Zinfandel Thrives in California

Zinfandel grapes ripening on the vine

What You Need to Know About Zinfandel

Did you know that Zinfandel is the third most widely-planted grape varietal in California? It is grown in 45 of California’s 58 counties. According to the California Wine Institute, there were more than 44,400 acres planted and 416,615 tons crushed in 2016, as reported by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

While most of the Zin grapes come from the Central Valley, Sonoma County also produces a fair amount. Seghesio is a winery that is continually awarded medals for the best Zins in the state. However, they did get an early start perfecting the grape when founder Edoardo Seghesio planted his first fines in the Anderson Valley in Sonoma County in 1895.

Seghesio Family Vineyards is nearly synonymous with Zinfandel, and has been so ever since founder Edoardo Seghesio planted his first Zin vines in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley in 1895.

Origins of the Grape

DNA testing confirmed that Italy’s Primitivo and Crljenak Kastelanski, an ancient Croatian variety, are genetically identical to Zinfandel grapes. However, differences such as cluster size and vine vigor distinguish this wine from its genetic siblings. The differences in cultivation, terroir and winemaking combine to give California Zinfandel its own particular flavor profile with a truly American name, history and style. As required by United States regulations, Zinfandel and Primitivo are required to be identified separately on wine labels.

Historians believe that in the 1820s, a nursery owner brought Croatian Zinfandel cuttings to the United States from an Austrian collection. But there is no denying the Zinfandel name is American. The earliest and only documented use of the name is in America where a Boston nursery owner advertised Zinfandel for sale in 1832. The introduction of the grape in California dates back to the Gold Rush in the Sierra Foothills in the 1850’s.

Zinfandel Grapes Ripening at Lone Buffalo Vineyards

The berries don’t ripen at the same time, which can result in raisins or unripe berries during harvest time.

Other Growing Regions

Zinfandel is primarily grown in California. However, there are many other states such as Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington cultivating small amounts. This grape is on shelves around the world since being planted fairly recently in Australia, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, Italy, France, and Croatia.

Ripe Zinfandel Grapes on the Vine

Ripe Zinfandel grapes on the vine, ready for harvest

Happy National Zinfandel Day!

Held the 3rd Wednesday of November annually, it is a recognized drink holiday to celebrate all things Zin related. Use the hashtags #ZinDay and #NationalZinfandelDay on social media. Join the online conversations with a group of people dedicated to keeping the love of enjoying Zinfandel alive.

Join ZAP Today

ZAP Logo - Zinfandel Advocates

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) exists to advance the knowledge and appreciation for the American Zinfandel grape and its unique place in American culture and history. It is a membership based organization involved with advocacy, research, and the preservation of the grape. A big component is also the education. This is provided for members, the public, and Zinfandel enthusiasts with various tastings, seminars, vineyard tours, and events.

If you are in Northern California in January, one of their biggest fundraisers and awareness events is the ZIN EX Zinfandel Experience which is a 3-day wine extravaganza that attracts wine lovers from all over the world.

Want to Attend?

Get Tickets

Aroma Wheel and Taste Profile

Zinfandel Aroma Wheel ZAP

Professor Ann Noble of UC Davis developed this aroma wheel in 1994 after extensive research.

Depending on the location of the vineyards, the soil, the amount of heat and sun the berries receive, and how the winemaker interprets the Zinfandel varietal, there are a number of aromas and flavors to discover ranging from fruity and spicy to earthy and floral. Different regions are known for various styles, depending on the ripeness of the grapes. For example, the Sierra Foothills typically have higher alcohol versions that tend to be jammy and exhibit cooking spice finishes. And ones from Sonoma County are lighter in body displaying more floral notes with red berry aromas and flavors. Keep in mind, no two Zinfandels are the same. The fun part about exploring this versatile grape is to discover what style you prefer best.

My Top 5 Recommendations 

1 Seghesio Family Vineyards Rockpile Zinfandel

2 m2 Wines Old Vine Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel

3 Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Zinfandel (best value!)

4 Wilderotter Vineyard Estate Zinfandel

5 Renwood Winery Special Reserve Grandpère Zinfandel

Enjoy tasting your way around California. Explore new wineries or revisit old favorites. Pay attention while comparing and contrasting the different flavors of one of the state’s most recognized wine varietals.

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Zinfandel grapes


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