2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah •Estate Vineyard
California: Napa Valley
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Mission Codename: Cache of the Titus
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to our old friends at Titus Vineyards, in Napa Valley, and procure their delicious estate Petite Sirah
Mission Status: Accomplished
Current Winery: Titus Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2006 Petite Sirah
Winemaker: Philip Titus
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.
For today’s wine, Agent Red returns to Titus Vineyards to procure their 2006 Petite Sirah, a wine that is much sought after by the winery’s most ardent fans. Read Red’s mission notes and tasting notes below, for the full story on today’s wine – and learn of his initial encounter with this great winery
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep burgundy with an inky purple-garnet-black heart, a solid and tight looking surface, darkly concentrated purple edges and tightly-spaced legs that take a while to emerge – before they streak down the glass in thin columns
Smell – A big rush of earthy blackberry leads the way, followed by blueberry, oak, cocoa powder, a hint of vanilla and softest cedar
Feel – Cool and light-weight at the very tip of the tongue, with a mid-palate grippy dryness that leads to a bright and coating all-over-mouth robustness, with chewy medium to big tannins
Taste – Richly layered and highly concentrated flavors of dark stonefruit, jammy blackened mixed dark berries, soft cranberry, cassis, dark cherry, licorice and sweet forest floor
Finish – Dry and long with flavors that begins with slightly tart, and then go sweet as flavors tail off over a long interval
Conclusion – This is a great and extra-delicious Petite Sirah with deep aromatics and a unique light-weight feel that is great fun in the mouth. Decant for 30 minutes or more, and you will be rewarded with a softer feel and natural flavors. This is a big and chewy wine that will stain your tongue and teeth purple on first sip, and I guarantee any Petite lover that this wine is a sure pleaser. Petite Sirah has a reputation for overpowering a meal, but, remarkably, this wine has enough acidity and fine structure to make it a good food companion rather than a food competitor.
I had the great fortune to visit Titus Vineyards a few days ago, and was able to walk the vineyards and kick the clumps of dirt with winemaker, Phil Titus.
Founded by Phil’s father, Lee, the winery started as a family affair with wife Ruth and their two sons, Eric and Phil. For several years they produced grapes for other prestigious wineries, including Charles Krug, Beaulieu Vineyards, Quail Ridge, and Pine Ridge.
Ultimately, Phil and Eric, too over the family business. Today, Phil is Titus’ winemaker, while Eric runs operations.
What follows is a transcript of my conversation with Phil, recorded late last year as we walked through the Titus vineyards on a beautiful Napa afternoon
Agent Red: Growing up around the vines and the business, I’m guessing that you been a wine guy your whole life. Am I right?
Phil Titus: Actually yes. I’m not good at much else. At least nothing that I could turn into a career. Wine is in my blood. As a kid, I found myself in the vineyards all of the time. Today, I could not imagine any other life for myself.
Red: What was your first family winery experience?
Phil: We’ll the most memorable and the most significant early experience came when I worked to plant a vineyard with my Mom, and Dad and brother. This vineyard is producing the wine that you will be bringing to your Operatives soon. It was our first and last full-family project and it is a very special vineyard that turns out some very special wines.
Red: And since planting that vineyard, how consistently involved have you been with these vineyards?
Phil: I haven’t missed a harvest since 1979!
Red: So, even when you were enrolled at U.C. Davis?
Phil: Yeah. And while other vineyards have come and gone, this vineyard has been producing great fruit and turning out great wines. The look like old vines, don’t they?
Red: Yeah, big and gnarly. Beautiful. Tell me, what’s keeping you busy this time of year?
Phil: That could take a long time! Well, first off, we’ve just completed the bottling of our ’06 reds and our ’07 whites. Now its time to turn our attention to the coming harvest. With verasion here – the moment that first color appears in the grapes – the grapes tell us that harvest is about 6 to 8 weeks away.
Red: How are the grapes looking for this harvest?
Phil: Really great, actually. Not only is the color very consistent, the evenness of the color in a single cluster is perfect. This makes our decision on when to pick far easier. Even color means more better control over the quality of the ripening. Too much green on a cluster and you get more green qualities in the final wine.
Red: Were you affected by the recent frost?
Phil: We had the good fortune to avoid the problems that were found in higher elevations, where some growers lost half of their crops or more.
Red: So, where is your prediction for 2008 vintage wines?
Phil: Looking great! The fruit looks really fantastic, but we’ll have a better sense once we harvest and get to crush.
Red: What about your ’07 red? You must be playing with blending, right?
