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07 Aug 2017 | Amy Mullally

All About Zinfandel: America's Heritage Grape

We love our Zin: big, rich, and hedonistic, bursting with the ripe flavors of summertime, perfect with ribs and burgers. America’s most notorious red grape wasn’t born here, however.

Like all of our favorite grapes, Zinfandel emigrated with our ancestors in the early 1800s. Dr. Carole Meredith, professor at UC Davis, has cracked the code on the genetics of grape varieties, and it turns out that our hometown Zin was actually born in Croatia, as Crljenak Kestelanski [tsurl-YEN-ak kastel-AHN-ski]. The grape also migrated to neighboring Italy, and settled into Puglia as Primitivo.

The Zinfandel we know today here in California came from the east coast nurseries, which used it as a table grape, around 1855 during the Gold Rush, and was widely planted as it thrived in the state’s climate and soil.

Our Zinfandel is distinct from its ancestors both in vine vigor, cluster size, and flavor profile, and is California’s third most planted grape variety, with more than 44,000 acres and 416,615 tons crushed in 2016.   We have vines that are over 100 years old and still producing, and have designated many of our special Zinfandel sites as Heritage Vineyards, protected through the Historic Vineyard Society.

The top quality spots for Zinfandel include Amador in the Sierra Foothills, Sonoma Valley, Mendocino County, Paso Robles, and Napa Valley. The San Joaquin valley grows the lion’s share, but most is used to make our sweet rose obsession: White Zinfandel.

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