous times to all US wine festivals within the Continental US, but that’s another story.



*Meet Henri – Henri le Chat Noir

Make sure you have a glass of wine for this. Today, I’m not able to blog, so this blog post was created ahead of time, when I DID have time to blog. So, today, I’m going to leave you in the hands of Henri, le Chat Noir.

Henri 9 – “Blight of Spring”

Henri le Chat Noir

Meet Henri – William Braden’s “Henri 9” means that there are a lot more Henri episodes to watch, along with having a book. I like this one specifically, and think if you have a passion for wine, and a passion for cats – or maybe even dogs, they all seem to have similar thoughts in varying degrees, don’t they? The book about Henri is called, “Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat”. It should be in the wine library of cat lovers. When you feel like having a glass of wine, a few good chuckles, and something worth reading, pull out those existential musings. I can’t see who any of it would get old. It’s like going back to Seinfeld episodes. They’re always funny.

The author of this video brilliant. From a Wiki page:

The first short film Henri was a film project by William Braden who was studying at the Seattle Film Institute. Braden was inspired by the American perception on French films viewing them as “very pretentious and self-involved. […] And what could be more self-absorbed and pampered than a house cat?”

Braden wrote the scripts while his mother, who is fluent in French, helped with pronunciations and proper usage.[1] Henri was written, filmed and edited in eleven days.

It’s no so much about a cat, as it is the attitude. Very funny and very short, and – again – get a sip of wine to go with it.


PR Advice,Public Relations,Spirits

A funny broken promise ~ PR 101

PR 101: Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. A broken promise is not good PR.

I love queries; they’re very insightful, and this is one of the most fascinating, yet.

Her QUERY on July 21

Hi Jo,

Hope you are well! As you may know, July 27 marks National Scotch Day – a great excuse for whisky lovers to kick back and celebrate America’s favorite Scottish import!

Why not toast to this occasion with a smoky cocktail twist to spice up your average dram of neat scotch? This year, BLANK SCOTCH COMPANY has mixed up some of its distinct, Islay peat into delicious, easy-sipping cocktails for a warm July day. I have included the recipes below and attached hi-res images for your reference!

Additionally, if you’re planning any Scotch whisky round-ups around the occasion, look no further than BLANK SCOTCH COMPANY. BLANK SCOTCH COMPANY is distilled the same way today as it first was 200 years ago, and its unmatched quality and unique, smoky taste have made BLANK SCOTCH COMPANY a perennial favorite of Scotch lovers across the globe.

I’m happy to share additional imagery or samples if you’d like – looking forward to hearing from you soon!

My RESPONSE on July 21

Hi, Elizabeth. Ordinarily, I’d pass because I’m so crazy busy.

But… I’m descended from the Kings of Scot, gave birth to my first child on a July 27 [National Scotch Day]… And, I’ve NEVER tasted Scotch. If you can get a small sample to me, I’ve got a good story and will bring attention to your client’s scotch.

Her RESPONSE on July 22

Hi Jo,

Thank you for your response!

Unfortunately, we are not sending samples at this time. We appreciate your interest in BLANK SCOTCH COMPANY!


Huh? Why did you query me?

Why did you say “I’m happy to share additional imagery or samples if you’d like…” Yesterday you had samples and today – one day later – you don’t?

The PR lesson

I could have had fun with this; and in many ways, I still am. It’s a classic example of “don’t make promises that you can’t keep.”


Petite Sirah,Wine

Petite sirah isn’t petite, according to Michael Dresser

Having started the Petite Sirah wine advocacy group called PS I Love You, I know that I’ve read at least 95 percent of all the stories on Petite Sirah, since 2002. They’ve even been listed on the PSILY site in the Reviews section, dates all included with the authors and their views.

Oh, the spellings, the bastardizing of its lineage, the misinformation in general… I’ve had to endure it all.

On a day when the worst story ever was printed about Petite Sirah, I also received a story from wine writer Michael (Mike) Dresser published on, Sunday, September 29, 1996, in The Baltimore Sun. Mike mentioned “vindication’ and so I thought it was in reference to a story that slammed Petite Sirah from here to kingdom come. Instead, though, it was purely coincidence.

