Long recognized as America’s grape, zinfandel has confounded researchers as to the origins of its existence for years.
The most widely planted grape in the country in terms of acres, and until recently the top grape in California (before cabernet sauvignon replaced it), zinfandel was widely thought to be the same as the Italian grape primotivo.
That assumption changed when it was discovered that zinfandel was being grown in California long before it arrived in Italy.
Now most researchers believe zinfandel is closely related to the grape plavacmali, and most likely originated on the coast of Croatia.
To answer some of the mysteries that surround the grape, the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) organization and UC Davis joined together in 1995 to conduct research by planting a one-acre vineyard in Napa Valley. The Heritage Vineyard was originally planted with close to 100 different zinfandel selections from more than 200 different vineyards throughout California. All vineyards had to be over 60 years old; some were much older.
Originally there was some doubt whether there were actually different clones of zinfandel, or whether the grape just grew differently in different regions. The selections were narrowed down to 18 truly different varieties of zinfandel, and now that research comes to Paso Robles for the project’s second phase.
Last month, Josh and Jake Beckett of Peachy Canyon Winery and Chronic Cellars grafted more than an acre of vines on their westside vineyard to the 18 different clones. Peachy Canyon, along with Ravenswood and Ridge in northern California, are the only wineries participating in the research.
Planting the same 18 selections that are already growing in Napa, the Becketts hope they can further the understanding of zinfandel for generations to come by determining which selections grow best where.
The Becketts have committed to be involved in the project for at least seven years, and have agreed to absorb all the costs involved. They and their father, Doug Beckett, founder of Peachy Canyon, are thrilled to be part of the research.
Interestingly, no other grape is being studied as much as zinfandel is in this project. No such research exists for syrah, cabernet or any other wine grape. The complexity and length of such research might be the reason.
“This is a 100-year project,” Josh explained. “Our kids and our kid’s kids will be finishing it up.”
Peachy Canyon Winery
1480 N. Bethel Road Paso Robles, 239-1918
Owners: Doug and Nancy Beckett
Winemaker: Josh Beckett
Sales/marketing: Jake Beckett
Cases produced: 60,000 in 2009
Tasting room hours: Daily 11 a.m.to 5 p.m.
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP): www.zinfandel.org
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.