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Save the date: Petite Sirah in Paso Robles, Feb. 6

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Old pals Jose and Jo Diaz, who own Diaz Communications in Windsor, have long worked with wineries in the North Coast for their Petite Sirah advocacy efforts, but now they’ve extended their reach into Paso Robles, with the launch of their first-ever Petite Sirah event down in the Central Coast.

Called PS I Love You…in Paso, it’s at Vina Robles on Feb. 6, and will feature ten Petite Sirah producers. Each winemaker will do a feature tasting/presentation of his wines, and as always with the Diaz’s Petite Sirah events, the food will be fantastic.

It’s nothing short of amazing how Petite Sirah has become a major variety and wine. It didn’t exactly happen overnight; there have been plantings of “Pet” (as the oldtimers called it) since the 1800s in California, but consumers never really caught on to it as an independent variety, until the Diazes created their trade organization, PS I love You, in 2002. Many wineries have joined over the years; the organization traditionally has held its tastings in the Bay Area, so this shift to Paso Robles is significant.

California acreage of Pet is way up, clocking in at a record 8,825 acres in 2014, nearly double what it was ten years previously. Granted, that’s not much compared to Cabernet Sauvignon (nearly 80,000 acres) or even Syrah (18,000 acres), but it’s more than either Cabernet Franc or Grenache—and almost more than the two of them combined.

And it’s being planted fast. In 2014, non-bearing acreage—those vines that haven’t yet yielded a crop—accounted to 1,149 acres, fully 13% of statewide acreage. That means a lot of growers care enough about Pet to put it into the ground. And which counties are those new vines going into? Well, here’s where things get a little complicated. The new plantings are mostly in the Central Valley—the counties of San Joaquin, Sacramento and Tuolumne (which extends from the Central Valley into the Sierra Foothills). That deserves an explanation. We tend to view wines from the Central Valley as jug wines, at best, but viticulture has really picked up there, and the wines, especially reds, and especially hearty, full-bodied reds like Petite Sirah and the blends it goes into and often dominates, can be rich, rewarding and affordable.

Along the Coast, San Luis Obispo County, which is where Paso Robles is, also is seeing rapid plantings of Pet: 130 non-bearing acres in 2014, giving that county a total of 1,647 acres of Pet altogether, or about 16% of the statewide total. So SLO growers and vintners are doubling down on Petite Sirah.

Beyond acreage, the number of Petite Sirah producers in California continues to soar, from fewer than 100 in 2001 to more than 900 last year.

Having this event in Paso Robles makes perfect sense. For years I’ve admired Paso for the uniqueness and quality of their red wines and off-beat blends, of which Petite Sirah often is a part. This ability to craft such wines was the main reason why I successfully argued for Paso to be Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Star Region of the Year, in 2013.

Try to get to Paso for the Feb. 6 event, which is in Vina Robles’ splendid new amphitheater. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with the wines and the winemakers, and to learn more about up-and-coming Petite Sirah, as well as the charming wine region of Paso Robles. I might even be there myself.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    “California acreage of Pet is way up, clocking in at a record 8,825 acres in 2014 . . . Beyond acreage, the number of Petite Sirah producers in California continues to soar . . . to more than 900 last year.”

    If we apply the “80:20 Rule of Marketing,” we can project that the top 20% of producers control 80% of the market share.

    (In some consumer goods markets — smartphones is a good example — as few as the top 5% of producers control 80% or more of the market share. Economists characterize these markets to oligopolies.)

    By my calculation [below], the state produced from 2,226,661 cases to 453,322 cases of Petite Sirah.

    In 2014, Bogle’s production “approached” 200,000[*] 9-liter (twelve 750 ML bottle) cases of Petite Sirah.

    Bogle alone represents between 4.5% to 9% of annual state production.

    If you factor out the top 20 producers and their projected 80% market share, that doesn’t leave much for the remaining 880 producers.

    Maybe Jose and Jo Diaz can weigh in with some numbers?

    The math:

    The average yield of Petite Sirah is “4 to 8 tons”[**] per acre.

    8,825 harvested acres of Petite Sirah projects from 35,300 tons to 70,600 tons.

    One ton of grapes produces 63 cases[***] of wine.

    The state’s production projects from 2,226,661 cases (@ 4 tons per acre) to 4.453,322 cases (@ 8 tons per acre).

    Footnotes:

    * http://www.sacbee.com/food-drink/wine/dunne-on-wine/article17580470.html

    ** http://www.winepros.org/wine101/grape_profiles/petite.htm

    *** https://grapesandwine.cals.cornell.edu/newsletters/appellation-cornell/2011-newsletters/issue-8/conversion-factors-vineyard-bottle

  2. Thanks, Steve, for being a longtime supporter of our efforts to bring Petite Sirah into the limelight. A California historical variety of epic significance, our mission has always been “To promote, educate, and legitimize Petite Sirah as a heritage variety, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.”

    Taking Petite to Paso is going to allow that region, as you’ve said, (“for the uniqueness and quality of their red wines…”)to showcase some very delicious Petite Sirahs.

  3. Bob Henry says:

    Correcting for a late night typo.

    The statement . . .

    “By my calculation [below], the state produced from 2,226,661 cases to 453,322 cases of Petite Sirah.”

    . . . should be:

    “By my calculation [below], the state produced from 2,226,661 cases to 4,453,322 cases of Petite Sirah.”

    (Hey, what’s a missing 4 million cases amongst friends?)

    And this statement . . .

