When I think of Californian Petite Syrah I picture dark color, lush fruit profile, and big boxy, borderline enormous structure. These words often describe the ideal wine for the American palate that seeks out bigger, badder red wines. In the hotter climates of Cali, Petite Sirah whoops up on Paso Robles Grenache and Napa Valley Cabernet. Here, color alone can dictates pouring PS last, after the lighter, redder wines in tasting rooms.
No surprise, the French have turned their collective noses up at the varietal, known as Durif there. According to UC Davis, the grape is a cross of Syrah pollen germinating an obscure varietal called Peloursin. The idea that Americans renamed a thrown away French grape and now own the market should give the proud American Palate one more reason to love Petite Sirah, along with Zinfandel. Not to mention, it’s extreme popularity during our ill-fated ‘prohibition’ days for it’s tough skin – making it easy for us American’s to truck it cross-country in to the hands of law breakin’ ‘home’ winemakers. If not patriotic enough yet, a lot of winemakers use American oak to age the wines too – GO red, white, and blue, yeehaw!
So we finally made the long debated decision to enter this turbo charged, suped up wine market, BUT, only with one toe. Just enough to cause a fine little ripple that will quickly be washed over in the turbulent, ever-evolving wine world.
La Cuadrilla grafted one section of Cabernet Franc to Petite Sirah in 2005, digging two cuttings into each existing root to double the vineyard density, eventually allowing for less fruit per vine and more flavor concentration. This was one of the last major vineyard overhauls at Stolpman Vineyards, chopping off the original 1992 Bordeaux plantings to allow for more focus on “Rhone” varietals.
Sashi’s thinking was this: Our Syrah holdings were rapidly increasing, just the year prior, Originals Syrah vineyards were augmented by HD Syrah blocks. Now that we were finally ready to throw in the towell on the weakening Bordeaux varietals, an opprotunity for more Rhone “blending grapes” presented itself. We gobbled up some locally available Grenache and Petite Sirah plant material and the rest is history. Sashi, the chef, would have a deeper spice cabinet to choose from when perfecting our Syrahs (only 85% of a wine needs to be a single varietal to put it on the label!).
Fast forward to 2009 and Sashi didn’t feel the need to add much Petite Sirah to any of the wines, whereas Cuadrilla took over the entire block in 2010 for their red blends. We had an orphan on our hands, left behind in barrel.
As soon as I tried a barrel sample, I ran to my printing company to slap a Stolpman label on this guy and welcome him to the family!
Deep, inky opaque black in color and dark, densely mysterious on the nose. There’s signature Stolpman nuance riding above the dark abyss, a hint of mint and mocha and fresh, juicy red plum flesh. The naturally high-octane 15% alcohol takes shape in the orange twist floating on top of a Campari-laden Negroni. Dusty, fine grain tannins allow a long, gentle come-down from the mouthfilling body.
It’s too early to tell whether we’ll ever make another Petite Sirah. For those readers who have been following the adventures at Stolpman Vineyards for a few years, this story identically mimicks the introduction of Stolpman Grenache. Sashi didnt need it as a blender in 2006 and it was left behind in barrel. Now club members scream bloody murder when a Grenache vintage is skipped!
Syrah is still King at Stolpman and these 90 cases will be gone in a flash. For now, it’s fun to throw our hat in the ring of a GREAT AMERICAN VARIETAL, and of course, the wine itself is a great American underdog story, a left-behind Orphan now a sought after, limited production wine!