Petite Sirah, also known as Durif or Petite Syrah, was originally developed in the late 1800s in France, though is probably most known for its wines produced from California grapes.
Petite Sirah tends to be a relatively robust grape, with sturdy long-lived vines that thrive in many different types of soil. The grape clusters are relatively tight, so when located in humid environments, there is always the threat of rot. The berries are also relatively prone to sunburn, so farming methods aimed to reduce this (perhaps more leaf cover) should be considered in particularly hot and sunny environments.
Durif / Petite Sirah was actually developed in France in order to resist Powdery Mildew, to which one of its parents is susceptible. Even though the grape was ultimately resistant to this type of mildew, it was found to not be resistant to gray rot, due to its tight grape cluster as described earlier. In the Rhône region of France, where this grape was initially developed, the weather is relatively humid, thereby gray rot risk is relatively high. However, in the drier climate of California, gray rot doesn’t appear to be nearly as much of an issue, thereby Petite Sirah / Durif thrives there. The grape seems to be doing so much better outside of its native region of France, that it’s now extremely rare in these original areas.
In regards to wine, Petite Sirah grapes are often used in blending, due to their deep color and intense tannins. More specifically, this grape is often used to blend with Zinfandel, to add complexity, structure, and to ameliorate some of the characteristic “jamminess” of Zinfandel. The small berries of the grape give a high skin-to-juice ratio, which produce wines with high tannin levels, high acidity, and a great ability to cellar. Similar to its parent grape, Petite Sirah often displays strong hints of blackberry fruit and black pepper spice.
Created in France, Durif was brought over to the United States by Charles McIver (then owner of Linda Vista Winery) in 1884. It is thought that he was the first to refer to Durif as “Petite Sirah”. Popular during Prohibition due to its tough skin hardiness and its ability to travel all across the country for home winemakers, its plantings reached up to 2/3 of all vineyard plantings in Napa Valley by 1933 after Prohibition was ended (together with the grape Alicante Bouschet). Up through the 1960s, many plantings of Durif / Petite Sirah were done intermixed with other varieties, such as Alicante bouschet, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Peloursin, and others. Since several of these varieties are so similar to one another, and since they were often planted in such close quarters to one another, there is some debate over Petite Sirah wines created from these vines are actually Petite Sirah, or some sort of a blend of many varieties.
Want to learn more about Petite Sirah? A great website for you to explore that educates all about this grape variety is P.S. I Love You
Who’s Your Daddy?: Petite Sirah