As Stephen Covey has taught many with his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First: It Takes an Extraordinary Person to Coordinate an event like WOPN… And that person is Felicia Montemayor.

A big, huge “Thank You,” Felicia, as the coordinator of the World of Pinot Noir. This comes from a fellow event organizer (Dark & Delicious for consumers, and the Petite Sirah Annual Symposium for winegrowers and wine producers). I intimately know what an exhausting job it is to create a flawless event for everyone to enjoy. We event organizers also know that behind the scenes, after an event, there needs to be a front-line-learning process, or the next event cannot eclipse the prior year. While this was my first year attending the World of Pinot Noir, I gauged the success of it from an attendee’s level, and it was flawless. I don’t how to improve it, but I’m betting Felicia’s got her list going… It’s just what we do.

I’ve decided the following:

  • WPON 2009 won’t be my last
  • WPON took someone as amazing as Felicia to pull it all off
  • WPON’s staff was perfect in every conceivable way

Next, another Stephen Covery habit ~ Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.

I have a lot to learn about the world of Pinot. My career has taken many varietal twists and turns, and as much as I’ve loved Pinot as a cultivar, my experiences have been based around other grape varieties, while still loving soft, voluptuous Pinots. With David Bruce of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, I’ve tasted his Petites like they were crafted in a delicate Pinot Noir way, and I’m hooked on his Petites; but, I’m also very hooked on his Pinot Noirs.

One of the guest speakers at the WOPN was John Winthrop Haeger. John led the opening seminar entitled, The Pinot Primer. Steve Heimoff told me that each year John leads a panel discussion, and each year it’s different but equally fascinating.

True to form, John kicked off the weekend with an interactive and educational overview of the events offered at the 2009 WOPN. According to Felicia, “John Haeger tailors each edition of the Pinot Primer to provide background for the year’s seminars. This year, he focused on the growing attention to Pinot Noir in countries where it’s new or marginal, and on the transformation of viticulture everywhere (for better and worse) in the last 150 years.” (A great feature.)

Each guest also received a copy of Haeger’s latest book, Pacific Pinot Noir ~ A Comprehensive Winery Guide for Consumers and Connoisseurs, that he signed. (A great benefit.)

I made a decision that I needed his first book, in order to begin this new learning curve, North American Pinot Noir. Steve Heimoff was kind enough to introduce me to John, and then it all began…

Steve shared with John that he often quotes him, and gives him credit in the process for what John considers the two top grape varieties… Pinot Noir and… there was a bit of a pause, perhaps Steve knew that the mere mention of “Syrah” would begin a debate between what they and I were thinking… And, he was right. As soon as Syrah came out of Steve’s mouth… I was off and running, just as Steve knew I would be. Steve walked away, leaving poor John to hear my all too familiar refrain for Steve… And I was fine with that. Steve’s given me great moments as a guest speaker at our PS I Love You annual meeting, and last year was awarded our prestigious Phenomenal Scribe award.

[To the right: Gary Pisoni and Steve Heimoff]

I at least piqued John’s curiosity, as all of the reasons that he wrote about Pinot Noir have now become a parallel universe for Petite Sirah. I gave John facts and figures that I’ve been gathering for the last seven years, starting in February 2002. The statistics are astounding for quiet growth. Dan Berger pays close attention to my press releases, because he’s long been a fan of Petite Sirah’s age-worthiness, another Phenomenal Scribe award recipient (2007).  Dan is very aware that for California red wines, Petite Sirahs age better than Cabernets, given their tannic structure and our sunshine state. It’s a masterfully beautiful thing…

As I read John’s introduction, I had an Aha! moment… All the things I had been telling him about Petite Sirah were the same exact points of interest that swept him into the Pinot Noir world. And, as he contemplates his next great book, I suggested Petite Sirah. I’m going to get my guys to send him samples, so he can evaluate the state of the grape at this point in time. This little exercise has blown away more than one wine writer, and I’ll continue to chip away at those who have a mild interest. They easily get it, when it becomes a focused tasting.

John said that he would consider a story if there were several intriguing revelations.  Well, with only 6,000+ acres planted in the US, and over 550 producers putting their Pet Project of perhaps less then 300 cases on a label, something’s going on. It’s a winemakers’ wine… It’s that simple. Winemakers do whatever they have to to meet mainstream, consumer demands; but, behind closed doors, many of them are totally passionate about Petite. Some even had a mediocre feeling about whether-or-not it sells right out, because once it’s gone, there goes their nectar of the gods.

Back to reading John’s introduction… Here’s what stunned me with parallels:

  • Both Pinot and Petite have cult status and a following.
  • There’s too much activity sprinkled around the globe, not just in California’ although, most of the acres are here (Israel has started calling Petite their benchmark variety, Australia is another area where Petite is a focused grape variety under the synonym name of Durif, there’s Petite in Mexico which Jim Concannon’s grandfather brought to President Diaz ~ no relation ~ and state-by-state, winemakers are giving it a try in the US.
  • Wine competitions are constantly give their sweepstakes award to a Petite Sirah, or Best of Red, or Best of Region. Perhaps it’s because after tasting a 1,000 other wines, by the time they get to the Petite Sirah’s, amazing flavors cut through their palate fatigue… Who knows?
  • Years ago, good luck finding Petite on a wine list. Today, if it doesn’t have its own category, at least it’s on the list, placed there by the most discerning sommeliers.

This list goes on, as does the growth. I’ve got winemaker Gilles Liege in the Rhone growing Petite, so he can petition his government at some point in time, because he’s distressed that a national treasure was snubbed by the French government and it lost its history for many years (since 1884, when it first crossed the Atlantic), but has been embraced by California as our own. (He wants his child back, and who can blame him?)

In the 1960s, Napa Valley was primarily planted to Petite Sirah by 60 percent. We’ve got a Heritage Clone Vineyard going in front of the Robert Mondavi Art Center at UC Davis this spring… Petite Sirah is on the move.

If John doesn’t take on the challenge of writing about an American Heritage variety, call me with a book deal. Let’s get this thing going!

PS: I may be the only person who can go off track at a Pinot Noir festival; but please know, that was my only moment and the only split second blink of opportunity. The rest of the event was completely devoted to Pinot Noir in all ways.