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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for February 01, 2000


The Alderbrook Outlook

Prologue—The Riddle of the Zinfandel

"The Zinfandel was introduced into California by the late Colonel Haraszthy from Hungary."

...Transactions of the California State Agriculture Society, 1879

"Colonel Haraszthy was NOT the man who introduced the Zinfandel to California."

...Prof. Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America, 1989

The Rest of the Story

Although the first labelling of wine jars with the source of the grapes, etc., was done 5,000 years ago, we know who did it...the Egyptians.

Although the first use of cork stoppers in wine jars started nearly 3,000 years ago, we know who did it...the Etruscans.

Although the first Zinfandel vines were brought to California ONLY 150 YEARS AGO, we do NOT know who did it!

Or at least, we didn't know until recently. Let's go back to 1852. There's excitement at Col. Haraszthy's new vineyard in San Francisco (near the intersection of today's Market and Valencia streets.) Bundles of vines had just arrived by ship from Europe. Sons Arpad and Attila noted that one bundle from Malaga, Spain, was labelled Muscat of Alexandria...which would jump-start the California raisin industry. Years later Arpad would recall that another bundle bore a faded label which they decided read "Zinfandel." Despite lack of documentation, this story prevailed until 30 years ago. Since then scholars like Charles Sullivan have found that:

    a) Around 1830 the vine arrived in the U.S.A. from the Imperial nursery in Vienna, though it was not named Zinfandel yet.
    b) It was soon appearing in nurseries in the Northeast under the name Zenfendel and Zinfindal and Black St. Peter's.
    c) Twenty years later it arrived in California along with thousands of gold miners.

Zinfandel went on to become California's most widely-planted red wine grape, as it is today. My panel just tasted a dilly...

Wine of the Day

Alderbrook 1997 Alderbrook OVOC Zinfandel (Old Vines, Old Clones)
Old Clones—The winery's John McClelland gave me the scoop several years ago on their clones selection. They found that the modern clones did not produce wine with the character of "vines propagated from the original stock brought to California in the 1850s. Consequently, we collected cuttings from vines dating back about 90 years."
My panels comments—"Rich," "pepper," "layered fruit."
Price—$16 range

Postscript—An Important Digression

He's both a Master of Wine and a Master Sommelier. I first attended one of his programs on Jan. 26, 1994. Smooth, erudite and cordial...real talent. NOW, he and his family recently were in a terrible auto accident. All will be OK, but there's a need for help. In just a few days there will be a benefit that will include top-quality Northern California wines. For details, please phone Paul Wagner's office at (707) 255-7667, or FAX (707) 255-1119. Details also are available on

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created February 2000