Old Vines and New Blood
Innovations in grape growing, winemaking, and marketing that began in the 1950s reinvented the California wine industry. The industry saw changes in the way wine was produced, and in those who were making and drinking it. Some of those changes resulted from the arrival of families from Mexico who joined long-established winegrowers to blend traditional and innovative practices in the field, winery, and tasting room.
Old vineyards planted by Italian immigrant families prior to 1950 produced Zinfandel and other grape varieties that quickly lost favor after the Paris Tasting. New wineries often replaced the old, deep-rooted Zinfandel vines that required no irrigation with the more productive and profitable Chardonnay and Cabernet. Yet some families kept the old varieties to make wine the traditional way. They also aimed to take the stiffness out of wine drinking through playful and humorous marketing.
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.
In the 1970s, many young or newly arrived winemakers like Joel Peterson took up the challenge of growing, making, and marketing Zinfandel and other grape varieties that were neither expensive nor chic.
When Joel Peterson’s partner suggested he make a White Zin, he responded: “No pink, sweet, wimpy wine, no way.” The motto appears on Ravenswood’s T-shirts and bumper stickers, sometimes in slightly naughty and very free translations such as Nullum Vinum Flaccidum (Latin) and Kayn Nebbishy Vayn (Yiddish).
How Pink Wine Saved Old Vines
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.