1880 – Dr. Francois Durif, a grape botanist and grape breeder at the University of Montpellier in Southern France, released a new variety that 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.
1884 – 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, Francois 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.
1930’s – Approximately 7,500 acres of Petite Sirah in California
1960’s – Approximately 4,500 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.
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 around 14,000
1988 – California’s Petite Sirah crop has diminished to 5,000 acres, divided between Sonoma, Napa, Monterey, and the Central Valley.
1990 – California has about 1,400 acres, as does Argentina.
1993 – Approximately 3,023 acres of Petite Sirah in CA.
1995 – Petite Sirah acreage in California dropped to a low of 2,400
1996 – At the University of California at Davis, Dr. Carole Meredith and her colleagues determined by DNA comparisons that
- Almost all (more than 90%) 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 Peloursin and Syrah 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 over 4,000 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.
Foppiano Vineyards produces 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 noble 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 produces the Second Annual Noble Petite Sirah Symposium. PS I Love You becomes incorporated and is also established a 501 (c)(6) non-profit.
2004 – Foppiano Vineyards produces the Third Annual Noble Petite Sirah Symposium. Concannon Vineyards takes a new leadership told and produces the First Annual Blue Tooth Tour (Southern states and East Coast major metropolitan areas).
2005 – Foppiano Vineyards produces the Fourth Annual Noble Petite Sirah Symposium. Concannon Vineyards continues its marketing role by creating the Second Annual Blue Tooth Tour (Western states and the Heartland’s major metropolitan areas)
2007 – Concannon Vineyard produces the Fifth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium. With a generous grant from Concannon Vineyard, a consumer based wine and food event was created, taking Petite Sirah to the people. Kent Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars hosted the event at his winery (at the time), which was a huge success, and an annual event since its inception.
2008 – Concannon Vineyard produces the Sixth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
2009 – Concannon Vineyard produces the Seventh Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
2010 – Concannon Vineyard produces the Eighth 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.
2011 – Concannon Vineyard produces the Ninth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
2012 – Concannon Vineyard produces the Tenth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium.
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.
“We would first like to express our gratitude to Assemblymember Daly, staff member David Miller, the Assembly and the winemakers and vineyard managers who joined us today in Sacramento,” commented winemaker Joel Peterson. “Like Redwoods, Sequoias and Monterey Cypress trees, historic vineyards are living California ambassadors. The recognition given by the Assembly today will help to ensure that more of these beautiful vines can survive to provide enjoyment to wine lovers throughout California and the world.” The Historic Vineyard Society is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to the preservation of California’s oldest living vineyards. More information on the Historic Vineyard Society can be found at www.historicvineyardsociety.org
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.