With a name like Petite Sirah I Love You, how could I give Valentine’s Day to any other grape?
It’s got pop, it’s soul is jazzy, its history is checkered and anything but mainstream. It’s Petite Sirah… I Love You.
For instance, take Sauvignon Blanc.
Cabernet Franc + Sauvignon Blanc = Cabernet Sauvignon
Two noble grape varieties get married and it’s all… “you can’t afford it anymore. This is if it’s from a Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé or from Napa Valley, for example.
Now, this one…
Syrah + Peloursin = Petite Sirah
Syrah is coming from the Rhone Valley, where they had to fight to get some “noble” respect. Peloursin? A mere peasant, as it’s explained. She’s out hanging laundry is the breezy sunshine.
And, it’s all “you can take this grape and put it with any other red and now we’re talking.” It’s slipped into Cabernet Sauvignon in the US (not in France). Zinfandel blends it in for depth of flavors and colors. Even some Pinots are guilty of doing it, as do Syrahs. It makes them more luscious, have more body, gives these wines more tannins, so they last longer.
Today’s Feminine side of Petite is sultry and sophisticated
Our Masculine Petites are cowboy swede
Petite Sirah is a magic elixir, is what it is; and, its colorful past is still alive and well. Unlike other grapes with their “pedigrees,” Petite Sirah doesn’t share that luxury. Petite Sirah has been defined by California. Brought here as a cast out orphan from Montpelier France, Petite came here with no role model. An orphan with without parents to guide its direction. It didn’t know what it was, what it could do, outside of France, where it’s proneness toward bunch rot would have crippled France’s wine business. For them it was good riddance. Now, with global warming, a few French winemakers have begun to think about planting it, since their summer days are without their usual summer rains and are quite a bit warmer.
1880 – Dr. François Durif, a grape botanist and grape breeder employed at the University of Montpelier, in Southern France, doing quite a bit of research. [Le Jardin des plantes de l’Université Montpellier, France: founded 1593.] He ultimately released a new variety, which he named after himself. It grew from a seed he extracted from fruit of the old French variety Peloursin. Dr. Durif didn’t know the pollen source at the time, but we now know that it was Syrah. The combination of Peloursin and Syrah resulted in fruit with saturated color and very dense fruit clusters.
1883 – According to American wine historian Charles Sullivan, LINDA VITA VINEYARD: “Charles C. McIver bought 400 acres south of Mission San Jose from Juan Gallegos, in 1883. There he built hid Linda Vista winery and planted one of the most diversified premium vineyards in California. The pre-Prohibition reputation of the Mission San Jose area for fine table wines was derived mostly from McIver’s efforts. He imported such varieties as Béclan, Verdot, Syrah, Durif, Merlot, and Malbec.” pp 189-190
1884 – Again, according to American wine historian Charles Sullivan, Durif was introduced into California by Charles McIver. He imported Petite Sirah for his Linda Vista Vineyard, at the Mission San Jose in Alameda County. Petite Sirah entered the US through the East Bay. Some growers called it Petite Sirah, which was a name commonly used for Durif in some parts of France.
1890 – Livermore Herald, “A Million Grape Cuttings”, January 30, 1890 – (Download PDF)The earliest documents that Concannon Vineyard has in its possession are the 1880 State Viticulture booklet stating the 540 acres of vines in Alameda County (Mission San Jose), and the 1890 article of Concannon’s shipment to Mexico listing PS as one of the varietals. John Concannon, fourth generation vintner of Concannon Vineyards, when asked if his great grandfather knew Charles McIver responded with the following: “What our family knows is that when Ellen and James first came to establish their home in Livermore Valley, in 1882-1883, Mission San Jose was the parish that the family belonged to. This is because it was the closest church/parish in the area. I have no doubt that Great Grandfather may have known Charles McIver through his viticulture interests. The earliest documents that we have are the 1880 State Viticulture booklet stating the 540 acres of vines in Alameda County (Mission San Jose), and the 1890 article of Concannon’s shipment to Mexico listing PS as one of the varietals.”
