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June 23, 2021

Discovering Zinfandel w/ Carole Meredith, UC Davis & Lagier Meredith

Discovering Zinfandel w/ Carole Meredith, UC Davis & Lagier Meredith

One of the world’s leading grape geneticists, Carole Meredith, Professor Emerita of UC Davis and owner of Lagier Meredith winery, has spent decades identifying and profiling grape varieties. It was so interesting that the interview has been split into tw


One of the world’s leading grape geneticists, Carole Meredith, Professor Emerita of UC Davis and owner of Lagier Meredith winery, has spent decades identifying and profiling grape varieties.  It was so interesting that the interview has been split into two episodes. Episode 55 covers the background of Ampelography and DNA profiling as well as the definitions of key terms such as variety, clone, and hybrid. In addition, this episode features the stories of how she uncovered the history of Zinfandel (aka - Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski, and Tribidrag) with Croatian researchers and how wineries use DNA profiling in wine marketing. 

Detailed Show Notes: 

  • Discovering Zinfandel
    • Zinfandel has a long history in California. People assumed it was a native California grape, but it is a Vitis Vinifera, so it must come from Europe
    • People suspected Croatia, but no evidence
    • In the 1970’s - people noticed that Primitivo in Italy’s Puglia looked like Zinfandel, and it was confirmed they are the same grape variety
    • Italians said the grape is not Italian and came from Dalmatia (modern-day Croatia)
    • Croatia
      • They looked at Plavac Mali - a popular red grape in Croatia. It looks similar to Zinfandel, but is not the same, but related
      • Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Winery made some introductions to Croatia, but those were dead ends
      • 1997 - Ivan Pejic of the University of Zagreb reached out and wanted to understand Croatian grapes better
      • After 3 years of gathering samples, they found it in a Croatian mixed vineyard (a grape named Crljenak Kaštelanski)
      • 2001 - At the Natural History Museum in Split, Croatia - found a specimen called Tribidrag that looked like Zinfandel
      • Tribidrag was an important grape as far back as the 1300s
      • 2011 - Croatian research group was able to extract DNA from dead leaves in the Split museum and confirm it was Zinfandel
      • Proves Zinfandel is an ancient grape with historical importance
  • Tribidrag is not an approved varietal name for wine in the US. Lagier Meredith uses it as a fanciful name for their label
    • Lagier Meredith sells mostly to their mailing list so that they can explain the history and the name to their customers
    • Ridge calls a wine Tribidrag, growing vines from Croatian cuttings, and wants to partner with Carole to get TTB to have Primitivo and Tribidrag as Zinfandel synonyms 
  • US TTB shows Zinfandel and Primitivo as separate varieties
    • California Zinfandel producers opposed having Primitivo be a synonym because they didn’t want competition from lots of cheap Italian Primitivo
    • EU wine label regulations list Zinfandel and Primitivo as synonyms
    • 2004 - US & EU sign an agreement on wine labeling to respect each other's laws, so now Italians can label their wines Zinfandel and export them to the US
  • DNA typing - business impacts
    • It has been a boost for Croatian producers, put them on the map, and now a wine tourism destination with people even visiting the vineyard where Zinfandel was discovered
    • Mostly done out of research institutions
    • Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis has a commercial DNA typing service - costs ~$300 / sample
  • Some producers (e.g., Schrader) use clones on labels - used as a distinction, helps to tell the story for marketing
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