Why Zinfandel?

Perusing the Chronicle this morning, I read a report about a proposal by State Senator Carole Migden to make Zinfandel the official state wine.

I have mixed feelings about this, complicated by the superb Riesling I had a few nights ago, also California grown, and actually originating from a winery in Mendocino county It should be noted that according to the Chronicle, Migden is a non drinker. This is perhaps the thing I take the most issue with–in my opinion, non drinkers should not be allowed to propose the state wine, to judge at vodka taste offs, or really have anything to do with the promotion and judging of a product they don’t consume. When I was vegan, I didn’t claim to know anything about meat. And I don’t drink terribly often, so I honestly don’t know all that much about wine, either, which is why I think if we must have a state wine, we should perhaps leave the nominating duties to someone who does know about wine, like the Napa Valley Grape Growers association.

But I also am wondering what the purpose of having a state wine is. The EU has appellations d’origine, designed to restrict labeling. To be labeled Champagne, legally, a wine must come from the Champagne region of France. To be labeled Roquefort, cheese must originate…you get the idea. Origin appellations protect heritage foods. Especially in the case of cheese, which is dependent on regional molds, it is crucial to distinguish genuine Parmeggiano-Reggiano, for example. Clearly a state wine is not an origin appellation, although there are some wine and grape varietals which are unique to California, and might be a better choice for an official state grape.

I’m just not sure what the point is. The state animal is extinct in California. That state bird is the quail, for pete’s sake, which is not a very prepossessing specimen (although it improves when stuffed with wild rice and chantrelles). Clearly it’s not promotional–I can’t imagine bottles of Zinfandel being labeled “California’s Official State Wine!” Because, you know, other people grow Zin too, and they might be a bit offended that California’s trying to bogart all the fame. Zinfandel actually originates in Croatia, and the Primitivo grape in Italy has been found to be genetically identical to the Zin grape, according to Wikipedia (which we all know is a reliable source).

According to the Chronicle, Migden picked Zinfandel because it did well at a wine taste off (oooh, now theres a good reason). She also thinks it is the wine most intertwined and identified with California history. You know, remember those days when people used to make fun of California wines, and deride them as cheap slop? Yeah, that’s when Zinfandel was the state’s most grown grape. Right now it’s the fourth most common commercial grape in California grown for crushing, behind Chardonnay, Thompson Seedless, and Cabernet Sauvingon.

Why can’t we get something unique and special for our state wine? Could we at least have a grape that is native to the New World, like Muscadine or Concord (speaking of crappy wine)? Why something as pedestrian as Zinfandel? I’m appealing to the voices of reason in the State Senate, if there are any left–get someone who actually knows grapes and wines to make this particular call, because our state wine should be based upon more than historical precedent. The rest of the country already makes fun of us, please don’t make it any worse.

Better yet, do we really need a state wine? I note that we don’t have a state arachnid yet, and someone should really get cracking on that.