1890’s – Phylloxera destroyed virtually all the true Syrah vines in California
1897 – Petite Sirah is one of the first Vitis vinifera to replace the Mission grape as an experimental, varietal transplant in California. Petite Sirah is replanted in California, and regains popularity. (Petite Sirah at the time could have been any of several dark skinned varietals, including the Petite Sirah clone, Syrah, Peloursin (Gros Béclan), Zinfandel, Mondeuse noire, Valdiguié, among others, in what we now call a “field blend.”)
1900 – Petite Sirah became a popular variety in California. (The name Petite Sirah was used for several varieties in California at that time, but most of it was probably Petite Sirah, François Durif’s crossing of Syrah with Peloursin.)
1904 – Historical document from Concannon Vineyard (Download PDF)
1905 – Letter to James Concannon regarding the purchasing of varietals. (Download PDF)
1920’s – During Prohibition, Petite Sirah was shipped from California to home winemakers in the eastern U.S.
1938 – Approximately 7,285 acres of Petite Sirah in California
1961 – 4,440 acres of Petite Sirah in California
1964 – Concannon Vineyards of Livermore Valley released the first non-vintage 1961 Petite Sirah. While Concannon was the first to varietally Petite, Lee Stewart of Chateau Souverain released his Petite only a couple of weeks after the Concannon release. Vintners were onto something special.
1968 – 4,289 acres of Petite Sirah in California
1970’s – French ampelographers Paul Truel and Pierre Galet examined Petite Sirah vines growing at UC Davis and identified them as Durif. Professor Harold Olmo at UC Davis continued to believe that Petite Sirah in California was a mixture of at least three distinct varieties.
1976 – California Petite Sirah acreage peaked at 14,215 acres 1995
1988 – California’s Petite Sirah crop has diminished to 3,495 acres, divided between Sonoma, Napa, Monterey, and the Central Valley.
1993 – Approximately 3,023 acres of Petite Sirah in CA.
1995 – Petite Sirah acreage in California dropped to a low of 1,738 acres
1996 – At the University of California at Davis, Dr. Carole Meredith and her colleagues determined by DNA comparisons that
- Almost all (more than 90 percent) of the vines in Petite Sirah vineyards are Durif and the rest are Peloursin (the mother of Durif)
- Durif is the offspring of a cross-pollination between Syrah and Peloursin, which means it received half of its genes from each of those varieties
Peloursin is a very old French variety from the Isere region of France, on the east side of the Rhône River. Syrah is the ancient noble variety from which the great Northern Rhône wines of Côte Rôtie and Hermitage are made. So California’s Petite Sirah (aka Durif) has a distinguished French pedigree.
2001 – California Petite Sirah acreage has grown to 4,414 acres
2002 – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms proposed that Durif be approved as a synonym for Petite Sirah. The proposal failed, because it was grouped in with Primitivo and Zinfandel, also being considered. The latter proposal was too contentious to pass, so Durif and Petite Sirah were also dropped at the time.
Foppiano Vineyards sponsored the First Annual Noble Petite Sirah Symposium.
Wine marketer Jo Diaz, Louis Foppiano, and Christine Wells (of Foppiano) launch PS I Love You, the marketing advocacy group for Petite Sirah, with Jo Diaz also becoming the executive director. The mission: To promote, educate, and legitimize, Petite Sirah as a worthy wine grape variety, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.
What Does Dr. Carole Meredith Have To Say About Petite Sirah? Taken from a taped transcript of the 2002 Petite Sirah Symposium at Foppiano Vineyards:
BATF is now considering whether or not to allow the name Durif to be used as a synonym for Petite Sirah. I think that there’s a fair bit of confusion on this subject, so it might be useful if I simply review what Petite Sirah is.
To my mind, Petite Sirah is Durif. There is no doubt about this. Some Petite Sirah vineyards, especially old ones, often contain a few vines of other varieties, but when we analyzed the DNA of vines that look like Petite Sirah, more than 90% of them are Durif. The few that are not turn out to be Peloursin, which is the mother of Durif and looks a lot like it.
