Marketing,Petite Sirah,Petite Sirah Symposium,Public Service Announcement,Wine

Petite Sirah + Syrah = Correct Spellings

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Petite Sirah can only be spelled with an “i,” for those who are beginning to produce a Petite Sirah.

I can’t believe it… There are those who still insist on spelling Petite Sirah with a “y.” And, they hold a certain pride in their hearts in the process.

pride [prahyd] Show IPA
1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
2. the state or feeling of being proud.
3. becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.
4. pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride.

Those grandfathered in, and there are so few of them left that they’re now considered the dinosaurs, these are the ones who haven’t changed anything on their labels. The simple act of a percentage change, and the spelling with the “y” become defunct. Examples of those who had to change:

  • Stags’ Leap Winery
  • David Bruce
  • JC Cellars

I got phone calls from a couple of them, asking me to help them. None of them enjoyed the change, but they had to conform… It’s the law. As a marketer, I love the change. It begins to clear up at least one of the confusions; i.e., what’s the difference between Petite Sirah and Petite Syrah?

And so it goes with Petite Sirah. Putting out Petite Sirah materials with the “y” is just a misspelling. If you read Petite Sirah with a “y” anywhere, that company is either grandfathered into the spelling (on their own labels), or misspelling it, if it’s in marketing materials… Purely and simply misspelling it. I should talk. I just spelled Behemoth with a “u” in the title (after looking it up – shoulda taken the dictionary version… And, I know the difference between desert and dessert. I’ve even remembered the following to make sure I don’t flub, but I still do when I’m rushing and not checking:

  • If it’s with two s’es, I love a second helping of “dessert.” Two slices of dessert can be loads of fun, if I’ve not eaten anything that day.
  • But, one slice of the desert is enough for me, at a time. (The heat is too much.)

We all misspell, so I’m not going in with a red pen; however, I do offer the following TTB link, which is a list of approved varieties that you’ll fInd on a label. Anything else won’t be approved. It’s that rudimentary and bureaucratic.

  • Peloursin
  • Petit Bouschet
  • Petit Manseng
  • Petit Verdot
  • Petite Sirah (Durif)
  • Peverella

Spelling it with a “y” was good enough, about five years ago; but, once the TTB got sick and tired of the confusion, they passed a ruling that it would no longer be accepted as a label approved spelling.

Petite Sirah has a synonym, and it’s Durif. Otherwise, spelling it correctly helps consumers, writers, wine shop owners, and even wholesales – all confused – begin to understand what this delicious grape is all about.

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9 Responses to “Petite Sirah + Syrah = Correct Spellings”

  1. Pat F says:

    It interesting that the TTB doesn’t follow scientific convention regarding the capitalization of grape cultivar names. The first name of a cultivar is capitalized and the sur name is not i.e. Petite verdot, Pinot noir, and Cabernet sauvignon. The exception being Cabernet Franc, where the surname refers to the proper name of a nationality.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    If we can’t even tell the difference between Petite Sirah (sirah), imagine them having to correct e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g that come in to them with two names.

  3. Molly says:

    Petyt sirah, got it. Thanks!

    You know I’m kydding. (((Jo))) Thank you for doing all you do to clear up confusion.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    OMG, Molly… another way to spell Petyt… Now, something else to worry about. (Yes, I know you’re kidding… Thank, gawd.)

  5. Dennis Fife says:

    I could not disagree more with your article. I am among those who’s brand was grandfathered to use the Petite Syrah spelling. I am also among those who have done the most research on the historical name. There is a direct tie of Petite Syrah to the Rhone and Dr. Durif — who crossed Peloursin and Syrah at the University of Montpellier to achieve a small berried grape resistant to powdery mildew and with many of the best characteristics of Syrah.

    The process of the changing of history in America from Petite Syrah to Petite Sirah was brought about by those in industry who were Syrah producers and saw no connection of Petite Syrah to Syrah. Many of the French writers claimed that Durif was an inferior grape in France and had no connection to Syrah. Thus an inaccurate rumor becomes law.

    Interesting that the three producers you list above who reluctantly had to change the name from Petite Syrah to Petite Sirah are three of the most prestigious leaders of the Fine Wine industry.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for weighing in Dennis.

    Having devoted a huge chunk of my wine professional life to this one (like you), I’ve been working with UC Davis on this one and nearly 200 brands and their winemakers over the years, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. (In all fairness, demonstrating my devotion and passion to this subject, I have 12 years invested with 100 hours/month, 80 of them are volunteer/month. I don’t take this subject lightly.)

    The brands I’ve named are ones that have supported the cause through membership of PS I Love You. It’s just natural for me to think of them first, as I tend to gravitate toward those who have been supporting the collective efforts for the last 12 years. I just don’t have time to think about others who haven’t helped me, because I also have a private practice and have to keep moving to actually make money.

    I’m also one of those who have done a lot of research on the name… That passion we share. I do know that when Charles McIver brought it over, he didn’t know if he had Syrah, Petite Syrah, or Petite Sirah. (It was Petite Sirah.) I also know that the French called the berries Petite Syrah at the time, but that’s another variety. The day that Dr. Carol Meredith of UC Davis did the DNA fingerprinting for Petite Sirah, and found that Syrah and Peloursin are its the lineage, that’s the day for me (and many others) that defined it as what it now is… a synonym for Durif.

