Skip to content

California Zinfandel

Zinfandel was once known as California’s “mystery grape” because its origins were unknown. That all changed in 2002, when DNA fingerprinting confirmed that Italy’s Primitivo and Crljenak Kastelanski, an ancient Croatian variety, are genetically identical to the Zinfandel grape. Differences in vine vigor and cluster size, however, distinguish Zinfandel from the Italian and Croatian grapes, and cultivation, terroir and winemaking combine to give California Zinfandel its own unique flavor profile. On wine labels, U.S. regulations require that Zinfandel and Primitivo be identified separately.

Studies indicate that the grape used for making California Zinfandel probably originated in Croatia. The Zinfandel name, however, is truly American; the earliest documented use was recorded in 1832 in Boston, where a nursery owner advertised Zinfandel for sale.

Zinfandel was introduced to California during the Gold Rush sometime between 1852 and 1857. The variety thrived in the state’s climate and soil, and plantings increased. Today, Zinfandel is the third-leading winegrape variety in California in terms of acreage and second by tons crushed in 2018. It is grown in 44 of California’s 58 counties.

Common descriptors for Zinfandel include blackberry, raspberry, boysenberry and cherry, as well as black pepper, cloves, anise and herbs. Although Zinfandel is a red grape, the variety is also used to make a rosé (blush) wine called White Zinfandel.

Top California Counties for Zinfandel Acreage 2018
Counties Total Acres
San Joaquin 17,098
Sonoma 4,887
Fresno 3,045
Amador 2,071
Madera 2,071
San Luis Obispo 1,974
Mendocino 1,839
Napa 1,407
Kern 1,161
Sacramento 1,131
Other 5,210
State Total 41,894
Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service
California Zinfandel Grape Crush Tonnage
Year Tons Crushed
2018 387,965
2017 364,940
2016 416,615
2015 388,396
2014 355,599
2013 469,216
2012 448,039
2011 345,168
2010 394,177
2009 446,942
2008 397,982
2007 407,630
2006 341,874
2005 448,144
2004 321,899
2003 327,701
2002 369,772
2001 336,547
2000 404,167
1999 324,397
1998 339,712
1997 421,595
1996 299,843
1995 326,694
1990 185,492
1985 123,370
1980 115,971
1976 72,790
Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service