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by Fred McMillin
for June 7, 2000

 

Sing a Song of Sirah


Prologue

Louis M. Foppiano  
"Our winery dumped 100,000 gallons of wine into the creek...which suddenly drew a big crowd."

...Louis M. Foppiano


The Rest of the Story

What was going on? Well, the year was 1927 (Prohibition time) and the Feds took a dim view of the fine Foppiano red wine in the tanks. (which included some Petite Sirah). How did the wine get there?

We're in Genoa, Italy in 1864. Giovanni Foppiano has heard of the gold strike in California, but the U.S. Civil War is in the way. So he sailed to Panama, crossed overland, and sailed to San Francisco. By the time he arrived, the digs were kind of picked over, so he turned to farming in Sonoma. Soon the Foppiano fruit cart was a fixture in the Russian River town of Healdsburg.

Nearby stood an overnight lodge for stagecoach passengers located on an original Mexican land grant named Rancho Sotoyome. "Sotoyome" meant "home of Soto," a local Indian chief. By 1896 it had become a 100-acre winery and residence. Giovanni, now "John," bought it and founded the Foppiano Wine Co. Part of the vines were Petite Sirah...and they didn't go away. Let's fast foward 96 years to April 22, 1992, and a quote from the New York Times:

    One of Petite Sirah's staunchest supporters —and producers—is the Foppiano Vineyards in Sonoma County. The Foppianos have been growing and vinifying the variety for [nearly a century] and Lou Foppiano says they have no plans to stop.

And with good reason. Here's a recent Wall Street Journal opinion of the varietal: Petite Sirah is a very special wine...a very dark red wine, dense-packed with taste... juicy, almost bursting with blackberry fruit. We conclude that the Giovanni's great grandson, Lou M. Foppiano,(pictured), is running the oldest Petite producer in the New World, and probably on the planet. The Petite Sirah is banned in much of France, even though it originated in the Rhone area. However, it sure isn't banned in Healdsburg, and so here's our...


Wine of the Day

'97 Petite Syrah
Foppiano Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA
Appellation—Sonoma County
Review—Gerald Boyd in the S.F. Chronicle: "Big, gutsy, concentrated, blackberry."
Food—Foppiano provides these guidelines formulated by Culinary Editor Bea Beasley:
a) Soften the tannins by matching Petite with high-protein foods such as steaks, cheeses and assertive nuts.
b) Match the intense flavors and spiciness of Petite with intensely flavored and spicy foods.
Contact—Ellyn Boone, (707)433-7272, FX (707)433-0565
Price—$17.50 range


Postscript—The Name Game

Let's talk about two different varieties from the Rhone, the Syrah and the Petite Sirah. Would you believe? When the Syrah reached California in 1878, the French called it Petite Syrah. It came to be called simply SYRAH. On the other hand, when the Rhone Durif arrived a few years later, it soon came to be called Petite Syrah!

Credits:
Charles Sullivan's Companion to California Wine
Research Assistance—Joe Lorentz
July 20, 1993 private communication from Lou Foppiano, concluding with, "It's always great to have our wines appreciated." Good. Were they ever. Just a few months later the Wine Spectator merely saluted his Petite as being one of the 100 Best Values of the Year. Not bad!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created June 2000

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