FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Old Grapes, New Ferment

Innovations in grape growing, winemaking, and marketing that began in the 1950s reinvented the California wine industry. Yet there were many more changes to come in the wine being made and in those who were making and drinking it. Those changes reflected a blending of old and new, and embraced the revival of tradition along with continuing innovation.

How pink wine saved old vines

Zinfandel was one of the grapes associated with cheap jug wines widely produced after Repeal. During the replanting of California’s vineyards in the 1960s and 1970s, acres of Zinfandel were ripped out to make way for the new darlings of the vineyards, Cabernet and Chardonnay.   

One vintner who kept his Zinfandel grapes was Bob Trinchero of the Sutter Home Winery, who used them to produce a dry, rosé-style wine.  In 1975, while his grapes were fermenting, the yeast died before the wine’s sugar was converted to alcohol.  He decided to try selling the resulting slightly sweet pink wine. Many Americans still had a “sweet tooth” for wine, and his “blush,” called White Zinfandel, was a runaway hit.

Bob Trinchero, 1972

Bob Trinchero, 1972

Courtesy of Trinchero Family Estates

White Zinfandel, about 1975

White Zinfandel, about 1975

This is one of the first bottles of White Zinfandel made by the Trincheros of Sutter Home Winery. They named it Oeil de Perdrix, or Eye of the Partridge. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms later rejected the name, so this new wine became, simply, White Zinfandel.

Lent by Trinchero Family Estates and Sutter Home Winery

Collage of White Zin labels, 1980s-90s

Collage of White Zin labels, 1980s-90s

The success of White Zin, made from the same grapes as “red” Zinfandel, saved the old vineyards from replanting long enough to preside over Zinfandel’s comeback on the California wine scene. Though scorned by wine critics and other winemakers, White Zin has remained a top seller.  

Courtesy of Wine Institute of California

Bumper sticker, 2000

Bumper sticker, 2000

Gift of Trinchero Family Estates