California’s Zinfandel War: Part Deux

The story of Zinfandel being recognized as the California State Wine sure does have legs. The media is playing with this story right now and having fun with it. I think on the one hand they have interest in the inter-industry debate (fight?) the proposal is spawning. On the other hand, I think the media just likes the idea of seeing grape growers growl at each other.

As I said yesterday, I love the idea of Zinfandel being named the "State Wine" of California. No matter how hard you wish to try, you can’t underestimate the importance of the Zinfandel grape to the founding of the California wine industry. Plus, name another region where Zinfandel is celebrated with serious winemaking like it is in California.

I understand the other side of the argument: California is, today, defined by many other wines and grapes, Zinfandel isn’t even the largest produced wine in the state. California wine REALLY became famous at the Paris tasting on the back of Cab and Chard. California shouldn’t be singling out one commercial product for recognition.

However, I need someone to show me how designating Zin as the State Wine will hurt sales of other wines in any serious way.

The really interesting thing about this story is that ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), the promotional organization that does such a great job at pushing the grape and its wine, didn’t know this proposed legislation was coming down the pike. They were as surprised as everyone else when it emerged. Sort of like Santa Claus arriving unexpectedly in July bearing gifts.

ZAP issued a statement today on the proposed designation of Zin as the State Wine. They’ve taken no position on the proposal…smartly. The statement is reproduced below.
ZAP Statement on the Introduction of SB 1253

Rough & Ready, California, February 10, 2006—The Association of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization, has issued the following statement in connection with the introduction of Senate Bill 1253 by State Senator Carole Migden designating Zinfandel the official state wine:

“We were totally surprised and can’t help but be delighted,” said Julie Johnson, ZAP’s President and owner of Tres Sabores Winery, located in Rutherford in the Napa Valley. “We are so appreciative of the Senator’s enthusiasm for our favorite wine grape varietal.  This is unprecedented recognition of Zinfandel’s distinctive history in California,” she adds.

The Association has not yet taken a position on the legislation.  “We were not involved in the bill’s development and have not seen the language,” states Bruce Walker, ZAP’s Secretary and Co-owner of Starry Night Winery.   “We will be in touch with our members to see what they have to say about it.  Of course, many of our 315 winery members grow and produce varietals other than Zinfandel from virtually all of the premium growing regions in the state.”

“California wine in general is increasingly recognized around the world for its quality and diversity.  In my opinion, selecting Zinfandel as the state grape takes nothing away from the many other grape varieties which are grown in California.  This is a huge tribute to the California wine industry and Zinfandel’s place within that,” said Joel Peterson, past ZAP President and Winemaker for Ravenswood.

While other varieties, including Zinfandel, have European origins, Zinfandel was the most widely planted premium wine grape varietal during California’s first wine boom in the 1870s, receiving worldwide acclaim.  Thus the term “heritage grape” was developed by the UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology in establishing their Zinfandel research vineyards.

Zinfandel is a significant part of California’s premium wine grape growing, ranking second overall in red wine grape acres planted behind Cabernet Sauvignon.  Zinfandel grapes are planted in virtually every premium wine grape-growing region in California.  Zinfandel is also the one premium wine grape with a name tied to a location in America.  Wine historians have documented that the name “Zinfandel” was first used to describe this grape as early as 1832, establishing a unique identity in this country for the varietal. 

Over 10,000 wine enthusiasts from all over the world celebrated Zinfandel at ZAP’s 15th Anniversary Zinfandel Festival held in San Francisco at the end of January in four days of events including an enormous tasting at Ft. Mason. Zinfandel producers are proud to be a part of the California wine community, which contributes $49 billion annually to California’s economy.

Posted In: Culture and Wine


5 Responses

  1. Tish - February 16, 2006

    Tom, I am surprised this issue has generated so much debate. I agree with you in that I can’t see how elevating Zinfandel symbolically will in any way hurt other grapes/wines. (Does Florida having oranges as the state fruit (if indeed they do) result in oppression of other citrus fruits and non-orange vegetables?) In fact, making Zinfandel the State Wine might officially make White Zin a relic of the 20th century, which would be a good thing for an industry moving forward on a dry and distinctive path.

  2. Robin Smith - March 10, 2006

    Why do you think that when people refer to Zinfandel’s origins they say ‘European’ instead of ‘Croatian’? It’s been varified now that Zinfandel is Croatian Crljenak, but people go on instead about who may or may not have physically brought it over (Italians, English, Hungarian), rather than its origins. As if coming from a Slavic country not yet known for its wines (which are really good, by the way), demotes it…

  3. tom - March 10, 2006

    I doubt the use of “European” is used as a reflection of one’s view of Croatia. It’s probably just shorthand for “over there”.

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