Zinfandel is Officially Not Official, Just Historic
I don’t think I can agree with Mike Dunne more than I do.
In his frank fashion, Dunne, the longstanding wine writer for the Sacramento Bee, takes to task the wine industry’s associations for not getting behind an effort to name Zinfandel the "historic wine of California."
Some of you will recall that not too long ago California State Senator Carole Migden pushed a proposal to name Zinfandel the Official State Grape. Well, this didn’t go over to well with vintners who make wines other than Zinfandel, fearing that this designation would make consumers run out and buy Zinfandel just as fast as they’ve gone out and purchased Golden Poppies.
So, Midgen has amended her proposal to merely call Zin the "Historic Wine of California", Not the "Official State Grape."
Still, most wine industry types don’t like the idea.
Paul Kronenberg, Executive Director of Family Winemakers of California, speaks for what is probably most of the industry when he says "Plenty of other wines also helped shape the state’s wine industry, and
to single out one for special recognition is akin to asking parents to
choose which among their children is their favorite, says Kronenberg. That’s not a function the state should get involved in."
But Mike Dunne’s retort is on the mark:
"This argument is an extension of a long-standing dodge in the wine
business; winemakers for decades have been avoiding naming their
favorite wine in their lineup by likening their wines to their
children, thereby not only sidestepping the issue but making
journalists feel ashamed for even asking."
Of course there is no arguing that Zinfandel is the most historic grape in California. There’s no arguing that this was the grape that put California wines on the map. There’s no arguing that Zinfandel was the grape that allowed California vintners to produce loads of good wine in the early days. And there’s no arguing that today no region in the world comes close to producing the amount or quality of Zinfandel that is produced in California.
It is a stretch to imagine Ms. Midgen tauting the merits of the mission grape, seeing that 16 brix is inadequate. She might proclaim zinfandel as one of the world’s tangiest blush wines. But, I suspect she is ahead of her time: give UC Davis breeders another decade now that they have unlocked zin’s DNA origins, tracing it from a Viennese horticulturist’s exemplar of a Croatian planting called Crljenak Kastelanski farther back in direct lineage to an Albanian or Greek parent; I am unsure why Dr. Meredith’s 1998 research halted somewhere there in Macedonia, although those were very difficult times to be engaged in research on plant materials or any other subject in that part of the Balkans. I need to update the history here, as it is a fascinating story. Primativo is out of the picture as a direct parent but remains in as a close cousin of the CA zin we know and cherish. Too much is going on with cultivar acquisition now for Ms. Midgen to relaunch a fifteen year old controversy, just when extraordinary wines of many other grapes are appearing here. I suppose she could claim CA invented the wine cooler, but other countries have added wine to citrus punchbowls for years. I sense what she is getting at, though; it is a sense that somewhere in Hilgardia there is a genetic statement about who Californios are. I will see if I can help her there.
I had to look up the meaning of “Hilgardia”.
I don’t think the Ms. Migden is too concerned with genetic origins or even the varied possible paths Zinfandel may have taken to got to California’s shores. I think she’s concerned with the historic impact the grape had once it arrived.
And by this criteria, Zinfandel stands alone.