Friday, February 10, 2006

There's an old saying in California politics that I'm sure I've quoted before; "In California, whiskey's for drinking, water is for fighting."

Well, as it turns out, wine is for fighting too.

Most citizens of the Golden State are aware that the Grizzly Bear is our official state animal and that the Golden Poppy is our state flower. Perhaps they remember that the Quail is our state bird, and they might be able to guess that Gold is our state mineral.

Fewer will be able to say with any certainty that the Saber-Toothed Cat is our state fossil, the Grey Whale is our state marine mammal, the Dog-Faced Butterfly is our state insect, or that the West Coast Swing is our official state dance.

Now get yourself ready for the battle of an official state wine.

State Senator Carole Migden has introduced legislation that would make Zinfandel our state wine. That sounds great to a Zin lover like myself. Not so happy are the Carneros vintners whose buttery Chardonnay has been very popular in recent years, or the Pinot Noir growers of Santa Barbara, popularized by the movie Sideways.

On the plus side, Zinfandel has a special relationship with the Golden State that other varietals don't share. Chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet, and the rest were popular grapes first outside California. Yes, we make them quite well and compete on a world-class level, but we didn't give birth to them.

Zinfandel, however, was a derided junk grape, brought here by immigrants who couldn't afford anything else, and couldn't get other grapes to grow in our soil. Over the decades, however, expert cultivation and refinement raised the lowly Zin from a jug wine filler to a major varietal and rival to Cabernet Sauvignon. The rise of Zin, not coincidentally, mirrors the rise of Napa Valley as one of the major wine producing regions on the planet.

On the other side is money. Like the never-ending battle over water rights, wine is big business in this state, and growers and vintners of other varietals worry that an official endorsement of one wine will hurt sales of all the others. They would like us to believe that naming Zinfandel the official state wine would be like making Chevrolet the official state automobile.

Yep, in California, whiskey's for drinking, wine is for fighting.

But, you know, even as a Zin devotee, I worry that the bills detractors may be right. The last thing I want is for everybody and their brother to be jumping on the Zinfandel bandwagon, making inferior wine out of hastily grown grapes from young vines. I don't want my hardy, old vine, Zins to be watered down to suite mass market tastes.

Popularity ruined Chardonnay and Merlot. I don't want the same thing to happen to my precious Zinfandel. So, sorry Carole, I can't throw my support behind your bill. I appreciate the feeling behind it, but let's just keep it to ourselves, okay?

More info from the SF Chronicle,

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