This story doesn’t exist on the Internet anywhere, because it predates what newspapers were actually putting onto the Worldwide Web. Here are Michael Dressers thoughts on Petite Sirah:


 TITLE OF DRESSER’S STORY: Petite sirah isn’t petite


What was the status of Petite Sirah in 1996, because growers and producers in 2002 felt that if had fallen off the face of the earth?

Michael Dresser:

I realized that wines once considered a no-account, unsophisticated grape, like Petite Sirah, may be gaining fans, who among savvy consumers and knowing a good value when they tasted one. In my story I stated that Petite Sirah grape is neither petite nor is it Syrah. That much we knew.

I wrote: Petite sirah, sometimes spelled petite syrah, is a mystery grape with a shady reputation. It’s been hanging out in the vineyards of California for some time, producing burly red wines that delicate palates dismiss as crude. During the 1980s, the conventional wisdom was that petite sirah was actually the French durif — a coarse, thuggish wine variety in its own right. But that theory has come into question. Now petite sirah’s origins are even more mysterious than those of zinfandel, which was recently “outed” as Croatia’s plavac mali.


Dr. Carol Meredith’s finding of Petite Sirah’s DNA hadn’t surfaced yet, so I can see how confusing it must have been for everyone.

Michael Dresser:

For years, the rap on petite sirah had been that it was a low-class, no-account, unsophisticated grape even more southern (south of France, that is) than its distant relation, the noble syrah, which produces such widely adored wines as Hermitage and Cote Rotie. The assumption at the time was that the true syrah would inevitably nudge aside the remaining petite sirah vines. And in fact, many acres of venerable petite sirah vines had been uprooted to make way for more fashionable varieties on younger vines that would produce more tons of grapes. It’s a shame, because petite sirah is a grape with its own distinctive character.


What do you like about Petite Sirah, since you’re a fan of it?

Michael Dresser:

It produces concentrated red wines that typically display flavors of blackberry, game, coffee, and chocolate. It also often shows a “dusty” quality that’s an acquired taste. Among grape varieties grown in California, only cabernet sauvignon can rival its aging potential.

Fortunately, petite sirah has always had its friends — a stubborn band of winemakers who understand that the variety is capable of making extremely flavorful and concentrated red wines with enormous aging potential. They see California’s dwindling acreage of old-vines petite sirah as a viticultural gold mine, and they’re digging for all they’re worth.

Jo Diaz:

That’s still going on today, Mike. Dave Pramuk, of Robert Biale Vineyards, told me years ago, he’s got some Napa growers puling up their Napa Valley Cab and planting it over to Petite Sirah, because Biale will pay Napa Valley Cabernet prices for the Petite. That’s pretty forward thinking, in my book.

What can you tell us about retail sales in the 1996?

Michael Dresser:

Retailers said that they had noted some increased interest in petite sirah during those years. Some savvy consumers began to notice that some petite sirahs — notably those of Guenoc, Foppiano, Bogle and Concannon — were among the best red-wine values on the market, at the time.

This increased interest inspired some producers to go for the gold with petite sirahs, and costs began to be at $20 and up. Some of these wines were very impressive. I watched to see whether people buy them… and they did.

The rather limited selection of petite sirahs on the market uncovered some real diamonds in the rough.


Do you remember which ones were your favorites?

Michael Dresser:

That was nearly 20 years ago. I’ll also give you the prices for a fair comparison of where the wines have gone witht heir price increases.

  • 1991 Foppiano Reserve “La Grand Petite” Petite Sirah, Napa Valley ($24)
  • 1994 Elyse Petite Syrah*, Napa Valley ($22)
  • 1993 Guenoc Petite Sirah, North Coast ($14.49)
  • 1992 Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah ($21)
  • 1994 Concannon Petite Sirah, Central Coast ($11)
  • 1994 Bogle Petite Sirah ($9)
  • 1992 Foppiano Petite Sirah, Sonoma County ($12.49)

SIDEBAR: I decided to dig around and give you today’s prices of these same wines, just for comparison:

  • 1991 Foppiano Petite Sirah (ranges with multiple brands from $10 – $20)
  • 1994 Elyse Petite Syrah ($37)
  • 1993 Guenoc Petite Sirah ($12)
  • 1992 Ridge Petite Sirah ($35)
  • 1994 Concannon Petite Sirah (ranges with multiple labels from $18 – $40)
  • 1994 Bogle Petite Sirah (ranges with multiple labels from $9 – $20)

* The TTB no longer allows for the use of a “y” instead of the “i” in Petite Sirah. It was one of the issues of confusion for Petite Sirah for a very long time. It was, thankfully and very much appreciated, eliminated as many as six to seven years ago.




Terroir, what’s the big deal?

If you ask anyone in France, “What’s terroir all about?” not only will that person tell you in words, but his hands… and even his entire body… will go into action.  A word created by French vignerons, you can bet your bippy that it means something, and it’s worth writing about it for the uninitiated. If you’re still skeptical after this, go fight with the French… on their own turf, in their own vineyards, under their own blue (or gray) skies. It exists, take it from someone who’s got some French in her (Bernier and Ouellette; Bernier pronounced like Viognier, and Ouellette pronounced like Willette) to know it’s for real.

I marvel at those who would love to just dismiss it. It’s like telling someone in the deepest regions of New Guinea, for instance, that Facebook exists and they challenge you on it. Ignorance is bliss, but it’s only ignorance of facts. When someone’s light bulb goes on, it’s like a Christmas tree just lit for the first time of that season.

I wrote this one a long time ago, in my wine blogging land, but I haven’t published it yet. I don’t know why… holding it back as I’ve seen other try to take it on, for good, better, or best… I’ve just let it rest right here, but now is the time.

Terroir beginning with Earth

Let’s see, which end begins the definition? Do I start at the top with the skies; or do I start with the bottom, the earth.

Let’s begin with earth, which is always referred to as Mother Nature, by those who worship the ground that we walk upon for giving us all things naturally great. For me to understand Pangaea, I decided to study geology. I spent five months reading everything I could get my eyes on, both on and off line. It began with the earth churning and turning and eventually pushing up a land mass. That super continent, called Pangaea, formed approximately 300 million years ago; and then, it began to break apart forming seven continents, after approximately 100 million years.

University of Wisconsin-Madison: In 2001, scientists reported that tiny zircon crystals had been found in Western Australia, and are the oldest known materials formed on Earth, some 4.4 billion years ago. In a more recent study, which appeared in the journal Nature Geoscience, geochemist Jack Valley (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and his colleagues have further reiterated that the crystals are indeed as old as was first theorized, in 2001.

Consider earth now in each region. The climate of each is going to vary, depending on latitude and longitude. What happened next, once continents existed, were life forms taking shape. What those life forms left behind, including any inland seas, rivers, lakes, etc., will become future life, based on all climatic conditions. When life forms die, they return to the earth as nitrogenous waste. What a tree, flower, and/or an animal (including the human species) leave behind will break down and return to the earth, nourishing those soils. This is all relative to what that earth will ultimate become. What you find in the soil of Maine, for instance, for minerals, will greatly vary from those found in California. If you think that this is incorrect, then I must draw you to an important manifestation. When the North American plate occurred, it was aligned with another oceanic plate to the west called the Farallon plate. (Scientists concur that the Farallon Islands remain as part of that plate.)

San Joaquin Valley Geology: [The] Farallon plate (which preceded the Pacific Plate) and the North American plate were moving towards each other; with dense oceanic crust (basalt) of the Farallon plate diving beneath the more buoyant continental crust (granite) of North America. This process, which is called subduction…

  • Farallon = Basalt
  • North America = Granite
  • Pacific = Sandy loam topsoil + Sandstone = moderate clay layer

The Pacific plate, submerged by the Pacific Ocean for most of its life, acquired numerous limestone deposits from the decay of marine organisms in this region. It is today one of the few places where granite and limestone are co-located, providing a well drained and mineral rich soil well suited to viticulture. [Michaud Vineyard]

This is the evidence of why the Pacific Coast, born of the Pacific Plate that subducted the Farallon Plate, provides a completely different soil type than any other viticultural region in the United States. Even within the western coastline of viticultural regions, there are even more breakdowns of soils.

Terroir, how complicated are your soils?

As winemaker Joe Freeman of The Rubin Family of Wines said to me in an interview, when discussing Green Valley’s soil types:

As different aspects work together, you can put Goldridge soil in Wisconsin, and you’re not going to grow premium wine grapes. You can move this Mediterranean climate to Georgia, and with their humidity and everything else, you’re still going to get a completely different game.

Moving on to Climate in Terroir

Since Joe Freeman also brought up “climate,” let’s explore this one, too.

