Petite Sirah Celebrates Its 50th 'Birthday'

Posted in: Wine in the Glass
By Robert Johnson, Editor
Feb 24, 2011 - 9:00 AM

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Petite Sirah, known for its small berries and bold, concentrated flavor, burst onto the California wine scene in 1961 when Concannon Vineyard's Jim Concannon chose to bottle the first varietally labeled Petite Sirah.

Previously used exclusively for blending, this unique grape varietal, with its jammy fruit flavors and generous, age-worthy tannins, has entranced oenophiles and consistently gained in popularity since its "birth" 50 years ago. Concannon Vineyard, along with an expanding community of vintners and growers, will honor Petite Sirah with numerous celebrations throughout 2011.

The Petite Sirah grape was developed in 1880 by Francois Durif in Montpellier, France. The variety is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, both of which may be mistaken for Petite Sirah in the vineyard because older vines can sometimes be hard to distinguish.

First planted in California in 1884, Petite Sirah was the blending backbone of many home-made Prohibition-era wines. According to the Petite Sirah advocacy group - P.S. I Love You - there were approximately 4,440 acres of the variety planted in the U.S. when Jim Concannon bottled America's first varietally labeled Petite Sirah in 1961.

Now, 50 years later, the "little grape that could" is on the rise; acreage has nearly doubled, to 7,592 acres, and there now are more than 723 producers that feature a Petite Sirah in their portfolio. 

"While we have continued our leadership with Petite Sirah viticulture and winemaking, we're pleased that many others are growing and producing Petite Sirah and that the varietal becomes more popular with each passing year," said Concannon, who is a third-generation vintner.

Recent Nielsen data shows that Petite Sirah is growing in popularity with consumers. In 2010, it was the second-fastest growing varietal, behind only Pinot Noir.

The grape's anniversary will be a year-long celebration comprised of events and activities throughout the country that honor its past, celebrate its present and embrace Petite Sirah's future.

A special two-day public celebration at Concannon's historic Livermore Valley winery is planned for Aug. 13-14, and will include cooking demonstrations, unique Petite Sirah products such as chocolates and ice cream, live music and one-of-a-kind vertical tastings from Concannon's library.

"I am very proud of the fact that my father started America's love of Petite Sirah," said John Concannon, the family's fourth-generation vintner. "I'm honored to host retrospective Petite Sirah tastings in over 50 markets across the nation this year to promote awareness of this distinctive grape in celebration of such a significant milestone." 

Concannon also is a founding member of P.S. I Love You and hosts the wine industry's annual national symposium for growers and wine producers to share vineyard and production best practices. This year's event is scheduled for July 26, and will feature live streaming online, offering consumers the opportunity to ask questions directly to some of the most notable vintners and growers in the Petite Sirah community.


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