As Australia has its Shiraz, New Zealand has its Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa has its Pinotage and Chile has its Merlot, then California has its Zinfandel. This red grape variety has long been associated with California, and is the variety most closely linked with Amador County.
Records indicate that the grape has been cultivated in Amador since at least 1868. Certainly the rich, hearty, spicy red wines made from Zinfandel would have appealed to the European fortune-seekers who flocked to the region after the discovery of gold in 1848. Although the decline of gold mining, followed by Prohibition, devastated the Sierra foothills frontier wine community, many Zinfandel vines survived because their fruit appealed to the home winemakers who were allowed to produce up to 200 gallons of wine annually, and for most of the 20th century Zinfandel was used primarily as a blender in jug wine blends or to produce simple, roughhewn table wines.
In 1968, the Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley produced its first Amador County Zinfandel from 85 year-old vines grown at the Deaver Ranch Vineyard in Amador's Shenandoah Valley. This fragrant, opulent wine persuaded wine aficionados that Zinfandel could produce red wines as flavourful and complex as the more heralded Cabernet Sauvignon. However, it was Ridge vineyards that have taken Zinfandel to its highest form by seeking out plots of ancient and low yielding vines from all over the state and making them into world class wines of distinction and character.
Yet despite this, Zinfandel remains a grape variety commonly known to produce an almost incredible different variety of wine styles, from red, white and rose to full and fortified, and from bone dry to sweet.
Originally assumed to be a Hungarian grape variety, it is now known that Zinfandel is actually the Primitivo variety of Southern Italy though the grape's route to California and the derivation of its name remain one of the wine world's great mysteries.