No official wine for California

Scott Jagow Aug 30, 2006

SCOTT JAGOW: I’m sure California lawmakers have more important things to do than debate whether Zinfandel should be the “official” state wine. Well, maybe they don’t. The legislature just passed a bill that designated Zin as a historic wine of California. “Historic” was a watered-down version of “official.” But yesterday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger crushed the bill with a veto. We wondered why this came up in this first place. So we called W. Blake Gray, a wine writer and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.

W. BLAKE GRAY: We have a lot of state-designated things. We have a state insect, we have a state fie and drum band, we have a state fossil, but they’re not commercial products. It’s OK to designate a state fossil but you can’t go buy it. So, I think there was a lot of objection within the legislature to the state anointing a commercial product. So the bill got watered down, but I was kind of surprised that even its watered-down version passed the legislature. But I guess people thought it was innocuous and until the governor put his termination on it.

JAGOW: Well, I found it interesting that the state senator, Carole Migden, who came up with this bill, doesn’t drink. But Arnold Schwarzenegger, the guy who knows something about wine, decided this was not such a good idea.

GRAY: Exactly right and while Zinfandel Advocates and Producers — an organization known as ZAP — has issued a press release saying they are disappointed, anytime that I’ve talked about it with people in the wine industry over the last few months, we’ve all just laughed about it. People in the industry think it’s ridiculous. It’s obvious that if you make zinfandel, and you make exclusively zinfandel, then you might get a little bit of a market boost by this bill. But chardonnay is America’s favorite wine and Northern California’s very famous for its chardonnays. Why not make it chardonnay? Cabernet sauvignon is far and away the most expensive wine from here. Why not make it cabernet? Why not make it pinot? Why zinfandel?

I love zinfandel — don’t get me wrong. And zinfandel has been cultivated here since the Gold Rush, and is intertwined with California’s wine history. But people who drink wine know that and don’t really need the state legislature to tell us that.

JAGOW: You never know what’s going to spark people to drink a certain kind of wine, I guess. “Sideways” got people drinking pinot. