Petite Sirah makes a wine that is anything but petite.
Big, bold, in-your-face, not at all small as its name might suggest.
Lodi grows more Petite Sirah, also known as Durif, than any crush district in California: more than 47,000 tons in 2018, about 43 percent of the state’s total. Yet, it’s a variety many wine consumers don’t know.
To shine more light on this red powerhouse, the Lodi Association of Wineries with support from participating wineries and the Lodi Winegrape Commission will hold the first Celebrate Petite Sirah weekend Jan. 18-19. Seventeen Lodi wineries will pour their single-variety Petite Sirah (Peh-teet Sih-rah) wines and blends. Each winery will put its unique spin on the event. Visitors can pick up a passport guidebook at any participating winery and collect stamps at each stop to improve their chances of winning a prize drawing. The guidebook has information about the wineries’ offerings. Passports also are available in advance at www.https://celebratepetitesirah.com.
Lodi’s hospitable Mediterranean climate and various soil types are ideal for the more than 100 varieties from around the world that thrive in the region. Showcasing lesser-known varieties in an area known for Zinfandel made sense to Bob Colarossi of Estate Crush in Lodi and Tom Hoffman of Heritage Oak Winery, who came up with the idea of highlight Petite Sirah.
“We have 17 wineries,” said Hoffman, “and I think it’s going to grow.”
It’s no surprise Hoffman is behind Celebrate Petite Sirah. He has deep roots in Lodi and has been at the forefront in establishing innovative programs. In 2001, Hoffman helped found the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association which helped launch his and several other wineries. In 2016, he served on the inaugural board of directors and currently is president of the Lodi Association of Wineries, which has 31 winery members.
LAW provides a single voice with San Joaquin County officials regarding developing and revising ordinances affecting the industry. Last year, LAW registered its political action committee (PAC) with the state so it can endorse and support candidates and proposed laws that impact local wineries.
In addition to Heritage Oak, the participating wineries in Celebrate Petite Sirah are Dancing Coyote Wines, D’Art Wines, Estate Crush Harney Lane Winery, Klinker Brick Winery, Lodi Vintners, m2 Wines, McCay Cellars, Mettler Family Vineyards, Michael David Winery, Oak Ridge Winery, Paskett Winery, Peltier Winery & Vineyards, PRIE Winery and Vineyard, St. Amant Winery and Van Ruiten Family Winery. Most are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Petite Sirah is known for its inky color, full-body, blue fruit and black pepper aromas and flavors, good acidity and pairs with rich foods to balance the tannin, such as pizza, hamburgers, grilled or stewed red meat, chicken mole, sautéed mushrooms and cheese.
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Since the 1880s, Petite Sirah has been planted up and down the state where there is a Mediterranean climate (warm, dry summers and cool, mild winters). Lodi has some old Petite Sirah vines, but Hoffman’s plantings are relatively new on his family’s property established in the 1850s near the Mokelumne River east of Highway 99.
“There’s nothing petite about it,” said the fifth-generation grower, who farms 25 wine grape varieties. “In my vineyards, they are huge, heavy bunches. The flavor is not petite. It’s a great big, bold wine with a lot of tannin and frequently with high alcohol.”
The elevated alcohol comes from picking the grapes at higher brix (sugar), 24.5 to 26, which Hoffman said is absolutely necessary.
“You need to have it ripe because of the high tannin,” he said. “If you’ve tried a Petite Sirah wine that was picked early, the green tannin overwhelms.” Making for a bitter taste. You have to have ripe grapes to make good wine.”
Hoffman said Petite Sirah is tough to grow. The clusters are tightly bunched, so they are susceptible to mildew, and as the grapes ripen, they dry out.
“Every week you can lose 5 percent of your weight in the vineyard because of the dehydration,” Hoffman said. “Some bunches are half raisins.”
But when picked at its peak, Petite Sirah makes a wine worth celebrating.
Note: Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi will hold its annual passport events featuring Spanish varieties later this year: The Lodi Tour of Albariño Aug. 14-16 and the Lodi Tour of Tempranillo Nov. 13-15.
More events to keep an eye out for are Wine & Chocolate Weekend Feb. 8-9, Lodi Wine and Food Festival Apr. 4, ZinFest May 15-17, and Celebrate Rosé in June.