Regional Diversity in Petite Sirah

Now that I have sold off the high tech service business, I get to have true fun tasting through and characterizing the AVAs of North America for, my new day job. I recently worked closely with the folks at PS I Love You and in particular with Petite Sirah guru Robert Brittan to tease out the true nature of this awesome New World varietal. I recommend my two articles, one characterizing the varietal's diversity, and the other speculating on its sources. Please check them out.





Whoa. Wait a minute. You sold Vinovation and are now a full time journalist?!?

-Yup, that's right. Still making WineSmith on the side, but I have a new day job. -Clark




Brian Cheeseborough:

Now you're out to advocate the distinction of appellation (& terroir); isn't this contrarian to your earlier beliefs & mantra? What caused the sudden zen like enlightenment after all these years?

I liked the discussion/article of Petite Sirah & throughly agree that it is highly diversified even within an appellation, although you didn't mention maturity assessment, which I feel is core to Petite Sirah. Early & the green never goes away, to late and the figs & dates come out to play...just right, well Goldilock's had it right all along

Dear Brian:

Well, as I said in the article, the diversity of Petite Sirah was an eye opener for me, and I am definitely learning big time. I haven't changed my view about the idiocy of using appellation as a quality insurance policy, and I continue to hold that the wine buying public gets more ripped off by this single error of judgment than in any other way. I think a smart buyer trusts in a knowledgeable local retailer first, and second in winemakers they have learned to appreciate. Appellations should be guides to style as they are in Europe, and I'm dedicated to providing a roadmap. I hope it never gets used as a replacement for these two stalwarts -- the reliable local merchant and the reliable winemaker. Thanks for sharing your views. - Clark




As Gallo has made clear with their Russian River shenanigans, appellations and AVAs are little more than brands. Even in Europe, the home of Terroir, they serve mostly as brands for lesser wines, made by unheralded producers. The best (or, more accurately, most expensive) wines are identified by vineyard and/or producer. Quality wines that outperform their neighbors also are identified by vineyard or producer. The only use I find for AVAs is that they help me pay less when buying unknown wines whose quality I have to guess. I know a Sonoma wine will usually cost less than the same quality Napa Valley or Russian River wine. 
The function of AVAs in Europe is to identify regional conventions of style and flavor in order to aid the consumer to sort through half a million wines and make some sense of it. It works. There is less confusion about what to expect from a Beaujolais or Muscadet -- good or bad -- than, say, a Sonoma Zinfandel. We are trying to begin mapping the existing trends in North America. It turns out that when you examine wines that way, there is a surprising consistency within AVA lines, for all their imperfection, though it is common for more than one style profile to thrive in the same AVA, and of course the varietal profusion is considerably more complex. Where AVAs fail is when people decide an AVA (or a vineyard) becomes believed to be an insurance policy for quality. Then you are sure to get gypped.