by Fred McMillin
for December 17, 1998


Your Complete Petite


"The 1970 David Bruce Petite Syrah is just plain awful. On this one, I'd ask for my money back!"

...Robert Lawrence Balzer newsletter published 25 years ago.

The 1994 David Bruce Petite Syrah wins the Grand Championship at the New World International Wine Competition. Over a quarter of a century of making Petite Syrah has paid off really big.

...Jerry Mead's Wine Trader

David Bruce

The Rest of the Story

I kept a bottle of the '94 in my cellar for a while, and then slipped it into the last tasting. BINGO! I checked back for 10 months and we've not had another Petite come even close in the scoring.

But what about that 1970? It was all an accident. When David first started tasting wines in the 1950s, he "was intriqued by the wines of the Hermitage area in the northern Rhone Valley." So when he started his winery a decade later, he bought the Hermitage varietal, Syrah, from U.C.-Davis. However, as he produced his first wine from it in 1970, he knew it wasn't Syrah, but instead the lightly-regarded Rhone Petite Sirah. So, he spelled it Petite Syrah, slowly learned to "get the best out of it by extracting every drop of flavor from the grapes...but not a drop too much." Avoiding the "too much" included gentle crushing by foot, not with a machine.

That 1970 Petite cost $6.50. This '94 was $12, and worth $24.

The Wine

1994 Petite Syrah, Central Coast, California
David Bruce Winery, Bear Creek Road, Los Gatos
Food—Lamb, beef, pesto pasta
Phone—(800) 397-9972
Price—$12 when released


About that Syrah Dr. Bruce thought he was buying. There are two stories as to how it came from the city of Shiraz in ancient Persia to the Hermitage hill with its breathtaking view of the winding Rhone. One claim is that the Romans brought the vine two millenia ago. The other is that returning Crusader Sir Gaspard de Sterimberg brought it back to the hill, which is topped by his little stone chapel. I visited both Shiraz and the Hermitage to check the stories. As we stood beside the chapel, Syrah producer Max Chapoutier said it wasn't the Romans, it was Sir Gaspard. That's good enough for me.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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