Doing the right thing
When I put myself through grad school, I worked on the campus of my college, a state university in which most of the workers were unionized (SEIU). We were not forced to join the union and, in fact, I never did. I felt poor enough as it was on my meager salary, and the union dues ($20 a month? I forget) seemed like money out of my pocket I could use otherwise.
And yet I always felt a twinge of guilt at not supporting the union. After all, through collective bargaining, they had obtained for me certain privileges. For instance, as a university employee, I was entitled to take classes without paying any tuition. That saved me a lot of money. There were other things the union had negotiated as well. Once, when I had a run-in with a Dean, the union defended me and the Dean had to back down. In case you don’t know, Deans are very powerful figures on campuses. They are little Ayatollahs.
Now that I’m grown up, physically if not mentally, I think I should have joined the union. However, this blog post is not a diatribe about unions; steveheimoff.com stays away from politics. What it’s about is gratefulness or, to put it another way, not riding the gravy train someone else is paying for. Let me explain.
Last Friday I went to a wonderful event, Dark & Delicious. It’s the annual Petite Sirah food and wine party, held at Kent Rosenblum’s Rock Wall warehouse out on Alameda Island. The event was conceived by and is sponsored every year by the P.S. I Love You trade group, which is run by the husband and wife team of Jose and Jo Diaz, of Diaz Communications.
Dark & Delicious is one of the more fun events of its kind. There’s tons of great food provided by local restaurants, and scores of wineries pour their Petite Sirahs (plus there’s usually some additional stuff “under the table”). It’s $63 a person, which is cheap considering you can eat a bellyful of really good food and drink to your heart’s content. And no parking hassles: There’s a huge lot well staffed by young men who how to direct the traffic.
I had a great time, as I know everybody else did (the event was sold out, even though there was a huge rainstorm). But as I went up and down the rows of tables, I couldn’t help but notice how many Petite Sirah brands were not there. They were notable by their absence. I taste these Petite Sirahs. I know who’s who. And a lot of those who’s were no-shows.
Let’s put Petite Sirah into context. It’s been around (as a grape and wine) for a long time, but never had any respect. If critics deigned to notice it, it was with a dismissive “Well, this is a rustic, tannic wine, native to California,” and they left it at that. Petite Sirah didn’t fare any better in the critics’ eyes than did Carignan or Alicante Bouschet, and look where they are today. Nobody cares about them.
But then Jo and Jose came along and decided to change things. Single-handedly (well, double-handedly) they pushed, pulled, cajoled and persuaded Petite Sirah producers to pony up some money (which many of them could ill-afford, Petite Sirah then not bringing in much money). Keep in mind, ten years ago the only reason most wineries even made Petite Sirah was because they believed in it. Not because it made them money. Not because Petite Sirah was a critical darling. No, it was due to that rarest of winemaker motivations: because they loved the wine and wanted to share it.
Fast forward to today, and Petite Sirah is hot, hot, hot. There are superior bottlings made all the way from Mendocino County down through Napa and Sonoma, through the Central Coast and even into Santa Barbara County. I ran into Larry Schaffer pouring some of his limited production Terceros from Santa Barbara County, and was knocked out. Sommeliers have discovered Petite Sirah bigtime. The wine is often more balanced than Zinfandel, and is ideal with roasts and barbecue.
I’ve given increasingly high scores to Petite Sirah over the past few years, as vintners have figured out how to coax elegance from it despite its size. But what I noticed, at the D&D tasting, was how many wineries there were, relatively speaking, from Lodi, Livermore Valley, Suisun Valley and the Sierra Foothills, and how few there were from Napa Valley and its sub-AVAs (which is where the best Petite Sirahs are from), as well as other critically good regions, like Rockpile and Paso Robles (although the excellent Vina Robles was represented). And this absence of the best houses made me angry.
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.