Vinifera for Oenofiles: Loving Arizona Rhone Varietals

Petite Sirah (peh-TEET sih-RAH) is a grape variety that is also known by the name Durif. The red grape variety was first grown in southern France in the late 1800s. Petite Sirah is a small berry with thick skin and tight clusters.

One thing is for certain: Petite Sirah is what we like to call "liquid midnight" because of its dark hue and rich tannins. It is often used for blending but on its own it can be intense and peppery that will age well.

Loving Arizona Rhone Varietals
By Peggy Fiandaca

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards is located at 5,000 foot elevation in the Chiricahua Mountain foothills in Cochise County. The estate is 40 acres, with 12 acres currently planted with grapes, a full-scale winery and home on the property. Approximately 20 acres is located within the riparian area of Ash Creek.

Carefully selected Rhone grape varietals grow at our vineyard. Our first vines were planted in mid-April 2008. Two acres of Petite Sirah grapes were the first planted on the estate. The soils, climate and water quality of the estate directed us toward Rhone-varietal grapes. These are grapes from the Rhone region in France. Once we decided to grow Rhone-varietal grapes, we made several other key decisions regarding the rootstock, clones and particular grape varietal.

Picking the best rootstock that will work in the soils and is tolerant to disease is critical. This is probably the most important decision made by a grower and producer of wines. The goal is to match rootstocks that match the soil structure and nutrient availability to ensure that it can grow successfully. We have found that 1103P and 110R rootstock works best in Arizona.

A "varietal grape" no matter where it is planted and how it is turned into wine will embody certain characteristics that reflect that grape's personality, so to speak. The varietal is influenced by the terroir or sense of place (soil, water and weather) but the basic characteristics shine through. How the winemaker enhances the grape's personality through the winemaking process imparts the winemaker's personality. At Lawrence Dunham Vineyards we allow the grape varietal to express itself in the best possible way, reflecting its unique characteristics.

The genetic make-up of the actual grape varietal is called the "clone." All wine grapes have multiple clones that produce different characteristics from the original. For example, there are different clones to choose from for our Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. Certain clones might have distinctly different aromas and flavors, or a clone may be hardier and less prone to disease. You chose the clone whose flavor you like best, or you might choose a combination of clones. It depends on the goal of the winery.

At Lawrence Dunham Vineyards we have more than 15 different clones among the varietals currently in the vineyard. These clones were chosen for their vigor, hardiness, flavor profile, aroma and heat resistance. Once a clone is selected, they are grafted to rootstocks suitable to the soil type and location.

Our Lawrence Dunham Vineyards Petite Sirah is producing wines that are getting a lot of attention. We focus on making single varietal wines, and we do not do a lot of blends. We are really pleased about the Petite Sirah grape varietal and the prospect for it to become our signature grape.

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards
For more information about Lawrence Dunham Vineyards or to purchase wines, visit the website at or arrange for a wine tasting or tour by emailing Tastings are by appointment only. Wines are available at AJ's stores and many fine restaurants in the Metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson areas.

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