Between the Vines is a biweekly column on wine and wine making in the Livermore Valley region. This column was contributed by members of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.

Each month, Livermore Valley wine country highlights a grape varietal grown in the region.

February's featured varietal is Petite Sirah (Peh-TEET Sih-RAH), a red wine grape known outside the United States as "Durif." More than 90 percent of California grape plantings labeled as Petite Sirah are Durif grapes.

Livermore Valley's own Concannon Vineyard is recognized as the home of America's first Petite Sirah -- it was the first winery to varietally label the wine in 1961.

Traditionally a blending grape, Petite Sirah's bold character and big fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry and dark plum make it a stand-alone favorite as well. P.S. I Love You, a California organization for Petite Sirah enthusiasts, is proof of this varietal's robust following.

"I have lived and worked in Livermore Valley vineyards for 40 years and love the Petite Sirah," says grower Julio Covarrubias of Casa de Vinas. "When I first said that I was going to grow Petite Sirah, my friends told me I was crazy because it is difficult to grow.

"Due to the thin skin of the grapes, Petite Sirah clusters must be kept apart or the grapes can rot in just a few days. Each year we make adjustments to help the grape produce as many flavors as possible."


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Petite Sirah grapes from Casa de Vinas have inspired several Livermore Valley winemakers, including Collin Cranor of Nottingham Cellars.

"I started making Petite Sirah in 2009 after a two-hour walk in Casa de Vinas," says Cranor. "After learning Julio's philosophy and about farming, and drinking two bottles from two vintages of Petite Sirah from his vineyard, I left with an eager heart and purple teeth. I was hooked. I am still hooked.

"Casa de Vinas Petite Sirah is at the core of my passion for winemaking."

Dick Bartlett, owner and winemaker of Charles R Vineyards agrees. "We purchase our Petite Sirah grapes from Julio because he always gives us a superb grape to build upon. Our guests enjoy the intense, bold fruit and strong character of the Petite Sirah.

"The deep, inky hue is unlike any other varietal and the fruit creates a chewy, jammy quality."

According to Eric Corbett, owner of Crooked Vine and Stony Ridge Winery, "Livermore Valley has the perfect terroir for growing Petite Sirah -- rich soil, warm climate, plenty of water and cooler nights. Our Petite Sirah is grown at our own estate vineyard, Del Arroyo. We are able to produce a Petite Sirah with dark, deep, rich flavors and colors, making our wine stand out both in flavor and appearance."

When it comes to pairing, Steven Mirassou, owner and winemaker at The Steven Kent Winery, feels that "Petite Sirah is generally a big, rich wine with a tannin structure that allows it to complement Mediterranean cuisine -- think lamb and Moroccan spices. It is also a beauty with grilled beef."

Find Petite Sirah at these Livermore Valley wineries: Bent Creek, Big White House, Bodegas Aguirre, Cedar Mountain, Charles R Vineyards, Concannon Vineyard, Crooked Vine, Eagle Ridge Vineyard, Eckert Estate, Elliston Vineyards, Fenestra,, Garre Vineyard and Winery, John Evan Cellars, Las Positas Vineyards, Les Chenes Estate Vineyards, Little Valley, Longevity Wines, McGrail Vineyards and Winery, Mitchell Katz, Nottingham Cellars, Occasio, Page Mill, Rios-Lovell, Stony Ridge, The Singing Winemaker, Steven Kent, Thomas Coyne, Wente Vineyards, Westover Vineyards, White Crane and Wood Family Vineyards.

To learn more, visit www.LVwine.org or www.discovercaliforniawines.com

wine country events

  • Brush Strokes & Wine Notes -- Saturday, March 9 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. McGrail Vineyards & Winery, 5600 Greenville Road, Livermore. Create your very own masterpiece with artist Sharon Costello. Sip wine and learn how to paint a wine inspired canvas to take home. Cost: $50. www.mcgrailvineyards.com

  • Bocce and wine -- Campo di Bocce, 175 East Vineyard Ave., Livermore. Play a game of Bocce before a four-course dinner to celebrate Occasio's newest wines, including the gold medal winning Zinfandel. Cost $75. www.occasiowinery.com