Petite Sirah Historical Timeline

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.

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

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.

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.”)

1904

Historical document from Concannon Vineyard (Download PDF)

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.)

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 California

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.

2003

Foppiano Vineyards produces the Second Annual Noble Petite Sirah Symposium.

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.

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. TTB LINK – DECLARATION

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.

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