Fortress Vineyards

2008 Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah •Red Hills Lake County

California: Lake County

Offer Expired:Aug 21, 2010 at 11:59 pm
Avg. Price

What We Say


Today’s Petite Sirah is a wonderful, balanced and very delicious wine, that is well deserving of this special alert.


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Mission Codename: High Altitude Attitude

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Scour the Red Hill region of California’s Lake County and secure a fantastic Petite Sirah for our eager Operatives.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery:Fortress Vineyards

Wine Subject: 2008 Red Hills Petite Sirah

Winemaker: Nils Venge

Backgrounder: The Red Hills Lake County AVA is distinguished by red volcanic gravelly soils and a distinctive lake-land effect breeze/wind that moderates temperatures. The Fortress Vineyard has one of, if not the highest, elevations in the Red Hills. The Fortress Vineyard is located on the northwestern boundary of the Red Hills appellation directly overlooking Clear Lake and the town of Kelseyville. Positioned very close to the Lake on the ridge of the mountain, the vineyard benefits from a direct daily breeze that keeps the individual vine environment 6 to 8 degrees cooler on any day than the areas below the vineyard. The Red Hills Lake County AVA is a part of the larger, multi-county North Coast AVA comprised of four counties: Lake, Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino.

Petite Sirah’s California roots dates back to when it was believed to be a close relative of the Syrah grape. Later it would be found to be genetically identical to the Durif, named for its after French discoverer François Durif who found that the varietal was a Syrah grape pollinated with Peloursin flowers. Its smaller berries with higher skin to pulp ratio leads to more intense flavors. Another benefit of the smaller berries are tighter clusters that are more resistant to mildew. Currently Petite Sirah is less popular in France and increasingly popular in the United States.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Darkly inky purple, with a clear but darker heart. At the edge of the wine, a skinny ring of fine ruby circles the glass. After swirling the wine, skinny, wine-stained legs march steadily down the glass.

Smell – Flinty dark blueberry and blackberry on first inhalation of this deeply layered wine. Additional lush aromas of smoked black plum, braised black fig and black cherry fruits play with beautifully with dark leather, cigarette tobacco leaf, dark dried flower petals and black pepper.

Feel – Beautifully balanced, this wine is big and bold, but not at all overpowering. It is soft on entry, then firm tannins introduce a soft dryness that gradually increases as flavors move slowly around the palate.

Taste – Dark black fruit or plum, blackberry, black fig and smoky blueberry lead the way. These are soon followed by dried violets, flint and lush blackest cherry. Under these sit fine black pepper and the softest oak.

Finish – Long and dusky, with pronounced blackberry, blueberry and plum. After a moment, soft graphite and easy black pepper see the fruit on its way.

Overall – This is a delicious and brilliant Petite! Where many Cali Petites tend to be overly flavorful texture-bombs, this wine is soft, juicy, and easy. Make no mistake, though, there is plenty of complexity and richness – but this wine holds everything in perfect balance. The fruit shines through and the tannins are plush. I enjoyed this wine all on its own – and with homemade corn crust pizza with every conceivable topping. The wine played beautifully with everything! If you love great Petite Sirah, you will love this superb example from our new best Lake County friends, Fortress Vineyards!

Mission Report:


Subject: Nils Venge

Wine Education: UC Davis – BS in Viticulture and Enology. I have over 40 years of winemaking experience in Napa including Villa Mt. Eden, Groth, my own labels – Saddleback Cellars, Envy Wines and Cougar’s Leap/Black Rock – and as consultant for several boutique wineries in Napa, including Fortress Vineyards.

California Wine Job In Brief: As noted, I make wine under my own labels and am the consulting winemaker for several other boutique wineries including Fortress Vineyards.

Winemaking Philosophy: “First and foremost, I always strive to capture as much of the true varietal character and the character of the particular site or terroir in each wine. I also work to make each wine balanced, smooth and one that will age well.”

First Commercial Wine Release: 1974 – Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon.


RED: Greetings, Nils. We are thrilled to be showing your 2008 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

NILS: Thank you, I am delighted to be here.

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

NILS: Yes, my parents were Distributors in Los Angeles and represented many high quality suppliers. I was introduced to the best quality wines at an early age. I looked forward every Christmas to see what special wines my father would pour for the dinner. Most years the selection would include a wonderful Chateau Latour and Chateau D’Yquem.

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

NILS: Definitely Chateau Latour inspired me from the start. For a domestic wine, I have always looked to Ed Sbragia’s Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as a standard.

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

NILS: I think this wine truly reflects that the Red Hills in Lake County is producing some very high quality fruit and wines. I feel this Petite Sirah has the pure, classic characteristics of a Petite Sirah. It has a pretty dark color and the classic varietal characteristics with a little spice, tobacco and a lot of dark fruit. I particularly like the fact that it is very well rounded and balanced. I think this is an excellent representation of a high quality true Petite Sirah.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

NILS: My personal choice would be a Kobe burger but of course, it would go with a variety of foods such as lamb and in particular, some great wild game.

RED: In your opinion, what makes the Fortress Vineyard so special?

NILS: The Fortress Vineyard is located in the Red Hills Lake County appellation but is unique because it is a very high elevation mountain vineyard (2000 to 2400 feet) located on a ridge of the old Mt. Konocti volcano directly overlooking Clear Lake (which is the largest natural lake in California since Lake Tahoe is half California and half Nevada). The vineyard has a complex mixture of volcanic soils, enjoys a constant daily wind coming from the Lake to keep the vine environment cool and has the classic Northeast to Southwest exposure. Because of the high altitude, it has more daylight sun hours but remains cooler than vineyards below. You don’t often find a vineyard with so many positive attributes.

