[This Petite Sirah character was created by Appellation America, based on a poem I had written about Petite Sirah. Do you need inspiration, a wine with sensation?]

The question posed to Dr. Vino at the Eighth Annual Petite Sirah Noble Symposium this year was, “Can Petite Sirah be the next Pinot Noir?” Or, more to the point, “What’s the key to making Petite Sirah the next hottest variety?”

This topic was suggested by a marketing agent, who thought this would be a great concept to explore for its possibilities.

Honestly, I’m not sure that it ever can be that “hot,” based on the fact that it’s the biggest, baddest, boldest red wine on the market. It’s not a starting point for the average consumer. It’s a finishing point for most… Especially in wine competitions. If I had an inordinate amount of time and resources from the wine industry, I could spend copious energy gathering the evidence. I don’t have that kind of support, though. I do from my members, but they are few in comparison to how many vintners produce Petite, and those willing to support Petite’s marketing efforts.

Not complaining… Just stating the facts as I know them. There are 800 growers and producers of PS, and only 80 members… Ten percent is not a powerhouse of support. Those who do, though, are the most passionate among us. They’re the leading thinkers in the wine business, who understanding the power of collective marketing.

When Francois Durif crossed Syrah and Peloursin, little did he know how big (and I don’t mean broadly popular) this grape variety was going to be. You’ll read by others what a “silver bullet” it is for other grape varieties needing a little backbone (Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet, and – yes – even Pinot Noir)… But, you’re going to find some who will never believe that this variety is going to become everyone’s house wine.

Why do I feel it’s not ever going to be that mainstream?

Because it takes a really developed palate with red wines to ever “get it.” There are even those who will argue that to go past a Cabernet Sauvignon palate means that your palate is now on the rough side… That Cab is king. Cab’s elegant sophistication is where a connoisseur needs to stop and enjoy that nobility. To that I say, “Well, get over it.”

While cabs are really that good, so are Petites, put into their own context. I had to learn to enjoy Merlot, for instance. It wasn’t an overnight success for me. Once I tasted a Charles Creek Merlot, though, my light bulb went on. It hadn’t to that point in time, and I had tasted Merlot for years, wanting to get it. The right Petite – and there are many, many styles – will do that for others, too, I believe.

But mainstream? How many years is it going to take for that? Will I live long enough to see it? Not sure.

But… can more Petite be sold to adventurous palates? Yes.

So… what was Dr. Vino’s advice?

Social media… Get the word out. Facebook, Twitter, blogs… Anything and everything available to us marketing types. That takes time, and time is money, and having an annual budget of about $24,000 for PSILY isn’t going to propel this variety into anything more than a drop into cyber space each day, as we “make it work.”

[Image borrowed from schon.com, the creator of this permanent tribute to the runners of the Boston Marathon. The image is by William Traub.]

When I started PSILY in 2002, I had identified 67 growers and producers combined. Today, that number has grown to about 800 growers and producers combined. If every one of these guys only gave PSILY $100 a year, this group would have an annual budget of $80,000 a year, versus $24,000… That $56,000 is the difference between the tortoise and the hare. But, I’m also not naive. I know that the 720 non-members of PSILY (we’ve only got 80 growers and producers willing to support the effort) don’t understand the impact we’d collectively have, if we’d just all banned together. Most of them have done this with ZAP, and in their world, they just can’t join every group available to them… And, I understand that. So, we’ll continue to just creep along until the hare takes a nap and we cross the finish line.


Why is it that Petite Sirahs get sweepstakes awards in so many wine competitions… mostly tasted after Cabernets?


As the last wine to taste, right after Cabernets, wine judges’ palates are more than a bit wine weary, and along comes a wine so flavorful it slaps their taste buds into a renewed alertness. (International Wine Competition 2010 – Best Red Wine, a 2007 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley, $12.99, with one quick search.)

Here are some of Dr. Vino’s suggestions, facts, and figures; then, if you’re completely intrigued, you can watch the video of his presentation to get the rest on the PSILY Website.

Basically, it was “look to the younger Millennial generation,” who drove wine sales in 2009, as evidenced from the figures below.

  • Millennials ~ born from 1981 to 2001 ~ 46%
  • Generation X ~ born from 1965 to 1980 ~ 23%
  • Boomers ~ born from 1946 to 1954 ~ 7%
  • Aged 63+ ~ born from 1928 to 1945 ~ -1%

With the US soon to be the largest wine consuming country, consider the Millennials’ characteristics:

  • Ages 16 to 33
  • Very experimental
  • Mobile
  • Enjoy humor
  • Enjoy wine
  • Wine is democratic
  • No newspapers
  • “Sierra Gap” ~ John Gillespie coined this term
    • 90 percent of core drinkers buy wine from California
    • 79 percent of marginal drinkers also buy wine from California
    • Californians rate wines from their state being much higher, than did people from other places, creating the “Sierra Gap”

Another factor is the nature of the past is no longer the same landscape:

  • For 25 years, the world of wine criticism was driven by a handful of powerful critics
  • Tough times for media, citing New York Times, Food & Wine Magazine, Wine Spectator, and Gourmet magazine (Gourmet is no longer in business)
  • Journalism used to be talking at the reader
  • Blogs are talking with the reader
  • Forums and subscriptions
  • Twitter = opinion shapers

Finally, Where do Millennials get their recommendations?

  • Offline friends
  • Online friends
  • Store clerks — the new wave of retail

So, those were his walking orders, and I get it… But I can’t haul this tortoise alone, so I’m waiting for non-members of PSILY to “catch on” to the power of collective marketing, and make my job ~ marketing them ~ a whole lot easier.

But, I ask this question in the process. Does every brand want Petite to segue from a Pet Project to a Cash Cow?

I’m not so sure… The finish line will tell the true story.

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