by Fred McMillin
for September 9, 1998


The State and the Grape


Sept. 9, 1850—California is admitted to the USA as the 31st state.

1850—What will become the new State's most widely-planted grape, the Zinfandel, has, or is about to arrive in California (depending upon which historical account one believes).

The Rest of the Story

Both statehood and the Zinfandel were successful in short order. Regarding the former, two years before statehood the population was 14,000 (excluding Native Americans); four years later it was 224,000, due primarily to the Gold Rush.

As for the grape, Prof. Thomas Pinney writes that in less than two decades the Zinfandel was "firmly established as the first choice for California's vineyards." This was confirmed a few years later by the visiting Australian grape guru Thomas Hardy. In 1885 he found the Zinfandel to be California's best; he recommended that Australia import cuttings "if we could get it without the risk of phylloxera."

La CremaSo, today my toast to the Golden State is made with a Zinfandel. My tasters rated 13 and the clear winner was by La Crema.

The Wine

1995 Reserve Zinfandel, Sonoma County
La Crema Winery (part of the Kendall-Jackson group)
Winemaking—Dan Goldfield held the skins and juice in cold contact for five days before warming and starting fermentation. This yielded fantastic raspberry flavors.
Rating—EXCELLENT (one of the most pleasing Zins tasted so far this year)
Contact—Marcia Jayne Brinker, (707) 544-4000
Price—$24 range

PostscriptThe Name Game

About "Zinfandel" and "California"...The spelling of Zinfandel was standardized only after it reached the Golden State. Previously the array of aliases included Zinfindal and Zinfardel. The first time the vine was shown at the State Fair, the name was Zeinfindall. The name of the state is considerably older and had no alias. A Spanish novelist told of an imaginary island that was virtually heaven on earth. When Cortez's men reached modern Baja in 1533 seeking pearls and gold, the land was so barren they derisively called it by the name of the fictional paradise, "California."

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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