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WINEMAKER: LOUIS M. FOPPIANO

Leading the Parade
LOUIS FOPPIANO HELPED SPARK TODAY’S PETITE SIRAH PHENOMENON

INTHEBARREL By THOM ELKJER, WINE EDITOR

Three years ago this summer, Louis M. Foppiano hosted a seminal event, one that instantly turbocharged the resurgence of Petite Sirah as a varietal wine. Back then, Foppiano Winery was one of a handful of wineries that has long championed Petite Sirah. The winery invited other passionate producers to gather and discuss all aspects of making and selling the varietal.

They did that and more. Within months they had formed “P.S. I Love You,” a promotional organization devoted to the wine. They also launched the “Blue Tooth Tour,” which sent vintners around the U.S. in buses to talk and pour. (The tour’s name comes from Petite Sirah’s dark color and tooth-coating tannins.) Suddenly the wine was everywhere. “I had no idea when we started this that so many people would jump on the bandwagon,” Foppiano marvels.
He grew up in the family business but learned how to sell Petite Sirah on the road. “The hardest part of the wine business is getting out there and making sure people appreciate what you have to sell,” says Foppiano. “That’s why vintners spend half the year on the road. Grape growing and winemaking are hard, no question about it, but you have some control over those. No one controls consumers.”

He’s speaking from experience. On one occasion he addressed 200 wine lovers in Detroit and was less than generous in his praise for one his own wines. “It was a Petite Sirah from an average vintage, not like the two years before that had been great,” he recalls. “So I was kind of panning this wine, and someone raised his hand in the back. I invited him to speak, and he said, ‘You’re full of it – this is good wine!’”

Foppiano can laugh about that moment today, and he can also bask in the knowledge that he’ll sell out the 10,000 cases of Petite Sirah that Foppiano produces on average each year (along with similar amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Zinfandel). “We’ve definitely got a hit on our hands,” he says.

Foppiano claims he’s “not that eloquent” when I ask him to describe Petite Sirah’s best qualities, but he has a perspective on the wine you can get only through life-long association with it. “The wine lives,” he offers. “If Petite Sirah is made well it can age tremendously well, and it also reaches the same nirvana that all great wines reach when they get older.”

As for Petite Sirah’s rebirth as a top-tier varietal wine, Foppiano sees only good things ahead. “We know now where to grow it and how to make it, and there’s room to plant it,” he says of the wider wine industry. “It will never go crazy like Merlot because it’s not an entry-level wine. But if you love red wine, eventually you’re going to come around to Petite Sirah.”


MAY/JUN 2005
TABLE OF CONTENTS

FEATURE ARTICLES
FOOD & WINE
Braised Lamb Shanks
Winemaker: Louis Foppiano
PETITE SIRAH - The Not So Little Prince
Wine Picks - PETITE SIRAH
SOCIAL TOAST
BITS & BITES


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