The Legacy of Peter Jahant

Map via

Map via

If you are studying for the CSW Exam, you might recall that the Lodi AVA, located in northern California, has seven sub-regions:  Alta Mesa, Borden Ranch, Clements Hills, Cosumes River, Mokelumne River, Sloughhouse, and the smallest of the seven, Jahant.

I’ve always been intrigued by the interesting name of the Jahant AVA, so this morning I decided to do a bit of research. This is a small area and  information is somewhat difficult to come by, but I did find out who the area is named for, as well as quite a few interesting details about the soil and climate of the area.

The area’s namesake is a former gold prospector turned family farmer named Peter Jahant. Peter was born in France in 1827 and moved to Akron, Ohio with his parents when he was six years old. In 1850, lured by gold fever,  23-year-old Peter took off with for Sacramento with three or four friends, intending to prospect for gold. After a few years of variable success in gold mining , he bought a livery stable and settled down. He eventually married and established a family farm in the Acampo area. In 1912, Peter Jahant’s son, Charles, planted 130 acres of grapes on the original family farm and gold prospectoradditional purchased land. The Jahant name is well-entrenched in the area, with Jahant Road, Jahant Stables, and Jahant Slough (a stream) all part of the local landscape.

The Jahant AVA is located in the center area of the larger Lodi AVA, about 7 miles south of the city of Lodi.  The region is bordered by the Dry Creek River in the north and the Mokelumne River in the southwest.  There are currently 8,000 acres of the area’s total 28,000 acres planted to grapes.

While the Jahant sub-region has a slightly cooler, dryer, and windier climate than the surrounding areas, the main difference, and the defining factor in establishing the boundaries of the area, is the soil.  The distinctive pink soil, referred to as “Rocklin-Jahant,” is a mixture of sandy loam and clay left by river flooding within the last 20,000 years. The clay component makes the soil excellent for retaining water  to the point that dry-farming is possible, even during the summer.  These dry-farmed vines produce grapes of great concentration, deep color and firm tannins; the nearby Sacramento Delta provides enough cooling breezes to maintain a good, balancing level of acidity.

Tempranillo,  Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel are among the most widely planted grapes of the Jahant AVA.  The Viaggio Estate Winery and Michael David Vineyards both have vineyards in the area.  White grapes also do well; the Lange Twins Family Winery has a lodi grape vinevineyard in the area planted to Sauvignon Musqué, a clonal variant of Sauvignon Blanc that produces grapes with a more pronounced floral aroma – and less of the herbal/cut green grass character – of a typical Sauvignon Blanc.

For more information about the Jahant AVA, click here. 

Click here for the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator –

Conference Highlights – Lodi Rules

On Wednesday afternoon, Camron King,  Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, led a group in a tasting of wines produced with fruit from certified sustainable vineyards in the Lodi Rules program.

Camron front of room

The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing is California’s first 3rd party-certified sustainable winegrowing program. It promotes practices that enhance biodiversity, soil and water health, community well-being, and fair practices for employees; all without compromising the needs of future generations.

Lodi Bottles

Lodi is well-known for its old vine zinfandel, but also grows a good deal of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Viognier. Attendees also were treated to samples of Malbec, Graciano, and Tempranillo…just a few of the other grape varieties that thrive in Lodi.

Camron and Audience Lodi

Neither Petite nor Syrah…Petite Sirah

Petite SirahZinfandel and Malbec, take a seat…the big dog has arrived.  I hold in my hand a glass of Michael-David Vineyards “Earthquake” Petite Sirah.  This wine looks like red crude oil, weighs as much as a linebacker, blasts flavors like a blow torch and leaves some cotton on the roof of your mouth.  Despite the name, there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah. It’s not a small version of the grape known as Syrah.  And, for the record, the “i” in “Sirah” isn’t a typo – but if you spell it with a “y” that’s ok as well.

So, if Petite Sirah is not petite and not syrah, what is it?  The grape is one of those vinous mysteries, solved CSI-style with the miracle of modern DNA testing in the U.C. Davis laboratory of Dr. Carole Meredith.

What we call Petite Sirah, it turns out, is a very old variety born and bred in the 1870’s by a French Nurseryman named Dr. Francois Durif.  It seems that the good doctor wanted to create a grape that had the flavor components of Syrah and the resistance to powdery PS on the vinemildew of a grape known as Peloursin. He crossed Peloursin and Syrah and named the resulting grape, like any proud father, after himself.  Durif became a minor success, was planted in quite a few vineyards, and was used as a blending grape in Rhône Reds.  But, alas, Durif never really became a major French variety as it failed to produce high-quality, distinguished wines in the South of France.

Durif migrated to the United  States in the 1890’s, where it fared somewhat better.  Durif thrived in the California sun, was easy to grow, and produced a high yield of  four to eight tons per acre in the Sierra Foothills and Central Valley of California.  In those days, Durif was a major player in the red blends of the Golden State.  If we could go back in time to the days of Gallo Hearty Burgundy, we’d be able to detect a bit of the deep, dark red fruit and dusty cinnamon flavors of Petite Sirah in there…maybe even dominating the blend.

However, in the early days of California wine making, many vineyards were field blends – a variety of grapes grown together in one vineyard with little regard to varietal pedigree and the name “Durif” got lost along the way, much like what happened to Carmenère in Chile.  Later, when someone needed a name for the variety, the grape was named “Petite Sirah.” We can only assume this was due to its Syrah-like flavor and the small size of the grape – the only possible explanation for the moniker “petite”.

Those small grapes grow in big clusters with very thick skins and high tannins.  A good Petite Sirah has a deep red color, a hefty, somewhat “rustic” feel and substantial but ripe Earthquake Petite Sirahtannins. Walk carefully around this wine…it can pack quite an alcoholic punch, sometimes reaching as high as 15%.  In the bottom of the glass you will find rich fruity aromas including of sweet plum, blackberry, cherry, currant and cassis.  Take a sip and you’ll notice the rich fruit flavors…I think this wine defines the term “jammy”. Go ahead and take another sip…look for the flavors of black licorice, chocolate, coffee, black pepper, vanilla, and cedar.  This wine can be quite complex…you might also find aromas and flavors of herbs, violets, brown sugar, orange peel, clove, and cinnamon.  It’s got a lot going on.

Petite Sirah is still grown in France, although like many a local celebrity, it was never much appreciated in its home town.  Australia has a few vines, as well as Argentina, Chile, Israel, and recently, Washington State. The one region to really take to Petite Sirah is California.  The grape is grown throughout California and does particularly well in the warmer regions of the Golden State such as the Sierra Foothills and Lodi, where, in the words of the back label of Earthquake Petite Sirah, it makes a wine that is “over the top and shattering to the veins!”  I couldn’t agree more.