On April 23, Jose and I headed to a unique tasting event in Lodi for Petite Sirah growers.  The Petites were all from the 2013 vintage and were unadulterated, unblended, single vineyard Petite Sirahs that have been stored in neutral oak barrels.

I brought my electric tooth brush, and needed it.

I love Lodi. I used to visit there for work and then I’d continue on, driving to the Sierras to work at Ironstone Vineyards. Ironstone also owns Bear Creek Winery in Lodi. They don’t toot that horn very much, but it’s worthy of mention; because, that’s where most of their wine comes from… the Lodi region. My favorite variety from Ironstone was their Cabernet Franc… winemaker Steve Millier did great things with it, while I was working for them. He’s still there, so I don’t doubt that their wines are still a great value.

The Lodi tasting was hosted by Kevin Phillips, vice president of operations at Michael David Winery. Kevin is a sixth generation grape grower in Lodi, and his family is a great supporter of PS I Love You, the wine advocacy group that I founded and have been operating since 2002.  Kevin also oversees vineyard management, grower relations, and wine production for Michael David Winery.

The tasting event took place at Michael David Winery’s Bare Ranch in Lodi. And we also participated in discussions with the growers, and then had lunch together.

From their Website about Bare Ranch:

The beautifully landscaped property is surrounded by 180 acres of vineyard and provides the perfect atmosphere that mixes history with beauty. An Arts & Crafts (Craftsman) style home built in 1903 sits on the grounds provides a beautiful backdrop… and is utilized by the Phillips Family for business and private use. Rancho del Oso was an operating winery until the early 1950’s and most of the original buildings remain on the property today.

All of the Petite Sirahs that we tasted are certified under the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, California’s first third party-certified sustainable winegrowing program. It was originally launched in 2005, and over the past two years the program has gone through an extensive review to update and make standards much more rigorous. The Lodi Rules takes a comprehensive approach to farming, which goes well beyond pest management, to promote practices that enhance biodiversity, water and air quality, soil health, and employee and community well-being. This allows the Lodi wine growers to produce higher quality wines that are more reflective of the places and people that grow them.

After the tasting, we had a question and answer session.

A question was asked by either a producer or a grower (not sure who)… What is it going to take for Petite Sirah to become more better known and on wine lists? There’s not enough marketing for this variety.

I restrained myself from answering, and it wasn’t easy. I didn’t go there to be the Petite Sirah lady. I was asked to go as a media person who writes about Petite Sirah. So, it was tackled by Kevin Phillips’ sister Melissa Phillips Stroud, because she’s in the Michael David marketing department. She came up with the usual answers, but still… I’m so far behind the curtain that I’ve been formulating opinions that no one would ever see coming… Some real truths. But, I wasn’t going to take it on, until Kevin called on me. We had been talking earlier, and he decided to go for one more person, and I was she.

After 12 years of working with the variety, working with those who I believe are the most passionate, like the Phillipses, Larry Mettler and his family, and Steve and Mike Heringer – all from Lodi, and all present – I know what the missing links are.

Some people will dispute these observations, because it’s not totally across the board, but I’m going to still cite the most obvious examples of each instance.

Let’s start with sommeliers: the vast majority of them don’t have a clue.

Why do I say this? Most of them can’t even spell the name right… using a “y” instead of an “i,” as decreed by the TTB to be the “i.” Just look at the labels guys, it’s THAT easy.

Some wine companies don’t even know the difference.

It’s not until they submit their labels for approval, and having them rejected by the TTB, that they learn.

Wine writers STILL write that Petite Sirah is a “distant cousin” to Syrah, or NO relation at all.

Syrah (father) + Peloursin (mother) – Petite Sirah – the son of Syrah and Peloursin. (It’s THAT easy.)

There are only about 11,000 acres of Petite Sirah planted worldwide.

The US has 10,000 of those acres, so we dominate. The rest is spread out among Australia, Israel, Chile, Mexico, and Argentina.

Only 10,000 acres means that there are very few cases of Petite Sirah produced, with about 90 – 95 percent of the cases produced being only 400 cases or less for each winery. They have no need to promote it externally, because they sell it all directly through their tasting rooms, wine club shipments, and wine maker dinners, so they think.

With it being so limitedly available in the market place, why put it on a wine list, when you have to explain it over and over again; especially if you can’t explain it.

What’s the incentive for joining a marketing group, when you don’t seem to need the group.

I hear this ALL of the time from producers. Obviously, they don’t care if they produce more… They focus on other varieties to carry them into the major markets, but Petite Sirah is their silver bullet.

It’s a winemaker’s wine.

Ask any winemaker who makes this variety. It’s hard to grow, but once harvested, it’s fun to make.

It’s grown into a cult wine.

Wine companies can now get great prices for their Petite Sirah.

So, can they use the marketing group?

They obviously have used it, but they just don’t know it. We grew a good amount of visibility, and they’ve been riding the wave.

I can only imagine the tsunami we’d have today, if wine companies understood group marketing 101.

The power of any group is that number squared; i.e., the power of one is one. The power of two is four, the power of three is nine, ad infinitum.

When we began in 2002, we knew of 62 growers and producers combined. Today, that number (12 years later) has grown to 1,061 growers and producers. Yet, we only have 80 members. So, our power is 6,400. But, if we even got close to everyone helping us, we’d have the power of a million.

I can tell you right now, if we had much better support from the industry, Petite Sirah would have no more issues with any of the above items… Okay, maybe one. I’d have a lot more work to do, than I have right now.

Meanwhile, one of the things that the wine industry has taught me is that I no longer dare to dream about helping the vast majority of them. Until they begin to care and understand that something is being done for them, I need only care about and work with those who are well informed and willing to participate in the marketing effort… And, they’re very and far between. (That number of over 1,000 growers and producers, with only 80 members, says it all.).

But my PSILY guys are very, very valuable to the cause, and they’re our silent, Petite Sirah heroes and heroines.

As my mom always told me, God helps those who help themselves. Who knew that she understood anything about anything?… But, I never gave her enough credit, until now. That’s why she told me, and this was my lesson to learn.

From a huge supporter of Petite Sirah and PSI LY, Steve Heimoff’s blog post on March 28, 2011:

It seems to me that all these Petite Sirahs that are now getting scores in the 90s and selling for $35-$50 a bottle owe something to the pioneers that blazed the trail–namely, the P.S. I Love You organization. By not joining and supporting it, they’re like I was in grad school: taking advantage of the dues-paying members to gain the benefits of membership with none of the obligations.

I imagine that some of the high-end Petite Sirah producers may take the attitude that, Hey, they don’t want to pour at an event next to inexpensive Lodi wines–an event held in a chilly former aircraft hangar on an abandoned military base in Alameda. Well, if some of the better-heeled wineries would join P.S.I.L.Y., maybe the Diazes would be able to host their event at a downtown San Francisco Hotel, or at Fort Mason or the Officer’s Club in the Presidio, where most of the big varietal tastings are held in San Francisco. And there’s more than a little snobbism involved if a Napa Valley winery takes the attitude that they couldn’t possibly pour beside the likes of Livermore or Calaveras. Really? Aren’t we all in this together?

So I’m appealing to the Petite Sirah producers who don’t support P.S.I.L.Y.–the same producers I give high scores to (and believe me, I could name names). In the name of fairness, and for your own benefit, join this organization that’s done so much to help you. It’s the right thing to do. It will help boost Petite Sirah even further into the limelight, and I can guarantee you that it would make Dark & Delicious absolutely one of the premier wine events of the year in California.


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