Zinfandel is as American as apple pie, making it the perfect choice for that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving. Although Zinfandel was not present on our shores in 1621, when the Pilgrims first feasted with their Native American neighbors at Plymouth Colony (hmm, Plymouth), it would have been right at home on their tables, especially as the main dish was venison.
Zinfandel arrived in the U.S. two centuries later, by most accounts through the importation of vine cuttings from the Austrian Imperial plant collection. By 1832, a nursery in Boston was advertising “Zinfendal” vines, which became quite popular. Migrating west, Zinfandel struck gold in the Sierra Foothills during the early days of the Gold Rush in the late 1840s. An easy-to- cultivate vine, it produced hearty, robust red wines that quenched the thirst of the hard-working prospectors who flocked to the region seeking their fortunes. Later in the century, when the root louse Phylloxera destroyed most of California’s vineyards, Zinfandel largely survived because it was planted on rootstock more resistant to the bug. During Prohibition, the Volstead Act allowed home winemakers to vinify up to 200 gallons of wine annually, and Zinfandel became even more popular, because its sturdy constitution allowed it to survive the long journey back east. By the early 1970s, Zinfandel was the main component in premium red wine blends that captivated a new generation of wine drinkers, and subsequently became a prized varietal wine.
Over the years, there have been numerous theories about Zinfandel’s origin, but the long-running mystery was finally solved a decade ago, when researchers determined, through DNA fingerprinting, that Zinfandel was identical to an ancient Croatian grape called “Crljenak Kaštelanski.” (Try saying that fast five times while gobbling some turkey!)
Despite its European origins, Zinfandel today is considered America’s “Heritage” Wine, quite appropriately, because the wines it produces are bold and brash, much like Americans themselves. So, as you ponder which wines to savor with your Thanksgiving dinner, cast a vote for Zinfandel, Renwood’s specialty and America’s true pilgrim wine.