Almost 200 years after the Zinfandel wine grapes arrived in America via the Austrian Imperial Nursery, the almost extinct Dalmatian grape and original Zinfandel Crljenak Kaštelanski has arrived in California via the Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis.
Crljenak was discovered in September 2000 in a vineyard of mixed planting along the Dalmatian coast by Dr. Edi Maletic and Dr. Ivan Pejic of the University of Zagreb. Along with Dr. Carole Meredith of UC Davis, they had been looking for a Croatian Zinfandel for many years, collecting and analyzing many samples of old Croatian varieties. Fortunately, DNA testing at Dr Meredith’s lab quickly revealed that Crljenak and Zinfandel were the same variety. The quest for Zinfandel’s roots was finally over.
In 2008, at the request of Dave Gates, vice-president of vineyard operation at Ridge Vineyards, Drs Pejic and Maletic sent vines of Crljenak to the Grape Registration & Certification Program at UC Davis that tests the grapevines for viruses and diseases. Several other native varieties were thought to be valuable to California growers and were sent as well, including Plavac Mali, Babic, Debit, Dobricic, Glavinusa, Pribidrag, Skrlet, and Zlahtina.
The now certified and disease-free Crljenak will be propagated and planted at Ridge’s Lytton vineyard in two more years. It will also be repatriated to Croatia to provide Croatian vintners with a clean disease-free vine to plant.