Naming Zinfandel as the official state grape of California won't do much to solve the Golden State's economic lethargy or void in leadership. But it's an idea we can celebrate, and one that state legislators in Sacramento should embrace.
State Sen. Carole Migden, a San Francisco Democrat, is sponsoring the bill, and of course, it's controversial. Zinfandel is just part of the state's unique viticultural landscape, but in terms of its history, no other grape is nearly as important or distinctive.
Migden's logic is that Zinfandel, a grape that came to California during the Gold Rush, warrants recognition because it is inextricably intertwined with California's winemaking history. And she's right. Napa Valley Cabernet may be more prestigious and Chardonnay may be more popular. But it's Zinfandel that captures the essence of California's wine spirit.
Zinfandel "is a grape that's very old in California, is appealing to all palates and can be served with all varieties of food," said Migden, whose district includes part of Sonoma County, one of the state's premier Zinfandel appellations.
The uniqueness of Zinfandel makes it a favorite. It has an underdog, rags-to-riches storyline; its vines are amazingly durable—they can live for well more than 100 years; its wines are versatile, and it is grown successfully in so many locales.
The past weekend, as I drove through Napa and Sonoma counties, I marveled at many of the winter-barren Zinfandel vineyards. Stark and gnarly in the brilliant February sun, surrounded by tall, green grass and yellow mustard plants, they were a comforting reminder of wine's importance to our society.
At times I think of the ancient Zinfandel vines in Southern California's Cucamonga Valley that have survived for decades and now stand in the path of urban sprawl and shopping malls.
Making Zinfandel the state grape probably won't save those vines. But it should remind us that grapes and wine have been an integral part of California's history—its past, present and future—and that, in its own way, wine has become one of California's most treasured resources.
Other official symbols of California—the California grizzly bear (now extinct), the golden trout and golden poppy, the dogface butterfly and the gray whale—were chosen because they depict iconic elements of our past and present.
Maybe California doesn't need a state grape, but if one is singled out, it should be Zinfandel. It's been here and stayed with us through good times and bad.
If you want to taste for yourself why Zinfandel merits recognition, here are a few wines I recommend:
|ROSENBLUM Zinfandel Rockpile Rockpile Road Vineyard 2003||94||$29|
|ROSENBLUM Zinfandel Paso Robles Richard Sauret Vineyards 2003||92||$19|
|GREEN & RED Zinfandel Napa Valley Chiles Canyon Vineyards 2003||90||$18|
|RIDGE Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 2003||90||$30|
|RIDGE Zinfandel Paso Robles Dusi Ranch 2003||90||$26|
|SEGHESIO Zinfandel Sonoma County Sonoma 2003||90||$18|
|CAROL SHELTON Zinfandel Mendocino County Wild Thing Old Vines Cox Vineyard 2003||90||$28|