THE ORIGIN OF CALIFORNIA ZINFANDEL HAS BEEN DISCOVERED IN CROATIA
THE SEARCH FOR THE ORIGIN OF
By Mike Grgic of Grgic Hills Winery
My family owned a small vineyard and winery in Croatia where I was born. It was my duty as part of the family to take care of the vineyard and winery every year. Our vineyard was a mixture of many varietals of grapes and I could remember and recognize each varietal by heart. One of those grape varietals was PLAVAC MALI.
In August, 1959, 1 arrived in Napa Valley to work at Souverain Cellars & Vineyard. They had Zinfandel grapes around the winery and I remember looking at those vines and feeling like I had come home to the same grapevines I had left behind in Croatia. The canes, leaves, clusters, berries, color and size of the berries were all familiar to me ... they looked like Plavac Mali in Croatia.
As time passed, several articles mentioned the similarity of Zinfandel and Plavac Mali. Dr. Jerry Seps of Storybook Mountain Winery in Napa Valley visited Croatia and he wrote a very promising article about fmding the origin of Zinfandel. Dr. Olmo, of the University of California, Davis, got samples of Plavac Mali from Croatia but did not agree that they were the same as Zinfandel.
It was at a Zinfandel symposium at Sutter Home Winery in St. Helena where I heard a discussion on how Zinfandel got to America. There were many versions and guesses. One lady claimed that Zinfandel was taken from the nurseries in Austria (Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time) and brought to Long Island about 1830 by Gibbs and then taken to California where it was introduced to Napa and Sonoma counties by Osborn & Boggs Nursery. Another person was guessing that Count Agoston Haraszthy brought Zinfandel from Europe.
In 1990 I visited Croatia for the first time since 1954 and noticed again the similarity of Plavac Mali and Zinfandel. I was convinced at that time that they were the same grape. On my next trip to Croatia in August, 1993, 1 brought with me clusters, leaves, and canes from Napa Valley Zinfandel and again compared them to Plavac Mali. I could see only similarities! On that trip I obtained book written by Dr. Peter Males describing different clones of Plavac Mali entitled "Zinfandel, Primitivo, and Plavac Mali." In his opinion, they were the same variety.
One day in 1998 1 called Dr. Carol Meredith of the University of California, Davis and asked her to come to my home in Yountville where I showed her the book by Dr. Males and I translated it for her into English. She was very interested and decided to go to Croatia and see for herself if she could solve the puzzle of the origin of Zinfandel. In 1998 she went to Croatia and upon seeing a vineyard of Plavac Mali said, "My goodness, lots of Zinfandel here!" For one week she took samples of about 150 vines, mostly from the section Peninsula Pe1jesac and the island Hvar. When she came back to Davis and analyzed the samples none of them proved to be the real Zinfandel but rather relatives of Zinfandel. The territory that Dr. Meredith did not cover was left to Professor Peich and Professor Edi Maletich from the University of Zagreb to search for the origin of Zinfandel. The miracle happened on September 7, 2000 near Split in Kastel Novi when they discovered a very old vine that proved to be identical to our Zinfandel in California. Of course, further studies are continuing to find more vines and trace their history. Dr. Carol Meredith was kind and analyzed the leaves of the Croatian Zinfandel by eight different tests and all proved that it was the same as that found in California.
Mr. Terry Robards wrote an article in the August, 1996 edition of Wine Enthusiast magazine recalling his visit to Croatia explaining and elaborating on Plavic Mali and wines produced from Plavac Mali.
The conclusion of the debate is that the origin of California Zinfandel has been found in Croatia.