BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS PUBLISHED MY ENcyclopedia of California wine history in 1998, my senior editor asked me to explain why the Zinfandel entry was longer than the entry for Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm sure she already had a good idea of why this was so and simply wanted to get all the arguments straight.
I pointed out that the Zinfandel entry was actually the longest in the book. Then I went through all the reasons I could think of, which you, the reader, have probably already heard. It is one of the most versatile grapes in the world. There are several wine types: table, dessert, sparkling. There are the table wines: red, white, and pink. It can be used in brandy production. And the Zinfandel grape is good to eat, as raisins or fresh.
But what I concentrated on was the history of Zinfandel. Numerous mysteries have surrounded the variety's origins. A myth had even developed about it. And no history had ever been written on the Zinfandel from the time that it became the darling of the California wine industry in the 1880s until it became popular as a premium varietal in the late 1960s.
Many wine grape varieties are of mysterious origin, but none is as important as Zinfandel. Few would be interested in reading a book on the history of