Temperatures, fog, sunshine, rain, wind, storms, sea breezes (where applicable) all contribute to terroir. Simple terroir 101: The differences between a Maine McIntosh apple and a Sebastopol one… Just taste one of each, and you’ll come away from the tasting saying… Wow!” Regionalism clearly defines terroir, if you can just buy into that “word” given to us by our French heritage. It’s a really easy sell for terroir, when you immediately taste a comparative difference. Terroir is not just about grapes, either, although it’s mainly applied to winemaking. It’s about everything that has to do with a region and growing a crop within that region. The terroir of lilacs… Grow them in Maine, forget them in California. They struggle there, while they proliferate in Maine. The same can be said for blueberries. Have you ever picked and eaten a wild Maine blueberry on the spot, then tasted the huge ones that grow in Oregon?

  • Give me a handful of wild Maine ones any day of the week.
  • If I want a Pinot Noir grape, though, I won’t find a single one in Maine.
  • If I eat a Pinot Noir grape from California, with our lack of moisture, they’re going to taste completely differently from those grown in Oregon
  • … and still more differently than those grown in Washington State.
  • Some other indigenous, agricultural examples:
    • Massachusetts cranberries
    • Idaho potatoes
    • Grains in the Midwest

Why? Terroir, and in every case… Climate and soils.

According to climatologist Dr. Mark Greenspan of Advanced Viticulture:

Climate often gets neglected in discussions about “terroir.” People think “soil,” and soil is definitely important. When they think about “terroir, it’s definitely important. Grapes grow in an environment, and the flavors and all the ripening characteristics of the fruit are really linked to the environment; specifically and most importantly it’s about temperature. It’s as simple as that. There are a lot of nuances in temperature. It’s more than what’s the temperature right now? It’s what are the day time and night time differences? How cold does it get at night, how warm does it get during the daytime? And different varieties respond differently to different climates, that’s why different varieties are grown in different regions due to climate and soil.

People Who Work the Vineyards

Vineyard managers get it. They work with vines each and every day. It’s like the Little Red Hen story. They do all of the following:

  • Select the vines
  • Plant them
  • Nurture them
  • Irrigate them
  • Train them
  • Trellis them
  • Prune and thin them
  • Net them from birds just before harvest
  • Harvest them
  • And get them to the winery for wine production

According to Jim Pratt of Cornerstone Certified Vineyards:

Hundreds of thousands of years ago it [California] was under the sea as part of the Pacific Ocean. When the Pacific receded, it left great soil: sandstone, down about anywhere from about five to nine feet, with a sandy loam soil on top. So what we have is a moderate clay layer that’s permeable to water. This gives us outstanding drainage, with the sandy loam on top. This is good nutrient content, but not so much that it dictates the vigor of the vine. This way the wine maker and grape grower can actually work together with the soil, take what it gives, and then add this Russian River area climate. We have the best of both worlds; we have great soil and outstanding climate. This gives us a perfect terroir…

More to Consider for Terroir ~ Aesthetics

Like those crazy commercials… But wait… there’s more…

Earth, climate, and people are huge components for terroir. They’re tangible objects. But what about the intangible?

What about the feeling you get when you’re walking through a vineyard… the natural buzz you get from the spirit energy of the region?

Many First Nation Americans get the mythology of the spirit that Earth delivers. Mythology, too, is part of terroir. Each original tribe that crossed the Bering Straight, when the ocean was lower and allowed people to migrate to the North American Plate created their own stories; However each one, as a common thread, refers back to a universal and omniscient Great Spirit, a connection to their Earth.

Today, perhaps it’s because those who work the vineyards are having a firsthand experience each day with what nature delivers. It’s also seen on the faces of those that you encounter in the vineyards and ask them about their experiences… They light up when they talk about being among the vines. They have energy for delivering even more of what the earth has to offer, which deeply connects them to their roots, literally and figuratively. Their body language is saying, terroir. It’s the screech of the owl, cleaning the vineyards of pests. It’s the fog that seemingly rolls in. It’s… most important to this entire subject…  The unique flavors delivered by everything and everyone along this chain of happenstance. It’s terroir.

If viticulturists, winemakers, and climatologist all get it, then it is what it is… Terroir

Perhaps this introduction will begin a journey for you to understand the most complex part of grape growing… terroir.