Toasting Patty Bogle and Petite Sirah
Photo: Wine agent Abigail Pyett with Bogle Petite Sirah
It was a bitter sweet experience to start a tasting of California wines this week at the California Wine Fair in Vancouver at the table representing Bogle Vineyards.
Exactly a month earlier, on February 11, Patty Bogle, the co-founder of this winery, had died of leukemia at the age of 59.
It was in silent tribute to her memory that I raised a glass of Bogle Petite Sirah 2008, a variety for which she had been a major proponent.
Bogle Vineyards was founded in 1979 by Patty and Chris Bogle. He died of a heart attack in 1997.
Theirs has been a considerable achievement. The winery has grown to be the 14th largest in the United States, shipping more than a million cases of wine annually. In a time when family-owned wineries have been swallowed up by international wine giants, Bogle remains under family ownership. Son Warren Bogle Jr. is president, daughter Jody handles marketing and corporate affairs. Son Ryan, who joined the family business in 2008, is a vice-president.
The winery has a reputation for making wines that are solid in quality and reasonable in price.
One of Bogle Vineyards’s peers in Clarksburg, where the winery is located, had this to say about Patty Bogle in an article in the Sacramento Bee: “She put Petite Sirah on the map and gave it a lot of exposure. And I don’t think you will find anybody who has a bad thing to say about her and the whole family. They’re just genuine, salt-of-the-earth people.”
That’s appropriate for the personality of Sirah, a variety that has struggled sometimes to step out of the shadow of Syrah, which is quite a different grape.
It is probable that both grapes, along with many other varieties, came to California among the vine cuttings that Agoston Haraszthy brought back from Europe in 1861. If not then, the variety arrived soon after. There is a recorded reference to an experimenter in vines making wine in 1882 and 1883 with Petite Sirah. That varietal name was not known in Europe, however.
Foppiano Vineyards, another Petite Sirah champion (and another of the California winery delegation this week), once published a long article in its newsletter, trying to shed light on the origin of the variety.
Foppiano theorized that four different Rhone varieties – all making dark, rich and age-worthy wines – were casually called Petite Sirah, including Syrah, Peloursin, Mondeuse and Durif. It is believed that Durif is the variety that Americans came to call Petite Sirah but that conclusion, even after DNA research, remains contentious.
California vineyards suffered heavy losses from phyloxera in the late 19th century. When growers replanted reds, the robust Petite Syrah was favoured over Syrah. That was especially so during Prohibition. Growers were not allowed to operate wineries but they could sell fresh grapes to the home winemakers. Grapes were shipped by rail all over the United States; for that reason, thick-skinned varieties like Petite Sirah were preferred to thin-skinned Syrah.
Syrah had almost disappeared from California vineyards by the early 1980s. But when Australian Shiraz stormed the American market, Syrah plantings exploded, once again overshadowing Petite Sirah. If the variety had not had champions like Patty Bogle, it might have been largely eclipsed.
Ironically, Syrah seems to be falling out of fashion these days. Who can say why consumers are so fickle?
The other variety that Bogle championed was Chenin Blanc. That wine was among the four at the Bogle table although, unlike the others, it currently is not listed in this market. Free House Wine & Spirits, the agent in British Columbia, was using the California Wine Fair to troll for orders.
Here are my notes on the four Bogle wines.
Bogle Chenin Blanc 2009 ($21.99 if listed). This is a crisp wine, typical for the variety, with tangy apple and apricot flavours and with a long finish. 88.
Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel 2008 ($23.99). This has the concentration one expects from old vines fruit. Dark and brooding, the wine has flavours of plum, blackberry and even blueberry. 90.
Bogle Pinot Noir 2009 ($23.90). This well-priced Pinot Noir has generous flavours of cherry and strawberry with a spicy finish. 88.
Bogle Petite Sirah 2008 ($21.99). This is the lovably rustic red that shows why the variety has many admirers. Full-bodied, it has earthy, meaty flavours along with notes of plum and chocolate. 88-90.
Good on Patty Bogle for standing up for Petite Sirah.