    I’m the one who petitioned the government to have the synonym become reality (my board will verify this), with the help of Jim Concannon, Kent Rosenblum, Louis Foppiano, Patty Bogle, Ken Wilson, John Monnich… I hope I’m not forgetting anyone, it was years ago, and it was the second swipe at it,with the first try failing, being in a petition with Zinfandel, also. (That petition was such a mess, it all fell by the wayside. I DIDN’T start the first petition… Just the second one.)… Also helping me (PSILY) were the Wine Institute, and the Foundation Plant Services department at UC Davis. The TTB took it another step, because they were (no doubt) sick to death of having to figure out what the heck anyone meant, as bureaucracy goes, having a narrow scope of definitions.

    The French claim a lot is inferior (being French myself, I feel I understand that culture, having been raised with the Berniers); we’re a very class conscious society.

    If there is something really wrong, I invite you to help me fight the good fight. I’m limited in what I can do (on an $18,000 a year budget from the members, not an executive director’s salary, right?). Very few PS producers just don’t know or care that we exist. I’m always reminded by what Steve Heimoff said, while still writing for Wine Enthusiast, after watching my struggles for the at least 10 years…

    … 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. – See more at: http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/page/2/?s=%22Jo+Diaz%22#sthash.aDO7SKT7.dpuf

    I just it what it is, Dennis; until we can work together, for you to make me see it differently, I have the above views and history with this variety.

  7. Dennis Fife says:

    Hi Jo,
    This is what I get for being passionate about PS all these years. I am glad for your passion, not trying to insult you.

    I apologize; I think I must have confused you. Nowhere did I say one should spell Petite “S” as Petite Syrah. My point is far different. It is why can’t you spell PS two ways – with a “y” if you make it in a Rhone style or an “i” if you wish to make it in the more old CA style. Neither is more historically correct. They both are historical names that came from the Rhone – as did the variety. The world of wine is full of numerous successful examples like this and I marketed it both ways very successfully for many years.

    You can call me a dinosaur if you wish – I sometimes do myself. But with experience also comes wisdom – at least I hope it does.

    The fact that the BATF always wants a simple rule and no disagreements is hardly an argument that this was the best for those marketing a grape with two different philosophies. The European wine philosophy is to include the historical names for grapes that are still in use. But then what do they know about grape varieties?

    I have marketed both Petite Syrah and Petite Sirah since 1971 and under many different great brands including my own. I produced both, Rhone style with a “y” – blended with syrah and carignane; plus old CA style “i” wine with zinfandel and mixed blacks. I had no trouble working with “consumers, writers, wine shop owners, and wholesalers” with either spelling. But I found them all interested in the fact that this grape can be used in two philosophies – in a Rhone blend or an old California style blend. To me, neither is superior in any way – how great to have the diversity.

    I was a member of PS ILY for many years. In the early 90’s I presented a paper on Dr. Carol Merideth’s research on the origins of the variety to the group. She and I became acquainted over the years because I took every class I could of hers at UC extension, contributed old-vine cuttings for her research and my spouse used her extensively as a source for her writing. Carol helped me write the paper and gave me the references for where to look for the history of the variety as well as some of her notes. I was also a member of the Rhone Rangers, more of a consumer oriented group, and convinced them in another presentation to agree that Petite Sirah/Syrah should be considered a Rhone derived variety — I won.

    The small, but important, reason the spelling of sirah/syrah was became an issue is that there was a strong group of vintner growers — especially in the foothills — traveling the country and telling consumers that petite sirah should not be able to be spelled with a y because it was not related to syrah or the Rhone — clearly untrue. That was when the confusion became an issue. The confusion I experienced was a consumer or trade member hearing two different stories about a grape – whether or not it was from the Rhone, not how you spell it.

    Interesting that the growers you mentioned that you had represented are old California style producers. These are all some of my “i” friends and I love their wines. The three “y” winegrowers that had to change the name all made Rhone style wines. I am just sorry we had to lose some of the varieties dual stories in the name process. But we good marketers can always find a way if the point is interesting to the consumer. As you are a marketer, I am sure you agree.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Dennis, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I do understand your desire to have Petite Sirah be spelled with a “y” to honor the lineage. With that variety already existing for a Syrah in France with tiny berries, i can also see why it could be a can of worms for the TTB.

    I once asked Carl Doumani about his “y,” saying something about his wanting to honor the lineage. (You probably know Carl, so his answer won’t surprise you.) He said, “Nah… I just wanted to call it that! [With a “y”)

    I’m impressed with your early passion and activity in the 90s, as we share the same one. It would have happened through *another* group, though. I only launched PS I Love You in 2002, after the first Petite Sirah Symposium, held at Foppiano Vineyards. You were a guest speaker in 2007:

    From my files:

    Tuesday, August 7, 2007
    Foppiano Vineyards, 12707 Old Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg, CA

    8:00 – 8:30 a.m. Registration

    8:30 – 8:35 a.m. WELCOME ~ Louis M. Foppiano

    SESSION I MARKETING ~ Christian Miller, Full Glass Research
    8:45 – 9:15 a.m. Statistical growth of Petite Sirah, and where is seems to be headed

    SESSION II MARKETING ~ Dennis Fife, Fife Vineyards
    9:15 – 9:45 a.m. Petite Sirah… Marketing a cult variety

    I’ve got an elephant memory and a great computer for all of these things. You played a major role, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

    I do agree we can find a way to tell our marketing stories… I’m doing it all of the time. Good to know you’re still at it, too.

    Sorry for the delay in answering. I’ve been attending to client needs.

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