Old red vineyards are mixtures. You usually find four, or five, or eight, or nine, or ten varieties in there. I’ve been in some of the old Petite Sirah vineyards, and I’ve found all kinds of weird stuff. But the same thing happens if you go in an old Zin vineyard, or even an old Cab vineyard. You will find a lot of other varieties. So, everything that looked like Petite Sirah that we sampled was Durif. We don’t need to worry that not all Petite Sirah is Durif, because I would say that Petite Sirah is Durif, no questions asked.
So, what that means, when we say Petite Sirah is Durif, is that it’s a synonym… that’s simply two names for the same variety, just like Shiraz and Syrah; two names for the same variety. It doesn’t mean that Durif is like this, and Petite Sirah’s like this, and there’s some differences. It’s just two names.
Now what about the relationship between Petite Sirah and Syrah? What we now know is that Petite Sirah is the offspring of Syrah. Every grape variety has two parents. In the case of Petite Sirah, those two parents are Syrah and Peloursin. That means that half of the genetic makeup of Petite Sirah came directly from Syrah. Syrah is the father of Petite Sirah in the true genetic sense.
Clones are just variants within a variety; so there may well be clones within Petite Sirah, but it’s not correct to say that Petite Sirah is a clone of Syrah. They’re two distinct varieties, but they’re as closely related as two varieties can be.
2003 – Foppiano Vineyards sponsored the Second Annual Noble Petite Sirah Symposium. PS I Love You becomes incorporated and is also established a 501 (c)(6) non-profit.
2004 – 2005 – Foppiano Vineyards sponsored the Third through the Fourth Annual Noble Petite Sirah Symposium.
2007 – Concannon Vineyards takes a leadership role and sponsored the First Annual Blue Tooth Tour (Southern states and East Coast major metropolitan areas).
Concannon Vineyard also produces the Fifth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium. With a generous grant from Concannon Vineyard, a consumer based wine and food event was created, called Dark & Delicious, bringing Petite Sirah to the people, hosting the event at Rosenblum Cellars. It was a huge success, and an annual event, until its final Dark & Delicious, on February 20, 2015.
Markham Vineyards sponsored a special event at their winery called Masters of Petite Sirah.
2008 – Concannon Vineyard sponsored the Sixth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
2009 – Concannon Vineyard sponsored the Seventh Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
2010 – Petite Sirah acreage is now slowing growing in California to 7,999, from 2001’s 4,414 acres
2010 – 2013 Concannon Vineyard continued to sponsor the Eighth through the Eleventh Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
2010 – 2011 – The process for creating Petite Sirah as the primary synonym for Durif failed, because it was included with the synonym change for Zinfandel and Primativo. The Zinfandel effort became too complicated, and it was all dropped. In 2010, the efforts for a synonym change occurred through PS I Love You’s executive director Jo Diaz, with the support of the PSILY board of directors, the Wine Institute (through Wendell Lee), and the University of Davis’ Foundation Plant Services department. In 2011, the names became official synonyms. TTB LINK – DECLARATION
2013 – Concannon Vineyard produces the Eleventh Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
California State Assembly Passes HR 9. As regards petite Sirah, this bill is very important: 04/16/13 – On Monday, the California Assembly voted to approve HR 9, a resolution that recognizes of the contribution that living historic vineyards have made, and continue to make to the agricultural and social history of California. HR 9 was introduced by Assemblymember Tom Daly (District 69, Anaheim) and is supported by the Historic Vineyard Society.
2017 – Patrick Comisky published American Rhône, How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink, through University of California Press. It’s the most comprehensive story on Petite Sirah to date. LINK for more details.
2018 – Petite Sirah acreage in California has grown to 12,005.
PS I Love You, in association with Napa Valley’s CIA at COPIA, with the assistance of Dave Pramuk (Biale Vineyards) and Stephanie Douglas (Aratas Wines, Napa Valley) produced the First Annual Petite Sirah Masters event, at the COPIA facility in Napa, California.
2019 – PS I Love You, in association with Napa Valley’s CIA at COPIA, produced the Second Annual Petite Sirah Masters event, at the COPIA facility in Napa, California.
SPECIAL THANKS Louis M. Foppiano of Foppiano Vineyards, and Jim and John Concannon of Concannon Vineyards for their generous contributions for portions of the Petite Sirah timeline.