RED: How would you recommend people approach this wine?

NILS: I think they should consider this wine to be a very good representation of a classic Petite Sirah. I also think it over-delivers on quality compared to the price.

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

What the Winery Says

About This Wine:

2008 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah – A blend of fruit from Blocks 6 and 11 offering a combination of soil-types situated at an elevation of 2300 ft. This greatly enhances the flavor and aroma intensity of Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah fruit.

Inky black, with new leather, earth and violet on the nose. Graphite, chipped stone, and black fruit on the palate. Fine-grained tannins impart wonderful texture and mouth feel leading to a long, lingering finish to complete.

About The Winery:

Gary and Barbara Snider’s passion for grape growing began early in their relationship while both were pursuing degrees at UC Davis. In the intervening years between college, marriage, raising two children, and purchasing their first vineyard property in 1988, Gary pursued a corporate career in San Francisco while Barbara taught at the college level and later completed law school. They both continued to manage full time careers while developing their hillside vineyard in Knights Valley. Their son, Tim, also learned the business “from the ground up” while working on the vineyard during the summers while finishing high school and college.

After 10 years of growing and selling grapes from the Knights Valley vineyard to various Napa Valley wineries, the Sniders began looking for new possibilities in Lake County in the area that is now known as the Red Hills Lake County AVA. They saw great potential for growing high premium grapes on a mountain vineyard. They purchased several contiguous parcels of land on a ridge on Mt. Konocti overlooking Clear Lake and in 1998, and using their years of research and experience, began development of the high-altitude mountain vineyard. They later named the vineyard the Fortress Vineyard for the many rocks cleared and pushed along the side of the mountain forming medieval-like rock walls throughout the property.

After evaluating the first few crops from the Fortress Vineyard, the Sniders realized that the fruit from this vineyard had distinctive qualities and with the 2004 harvest, made their first wine under the Fortress Vineyards label – a Sauvignon Blanc made 100% from the Musque Clone. Nils Venge who is well known as an outstanding Napa winemaker began consulting for Fortress Vineyards in 2007. With this change, the Sniders moved their winemaking to Napa. 2009 has proven to be a year of development as the Sniders have recently introduced three new wines made from the 2007 harvest. In addition to the Sauvignon Blanc wine they have been making, they offer Novateur, an off-dry contemporary wine made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, Finale, a late harvest 100% Semillon made in the traditional Sauternes style, and a Petite Sirah – all made from grapes grown on the Fortress Vineyard.

About The Winemaker:

Lars Bjorkman was born in Fresno, California to Scandinavian parents. After graduating from Clovis high school as a football star, he was recruited to play at UC Davis where he began his studies as a Biology major.

Eventually he came back to one of his first college classes, Introduction to Winemaking, to change his major to Viticulture and Enology. Here Lars truly realized his future in the wine world. Internships at Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma, R.H. Phillips in Dunnigan Hills, and Stonehaven Vineyards in Padthaway, South Australia, soon followed.

After receiving his B.S. he began work as the Enologist at Flora Springs Winery where he helped to make many award winning wines. In 2006the changed jobs to become the Assistant Winemaker at Saddleback Cellars in Oakville under the well-known winemaker, Nils Venge. Here Lars oversees all winemaking and vineyard operations.

Since then, his duties have expanded to overseeing winemaking and vineyard operations at Envy Wines as well as overseeing winemaking for Fortress Vineyards with Nils Venge as consulting winemaker.

Nils Venge – Fortress Vineyards is proud to announce their new consulting winemaker, Nils Venge. Nils has over 30 years of winemaking experience in the Napa Valley, and now brings his expertise to Fortress Vineyards.

Nils graduated from UC Davis in 1967 with a BS in viticulture and a minor in enology. In 1970, after serving a tour of duty in Vietnam, Nils began his career in the wine industry as a vineyard supervisor for Charles Krug Winery and later, Sterling Vineyards. By 1973 Nils made the transition into winemaking by becoming winemaker and general manager for Villa Mount Eden.

In 1982, Nils joined forces with Dennis Groth to form Groth Vineyards and Winery. Nils served as winemaker and general manager. In 1985, Nils was bestowed the honor of being the first American winemaker to receive a perfect ‘100 Points’ from Robert Parker Jr. for Groth’s Reserve Cabernet. In that same year, Nils began making wine under his own label, Saddleback Cellars, from grapes grown on property he and his father-in-law owned together. Saddleback Cellars’ first vintage was released in 1982.

Nils parted from Groth Vineyards in 1993 to become a consulting winemaker and to make wine under his own label, Saddleback Cellars. Nils later added Venge Vineyards, a Venge family operation with his son Kirk. Envy Wines is his newest collaborative venture. In addition to now consulting for Fortress Vineyards, Nils’ winery clients include such prominent wineries as Keenan, Del Dotto, Plumpjack and Moss Creek.

Technical Analysis:

Vintage: 2008

Wine Type: Red Wine

Varietal: Petite Sirah

Appellation: Red Hills Lake County

Harvest Date: September 20, 2008

Acid: 6.2g/L

PH: 3.95

Aging: 20 months

Fermentation: 75% new French/American barrels

Residual Sugar: <0.1g/L

Alcohol: 14.5%

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