Amongst the 63 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, there is only one Zinfandel being produced and I have been working for that winery since their first 2001 vintage (we are now selling the 2003). In fact there are very few Zinfandels in Washington state. At this time I know of the following: Maryhill Winery, Portteus Winery, Barnard Griffin, Kiona Wines , Thurston Wolfe Winery, besides Forgeron Cellars. Selling a Zinfandel in Washington state has indeed been an education for me. An education while I try to educate.
This is not the first time that Walla Walla has had a Zinfandel in their valley. Over 100 years ago, the Italian settlers planted Cinsault (also known to them as Black Prince) in the Walla Walla valley, but also vines of Zinfandel, sent from California, were planted. Wines were made for home consumption, trading and some sold to the soldiers at Fort Walla Walla. In 1955, the grapes froze and the dead vines removed.
Believe it or not I am not one of those die-hard Zin drinkers. Oh sure, I enjoy a well made Zinfandel and often buy several bottles when I find one, but I did find on visits to Northern California, home of great Zins, later begging for a Cabernet Sauvignon. I always appreciate the Zin lovers that visit the winery and will admit I even appreciate those who do not understand the history of Zinfandel - they give me great stories. Here is often a typical conversation about Zinfandel.
Tasting room customer: "Ohhh...I see you have a Zinfandel. I love Zinfandel. "(I pour the Zinfandel in the tasting glass) The following responses will often happen:
"What did you do to make it red?" or;
"No. You must not have heard me correctly. I said Zinfandel. You poured me a red wine."
Sometimes I will hear:
Tasting room customer: "Naaahhh...I hate that pink crap."
This is when I must go to work and educate. I proceed with the story of Sutter Home and their pink creation, which often leads me to the processing of red v. white wines. Crush, pressing, fermentation, pressing of grape must, etc. Some customers will look at me like a light bulb just went on behind their eyes, while a few others look at me with distrust. For awhile I found myself saying, "red Zinfandel", but it was the only way to get the point across, as redundant as it seems. It's been difficult, but I am trying to respect this wine they call "White Zinfandel." It has converted some Americans into drinking wine and is the third-largest selling varietal wine in the US supermarkets. However, I tell many people, they are not "allowed" to drink it forever. I suggest White Zin drinkers to move beyond and experiment with other wines.
At a former winery in the Walla Walla Valley, where I was employed, a timid young woman came into the tasting room and she whispered to me, "This is my first visit into a tasting room winery and I plan on spending the day here in Walla Walla visiting their wineries. Can you give me any tips so I will at least look like I know what I am doing?"
I answered, "Yes. First and foremost, do not ask for any White Zinfandel."
One evening, at a dinner meeting with a group of local women. I overheard them dissing the Walla Walla Valley Wine industry and commented that the local wine industry would make more money if they were to start producing a White Zinfandel. Horrors! I spoke up with, "In our lifetime we will never see a White Zinfandel come out of our valley." They looked at me with distrust. Why is that? Why are people not believing me about White Zinfandel? Could it be that they see nothing but the fighting varietal line-up at the local supermarkets and if the supermarkets sell a lot of White Zin, then so shall Walla Walla wineries? Am I wrong, or does it seem like there is a mentality that supermarkets are the authorities on wine?
Recently, I have had the same question being asked by customers, and a good question at that. Why are there so few Zinfandels in the State of Washington? Here is my answer. First of all, the wine consumer has to remember that the State of Washington is still a young wine state in comparison to California. We are only 30+ years old. We immediately planted lots of Merlot and later Merlot's cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon, followed. Also, the other reason is the Zinfandel vine itself - high maintenance and does not particularly favor our cool nights.
Please do not get me wrong. I love pink wines. They are pretty and romantic looking. I love the color of pink, but if I want a pink wine, I'll drink a French Rosé, Italian Rosato or a Spanish Rosado, including beautiful Rose' styles from the Walla Walla Valley made by local French winemakers. There are also California wineries such as Lazy Creek or Navarro from Anderson Valley and recently tasted a Kim Crawford Rose' from New Zealand I sipped this summer paired with shrimp and avocado salad and fresh strawberries - -
But if I want Zinfandel, I'm drinking the real thing. Give me a redundant red Zinfandel!