History of California Zinfandel
Zinfandel is a distinctly American varietal, and the world's oldest Zinfandel vines are found in California. Though less than 100 years old, the cultivation and production of Zinfandel remains one of California's most significant contributions to the international world of wine.
The grape found it's way to the States in the mid-19th century, referenced as “Zinfendal” in Boston and “Zinfindal” in the northeast. How it got here is still unclear, but in 2001 researchers found a genetic equivalent on the coast of Croatia, a mere nine vines locally known as “Crljenak Kastelanski.” California transformed this undistinguished grape into a world-class varietal that's now planted on over 50,000 acres across the United States.
Uniqueness of Zinfandel
What differentiates Zinfandel from other Vinifera varietals is the way in which it ripens. The berries within the bunch mature unevenly, so that at at harvest some grapes have started to shrivel and raisin, while others are slightly underripe. This lends to the unique flavor profile of Zinfandel, where the mature fruit offers extracted, jammy flavors and the underripe fruit creates acidity that balances out the wine.
California Zinfandel Flavor and Aroma Characteristics
Classic California Zinfandel characteristics are bold fruit of raspberry, blackberry, and cherry. Often times these fruit characteristics are supplemented with notes of black pepper, cloves, anise, and dried herbs. These aromas and flavors depend on a multitude of factors, including variations of terroir (climate, soil type, and topography), age of the vine, Zinfandel clone, fermentation techniques, oak treatment, and the virtually endless combinations of these variables.
JC Cellars California Zinfandel Vineyards
Iron Hill Vineyard - Sonoma Valley
The amphitheater like vineyard, sitting at a steep 55° angle, profoundly influences the depth and concentration of the grapes. The rocky, volcanic soil provides just enough nutrients for the vine's struggling existence. As in the past, this vineyard produces terroir driven Zinfandel entwined with loamy earth tones, wild raspberries and a hint of lavender. More photos of Ironhill Vineyard.
Sweetwater Springs Vineyard - Russian River Valley
Around the corner from the Rochioli’s illustrious West Block Vineyard lies a small but sublime patch of land called Sweetwater Springs, which features Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Dueling cool fogs from both the Petaluma Gap and the mouth of the Russian River allow for an extremely long growing season, again producing concentrated, ripe fruit. This vineyard typically exhibits wines with succulent flavors of black cherry, anisette, vanilla, and spice, but with enough acidity to give vibrancy to these dense and exotic flavors. More photos of Sweetwater Springs.
St. Peter's Church Vineyard - Cloverdale
This tiny patch of Old Vine Zinfandel is the grandfather of California Zinfandel. Owned by the parish of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Cloverdale, St. Peter's Church Vineyard is a mixed planting of 90% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah and 5% Alicante Boushet. The vines were planted over a century ago, in 1888, and were positioned in a circle, the prevailing logic being that if powdery mildew or another natural threat attacked the vines the outer circle would become infected first, sparing the prized Zinfandel at the center. The circular vineyard has since been replanted, but the fruit, full of dark and concentrated plum, currant, and earthy tannin, is still the hallmark of this historic vintners landmark.
Dusi Ranch - Paso Robles
Home to 80-year-old Zinfandel vines, Dusi Ranch is a head-pruned and dry-farmed vineyard consisting of river rock and light, sandy loam. Four Dusi generations have cultivated the vineyard, refining the techniques that highlight the terroir of their land. The vineyard produces an elegant style of Zinfandel, loaded with raspberry bramble notes that are rich and concentrated.