In search of Zinfandel’s Croatian roots: Crljenak Kaštelanski

Marion Podolski is an artist and a blogger at Go Hvar. She and her husband Zdravko helped organize some of our producer visits while we were in Dalmatia last April. With her permission, we are re-publishing this article, originally posted on her blog. Kaštela is a combination of seven small towns that lie along the coast between Split and Trogir. It’s a lovely location, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves under the high mountain range of Kozjak. This used to be a popular resort for beach holidays, in the days before Split airport was built and recent travelers have tended to drive straight through here. But Kaštela looks to be coming into its own again, as the certified home of America’s Zinfandel. Crljenak wine tours, anyone? Can be combined with Game of Thrones filming locations in Kaštel Gomilica, as well as Klis fortress and Split itself! Following the Dalmacija Wine Expo, we set out with a group of wine enthusiasts to visit the original vines, meet with local producers, and of course, taste the wines! With us were Frank Dietrich and his team from Blue Danube Wines, a major importer of Croatian wines to the U.S.A., sommelier Cliff Rames from … Continue reading In search of Zinfandel’s Croatian roots: Crljenak Kaštelanski

An Interview with Jasenka Piljac Zegarac, author of “Zinfandel: A Croatian-American Wine Story”

A group of Blue Danubians are preparing a trip to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast around the middle of April. As we started to put together our agenda we realized we should make visiting the original Zinfandel, or as the grape is known in Croatia, Crljenak Kaštelanski vineyards a top priority. This brought to mind the book written by Jasenka Piljac Žegarac, one of the scientists on Dr. Carole Meredith’s team who participated in the discovery of Zinfandel’s Croatian heritage. We got in touch with her to find out more and prepare for our own journey of discovery. 1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What is your professional background? I was born in Croatia, but largely educated in the US where I completed both my high school and college education (UC Davis, biochemistry). I come from a family of well-established research scientists, physicians, and authors. Therefore, although my background is in plant biology (PhD) and natural products chemistry (postdoctoral work), I’ve always had an interest in medicine, medical research, and science writing. 2. What brought you to UC Davis to trace the origins of Zinfandel? My family moved to Davis from Croatia in early 1990s, due to ongoing … Continue reading An Interview with Jasenka Piljac Zegarac, author of “Zinfandel: A Croatian-American Wine Story”

Dossier Zinfandel: Zinfandel’s Origins Demystified

Last thursday was the premiere screening of Dossier Zinfandel at the third annual Napa Valley Film Festival. Directed by Mika Barisic, the documentary tells the compelling story of Zinfandel, “California’s own grape,” and the search for its mysterious origins. When Croatian-born winemaker Mike Grgich arrived in Napa Valley in 1958, he noticed that the Zinfandel vines looked familiar and very similar to Plavac Mali, a native variety from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. He was convinced at the time that Plavac Mali and Zinfandel were the same grape. With his support, UC Davis professor and grapevine geneticist Carole Meredith started a collaboration with the University of Zagreb. In May 1998, she traveled to Croatia to meet scientists Ivan Pejic and Edi Maletic and the three of them started exploring the Dalmatian coast. Eventually, they collected 150 samples that Dr Meredith brought back to UC Davis so that they could be identified in her lab using DNA fingerprinting. While Meredith’s team was able to confirm that the Italian grape Primitivo and Zinfandel were clones of the same variety, they found out that Plavac Mali was not a good match. Instead, they identified the Croatian grape as an offspring of Primitivo/Zinfandel. It … Continue reading Dossier Zinfandel: Zinfandel’s Origins Demystified

Crljenak Kaštelanski, the original Zinfandel, now a certified grape in California

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 … Continue reading Crljenak Kaštelanski, the original Zinfandel, now a certified grape in California

A Chance Pfneiszl Tasting

The bottle includes a handy map so you don’t get lost in varietals Having visited Pfneiszl last year, I’ve been intrigued by the wines that Birgit and her sister Katrin have been making. In preparing for her career as a winemaker, Birgit literally traveled around the world to learn about winemaking in Italy, California, Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand. The result of this was an interest in trying out the various wines from these regions in their vineyards in Hungary. These few vines were just starting to produce last year and they had they have had their first proper harvest of them. The end result is the távoli világ, a wine that is a blend of Shiraz, Carmenére, Malbec, Zinfandel, and Sangiovese. Definitely a wild blend (that I hope I never have to pronounce in front of a Hungarian), but one that is done quite delicately reflecting the fact that Birgit learned these grapes well in her travels. It’s quite subtle at first, but then opens up with mint and watercress in a decently mineral nose. That watercress then turns in to a peppery, enjoyably spicy body that is light and fresh with the slightest tinges of strawberry and much … Continue reading A Chance Pfneiszl Tasting

Discovering the Paso Robles Wine Country

Vineyards in Paso Robles at sunset. Last weekend more than 90 wineries participated in the 2008 Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival, which included an array of special events such as winemaker dinners, food pairings, seminars, open houses, a live auction and special tastings. Although (unfortunately) this year we didn’t make it to the festival, we recently had the opportunity to visit Paso Robles Wine Country and to enjoy some of the region’s fine wines. Paso Robles is located on California’s central coast, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Paso Robles has a long history of winemaking and grape growing beginning in 1797 when the first wine grapes were introduced by the Franciscan missionaries at the historic Mission San Miguel Arcangel. The Padres produced wine for sacramental purposes and made brandy for export. After Mexico secularized the California missions in the 1840s the vineyards were abandoned until European immigrant farmers started to arrive in the 1860s, following California’s independence in 1850. Today, Paso Robles is California’s third largest and fastest growing wine region, with over 26,000 acres of vineyards (more on Paso Robles Wine Country history can be found here). Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading variety for the Paso Robles appellation, … Continue reading Discovering the Paso Robles Wine Country