The red grape variety comes from France. Synonyms are Bas Plant, Dure, Duret, Dureza, Durif Noir, Kék Durif, Nerin, Pareux Noir, Petite Sirah, Petite Syrah, Pinot de l'Hermitage, Pinot de Romans, Pinot Fourcat, Plant Durif, Plant Fourchu, Serine des Mauves and Sirane Fourchue. It must not be confused with the varieties Béclan, Béquignol Noir, Dureza (Duret), Peloursin, Pinot Noir and Syrah, despite the fact that synonyms or morphological similarities appear to indicate this. The parentage or parenthood could only be clarified towards the end of the 1990s, although for a long time there was great confusion, also due to the different spellings of the synonym Petite Sirah (with "i") or Petite Syrah (with "y"). Although the variety originated in France, the reason for the confusion is or was more than 100 years ago in California.
In the 1860s the breeder François Durif experimented with crossbreeding in Tullins in the Isère department. In 1868, the ampelographer Victor Pulliat (1827-1896) mentioned a creation by Durif under the name Plant du Rif and praised it for its resistance to downy mildew. In 1884, the Californian winemaker Charles McIver from the Linda Vista Winery in San Jose imported French vines, probably Durif (under the name Petite Sirah), Peloursin, Pinot Noir and probably Syrah under the name Petite Syrah (with a "y"); although the latter was not officially introduced until 1936 (in the late 19th century, Petite Syrah was used in France for a small-berry clone of Syrah). Then phylloxera struck, and when everything was replanted from 1897 onwards, the higher-yielding Durif variety was preferred to Syrah, so that in the new vineyards all the varieties mentioned above were grown in a mixed set. The chaos was perfect.
As early as the 1970s, the ampelographer Paul Truel (1924-2014) claimed that Durif and Petite Sirah were identical. And the oenologist Dr. Harold P. Olmo (1909-2006) said that at least three different varieties were named Petite Sirah. This was then confirmed by DNA analyses carried out by Dr. Carole Meredith in 1996 at the University of California in collaboration with the biologist Jean-Michel Boursiquot (*1958) from Montpellier. In 1999, it turned out that the Durif variety was the result of a cross between Peloursin and Syrah (Durif himself had already indicated the correct mother variety). Further analyses then proved that the varieties referred to as Petite Sirah in California are mostly Durif, with Syrah, Peloursin or Pinot Noir in smaller cases. Thus, the vineyards were a colourful mixture of "parent and child" and other varieties. The riddle of the Durif variety was finally solved.
The late ripening vine is sensitive to winter frost, susceptible to botrytis and black rot, but resistant to downy mildew. It produces colourful, tannic, full-bodied red wines with ageing potential, which can be used as complexions as well as being matured single-variety. Today, however, only a small quantity of this variety is cultivated in southwest France, where it is permitted in the palette sector. Overseas, it occupies cultivation areas in Australia (417 ha), Brazil, Chile (104 ha), Israel, Mexico (133 ha) and South Africa, and above all in the USA (2,865 ha), mostly in California. Here the variety enjoys great popularity under the name Petite Sirah/Syrah - there is even a fan website "PS I Love You". It is grown there in the Central Valley, Napa Valley and Sonoma County areas. There are other stocks in Washington State. In 2010, the variety occupied a total of 3,557 hectares of vineyards. Compared to 2000 with 1,197 hectares at that time, this is three times the amount. It occupies 133rd place in the worldwide grape variety ranking (statistics Kym Anderson).
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Pictures: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)