    “If you factor out the top 20 producers and their projected 80% market share, that doesn’t leave much for the remaining 880 producers.”

    . . . should be:

    “If you factor out the top 20% producers and their projected 80% market share, that doesn’t leave much for the remaining 720 producers.”

  4. You’ve done a great job of researching, Bob. I would dare counter that it’s more of a 90 – 10 percent share, though. Most of the small producers are only crafting 500 or less cases of Petite Sirah, of the close to 1,000 producers that I’ve identified. It’s a winemaker’s wine, first and foremost. I can hear what happens behind the scenes…

    “Okay, boss, I’ll give you all the Cab you want, but PLEASE let me just make about 10 barrels of Petite, because it’s my real ‘pet’ project. We’ll can sell it in the tasting room, you can have it for an eclectic ‘wine-of-the-month’ feature, and it will be great with our wine and food events!”

    I see the owners cave, to keep the winemakers happy. And, they completely sell through it, before the following vintage. It doesn’t hit the store shelves, it isn’t sent to wine writers for critical review (why risk a nasty review, when it’s guaranteed to sell though?), and it a cash cow. Yeah… that’s what I see all of the time.

  5. Likely being one of the only producers in Napa Valley who does not produce a Cabernet, leaves many dumbfounded but anxious to taste the results of our sole focus. If I had a dollar for every producer who called inquiring if I had any grapes available to sell…well,I’d make more Petite Sirah. A winemaker’s grape it certainly is. More plantings are on the horizon gaging by the escalating cost per ton and lack of premium fruit available.

    And Steve,thank you for your continued support of PSILY. The Paso tasting will be a wonderful event.

  6. Steve, our hunch has been that the next big thing has been right under our collective noses, so to speak, for decades. Petite Sirah was once a dominant grape in California for a reason- it’s ideally suited to our climate and soils.
    Paso Pets have a bright future and I am delighted to represent Napa’s version at what promises to be a wonderful – and hedonistic event.
    Thanks to Jo and Jose Diaz for their PS passion and fortitude!
    Dave Pramuk

  7. It’s nice to see Durif is on the comeback trail. I only wish Charbono would do the same !

  8. Bob Henry says:

    Stephanie,

    Quoting Wine Searcher [ http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/aratas+petite+sirah/1/usa ] on your wine:

    “Depending on the vintage, the grapes for this [Aratas Petite Sirah] wine may be sourced from different vineyards in different AVAs e.g. Nappa (sic) Valley for 2009, Shake Ridge Ranch in the Amador County for 2010.”

    Quoting New York state-based Bedford Wine Merchants and GetWineOnline which sell the 2009 release by the case (only):

    “Aratas Wine is located in Napa, California, and was founded by brothers John and Mickey Chohany. Their small, 1.8 acre estate vineyard in the Oak Knoll AVA is planted on alluvial gravel and clay loam and solely to Petite Sirah.”

    Self-evidently Wine Searcher got the vineyard source of the grapes wrong

    ~~ Bob

  9. Bob Henry says:

    Jo and Stephanie:

    At an average of 500 cases* produced per vintage, and one ton of grapes producing on average about 63 cases of wine, these PS enthusiasts are growing about 8 tons of fruit.

    With PS yielding between 4 to 8 tons per acre, we are talking about 1 to 2 acres per produced dedicated to this grape variety.

    That’s definitely a “love affair” business proposition — not a “bill payer.”

    ~~ Bob

    (*Stephanie’s website cites annual production around 550 cases?)

  10. Bob Henry says:

    Stephanie,

    And then there is this Wine Searcher head-scratcher:

    http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/aratas+petit+sra/2013/usa

    A 2013 vintage Aratas “Shake Ridge Ranch” Petite Sirah from Amador county, offered for sale by Amador 360 Wine & Visitor Center.

    Whereas quoting your website:

    “NEW RELEASE: 2011 NAPA VALLEY PETITE SIRAH & NEW 2012 ‘VENERATION’ BLEND AVAILABLE NOW”

    ~~ Bob

  11. Bob, having no distribution of a wine means that the wine, when sold directly through a tasting room, the following doesn’t happen:

    1) Wholesaler’s FOB price – in the 30 percent mark down rate.
    2) No allowances, that wholesales pretty much insist upon (either sales going in, or depletion coming out of the transaction).
    3) Restaurants mark up another – close to – 40 percent these days.

    So, instead of giving away so much in the process, it is all captured at the winery. Wine companies love selling directly. The wholesaler is disintermediated; a real benefit in sales.

  12. Bob Henry says:

    John,

    Charbono enthusiasts are an endangered species.

    Jim and Beth Summers’s eponymous winery produces a Charbono from the “Villa Andrian Vineyard” in Calistoga (Napa Valley).

    Quoting the back label of their 2012 bottling:

    “A very rare varietal, Charbono is . . . Now only found growing in less than 50 acres in California.”

    Link:

  13. Bob Henry says:

    (Completing the above comment . . .)

    Link: https://www.summerswinery.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=view

    Summers also makes a Petite Sirah (Knight’s Valley).

  14. Bob, thank you for the remarks. We produce several single vineyard Petites from Oak Knoll, Howell Mt in some years, Shake Ridge Ranch as well as a Petite Sirah +Syrah blend “Veneration” and Chardonnay. Total production +/- 1500 cs. Taking a look, I see some of the comments on Wine Searcher are out dated. No 2013 Petite has been released yet, thank you for the heads up.

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