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Turning up the sizzle on an already hot commodity ~ Petite Sirah Symposium

The Petite Sirah Symposium, about to go into its eleventh incarnation, has been a sellout every single year of its existence. The mother lode of single variety symposiums, people have gathered in the past to discuss a single variety known as Petite Sirah; but those events have never been formal or continuous, nor have they been open to the wine industry at large.

This is a continuous, single variety meeting, at which specialists deliver short addresses on Petite Sirah’s history, growing, winemaking, marketing, in a round table format, followed by a Petite tasting for wine professionals.

Still after all of these years, one has to ask oneself, “Do these wine grape growers and winemakers still want to sit around and hash over the same-old-same-old for the eleventh straight year in a row?”

The answer could be “No thanks. Been there, done that so many times, we get it… Easy to grow in a dry season; not so easy to make… But we get it; drop crop, open top fermenters, cold soak, native yeast, etc., etc., etc..”

So to get ahead of that answer, the real question is, “What can be done to take the interest over the top this year, and still deliver a forum that has everyone remaining jazzed about having another day solely devoted to Petite Sirah?”

Simple, and keynote speaker Steve Heimoff unwittingly came up not only the answer, but also the mission of this year’s 11th Annual Petite Sirah Symposium… Petite Sirah R-E-S-P-E-C-T, with a strong dose of marketing.

Steve and I both read a recent story about Petite Sirah, and we had the exact same reaction: “When in the world are people going to stop harping on the fact Petite Sirah – for years – was an under-appreciated variety?” Both Steve and I know that Petite Sirah has moved from a blender to a contender (a statement coined by the late David Jones)… into its new place in the hearts of many wine pros and consumer fans alike. If you love Petite, you’re passionate about it. If you don’t get it, those of us who love it know that what you don’t enjoy will be left for us, so we’re all pretty satisfied…

Petite Sirah has a quiet, passionate following, and we’re going to take it up a notch to get that respect going… collectively.

Best kept secret…

Regardless of whether or not people lover hate it, it’s a winemakers wine.

In 2002, when the first Symposium was held at Foppiano Vineyards, there were only 62 growers and producers combined from which to query for the First Petite Sirah Symposium. Eleven years later, we have over 1,000 involved vintners and growers to query.  By anybody’s standards, that’s phenomenal growth from those who care about growing, making, and enjoying Petite Sirah.

So, where can the PS Symposium possibly go from here?

The importance of this variety is clear, single purpose marketing…

Concannon Vineyard – the first winery to every label petite Sirah as a single variety – wouldn’t be hanging its hat on producing the Petite Sirah Symposium for its fifth year in a row (including this year’s), if there weren’t some serious respect already out there.

You might assume that this event is produced by PS I Love You… It never has been.

Originally, Foppiano Vineyards produced the Symposium, from 2002 until 2007. In 2008, Foppiano decided that it was time to let the symposium go.

It was Concannon Vineyard that quickly stepped in to bring the event to Livermore Valley, where the first bottle of varietally labeled Petite Sirah happened. Jim Concannon, in 1964 with a 1961 vintage, bottled the first Concannon Petite Sirah at the urging of his retail friend Denny Caldwell.

Historical significance is a great start

People at UC Davis have long called it a historical variety of significance (Dr. James Wolpert, Dr. Deborah Golino, and Dr. Nancy Sweet), for instance.

So many star winemakers work with Petite Sirah

Throw in a couple of up and coming stars in the wine business with their Petites and what makes theirs so special, and everyone will listen. They always do, trying to find a common thread that they can take home with them.

Bring in the Marketers

This has been a key missing ingredient for “Once you get it, then what do you do about it?” with the exception of one other direct to consumer effort many years ago.

Petite Sirah needs a focused hymnal book, in which all of the chords are harmoniously blended, and all of the words are sung in one, unified voice.

Who better to do that, to take something long thought of as running against the grain, and ingraining it to become the top selling US wine, than Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, the founders of Barefoot Wines? During a time when wine was considered a beverage of the elite, Michael and Bonnie moved forward against the grain. They introduced a wine for the masses called Barefoot Cellars. It was a wine intended for those looking for a fun adventure and interesting chatter, not a night filled with nuances of lemon grass or saddle leather. It was an introductory experience and it’s sold millions and millions of cases, in the US market. It wasn’t so much the wine, it was the message….

We realize there’s no silver bullet for Petite Sirah… no “one size fits all” popularity contest; however, there is still a way to bring Petite to those who have yet to discover it in a fun enjoyable way, and this year we’re going to collectively explore those options, with Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey leading the marketing way.

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