Phil: Yes, we have been lining up blind samples, tasting & determining the direction that the wines will take. We do this without knowing which wines are which. This helps us to have no preconceived notions about the wines, and allows us to taste for quality, regardless of which vineyards the juice came from. Its a fun time for us as it gives us a window into how our wines are progressing – and how they’ll turn out. 2006 is stupendous – and 2007 looks very promising – but make sure that your Operatives don’t miss our great Petite Sirah.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the vineyard can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
Dark and inky in appearance, our 2006 Petite Sirah is rich with aromas of sweet, dark fruit and floral notes. Balanced, lush flavors of dark chocolate, caramel, and peppercorns intermingle with layers of blueberries, pomegranates and ripe blackberries. The wines supple tannins lead to a long, cocoa-dusted finish. Our Petite Sirah should be considered a gentle giant for this variety, exhibiting approachability and food friendliness. Recommended drinking time is three to four years from vintage, maximum suggested aging is ten years from vintage.
Vintage – The 2006 growing season got off to a late start with a cool spring and late rains. An intense heat spike in July resulted in temporary concern that it might shut down the vines, during this critical ripening period. Thankfully, August brought cooler weather that stayed with us up until harvest. Waiting somewhat patiently for the grapes to come into perfect maturity and full ripeness, 2006 proved to be a grower’s season in St. Helena because of the extended, evening ripening of each grape variety in our valley floor vineyards. Harvest at Titus Vineyards was unusually late; we started ten days later than we would typically finish. The lengthy 2006 growing season gifted these wines with lively aromatics, well balanced flavor profiles with beautiful concentration, and solid structure that will benefit the wines long term.
Vineyard – After many years of purchasing Petite Sirah from other growers to blend into our Zinfandel, we finally planted our own. Our family vineyard is located on 40 acres of Napa Valley floor just north of St. Helena on the Silverado Trail. It has well-drained, sandy, alluvial soils and is characterized by its ability to produce complex wines with well-defined fruit flavors, gentle acids and naturally balanced tannins. The vines benefit from their very even east-west exposure resulting in even ripening each year.
Vinification – The grapes were harvested in October and promptly de-stemmed but not crushed, allowing increased control over tannin extraction by minimizing the possibility of broken skins and split seeds. After a 48-hour cold soak to extract color and flavor, the grapes were fermented for one week, with pump-overs occurring twice daily. The free-run was transferred to new and two-year-old American oak barrels where it underwent malolactic fermentation, then barrel aging for 19 months.
About The Winery:
When the Titus story began, life in Napa Valley was simpler than it is today, and California’s wine industry had yet to achieve its enormous potential. The vineyard Lee and Ruth Titus acquired in 1967 was planted to Mondeuce, Burger, and Golden Chasselas, varietals all but forgotten today, but prevalent before the emphasis in Napa Valley evolved from quantity to quality and from generic to varietal wines. Also grown were ringers like Pinot Noir, poorly suited to our warm, up-valley microclimate.
Now that we have over thirty years experience working the land, our vineyard is supported with disease resistant rootstock, planted to clones and varietals tuned to fit our vineyards’ terrior, and farmed with a single purpose: to produce excellent quality wines rivaling the best in the world. Lee loved what was happening in Bordeaux at the time and decided those were the grape varieties he wanted to plant. And so it began, with Lee holding a book on Bordeaux in one hand and planting grapevines with the other saying, “you boys are going to need this some day.” At that time, planting Malbec and Petit Verdot for example, was relatively unheard of and probably considered risky. Now, Phillip and Eric absolutely appreciate their father’s foresight.
Lee Titus and his family came to California from Minnesota during the Depression. After graduating from Fresno State and serving in World War II, Lee attended medical school and became a radiologist. Meanwhile, Ruth Traverso grew up in San Francisco’s North Beach, where her parents, immigrants from the Piemonte region of Italy, were involved in the family bakery business. During family vacations in Calistoga, Ruth helped friends harvest their grapes, giving her a love for Napa Valley and a kinship with grape farming.
Years later, having fallen in love, married and settled in the town of Sonoma with their four sons, Lee and Ruth began acquiring fifty acres in three separate parcels just north of St. Helena along the valley floor. Although they hoped one day to build a family operated winery, it would be more than twenty years before they crushed fruit for production of Titus Vineyards wines. Lee and Ruth spent those years raising their sons and producing grapes for other wineries, including Charles Krug, Beaulieu Vineyards, Quail Ridge, and Pine Ridge.
Ultimately, Lee and Ruth left the creation of Titus Vineyards wines up to their sons: Phillip works as winemaker for Titus Vineyards, while Eric manages the business and vineyards. Peter and Paul are now pursuing careers in horticulture and anthropology, respectively.
Vineyard Manager: Eric Titus
Winemaker: Phillip Titus
Appellation: Napa Valley
Blend: 100% Petite Sirah
Harvest Date: 10/14/06
Barrel Aging: 19 months – 33% new barrels, 100% American oak
Bottled: June 2008
Cases Produced: 541
Total Acidity: .57grams/100 ml
Release: September 2008