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California Dodges the Zinfandel Bullet

Whew. It feels good to narrowly avoid disaster. That adrenaline rush of the almost-car-accident, the thrill of the nearly-over-the-handlebars bike move -- they remind us that we are alive, and that we are mortal. This past week, the State of California had a brush with travesty, when Zinfandel almost became the official state grape, despite my public warnings about the imminent dangers of such a move (as written to the Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle):


It is with great concern that I write to you about state Sen. Carole Migden's proposed bill to make Zinfandel the state wine. Your reporter, Greg Lucas, explored many important aspects of this issue, including whether or not we need a state cheese to go with the wine, but failed to address some of the more disastrous consequences.

Let's leave aside the argument that we are paying Migden roughly $110,000 a year to address more pressing issues. Let's also leave aside the fact that California needs a state wine like I need a 10-foot cast-iron croissant.

And finally, let's also disregard the fact that as different varietals "impress her" with a "strong showing" in the Chronicle Wine Competition, over the next few years Sen. Migden will eventually have to proclaim ALL wines the California State Wine, if only to prove that she isn't a waffling, fair-weather politician.

No, I want to talk about something much more serious: the impact on the California wine business when Zinfandel grapes become illegal to pick, just like our state flower, the California poppy.

Does Migden not realize that hundreds, if not thousands, of people make their living from this grape? Not to mention the wine drinkers who will soon no longer be able to consume it for fear of state fines or jail time for the worst offenders?

With this bill, our state legislators are contemplating dooming the varietal to a pitiful life as subject matter for postage stamps and dioramas at state history museums and highway rest stops.

I would also like to point out that the state animal, the California grizzly bear, cannot be proclaimed extinct with 100 percent certainty, especially in this day and age of cloning science.

What happens when we catch the first California grizzly raiding Zinfandel vineyards? The idea of the state animal eating the state wine grape while crushing the state flower underfoot as the state butterfly flits about in horror is too much for me, and certainly too much of a moral quagmire for this state to contemplate enabling.

Please, can't we forget about this whole thing and get back to more pressing matters like seceding from the Union

But the Senate did not forget about the whole thing. Instead they diligently spent three months debating the issue. I like to think it's because they were weighing the likelihood of Zinfandel eating Grizzlies appearing during each of their terms in office. In the end some rational person must have prevailed upon them to think of the children, because on Thursday of this past week, instead of making Zinfandel the official state grape, they made it the Official Historical Grape of California.


I cant find the regulations and procedures for state historical proclamations anywhere, but my guess is that this sort of legislation has the same general effect as when the mayor of your city proclaims that next Tuesday is "Everyone wears purple" day.

This means, thankfully, that no one is going to get arrested for picking Zinfandel. I don't know about you, but I'm relieved. As soon as my blood pressure drops back down, I'm gonna get started on my campaign to make the covered wagon the Official Historical Transportation Method of California, and cow dung the Official Historical Combustion Material of California, and canned beans as the Official Historical Food of California. Got any others I should add to the list?

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud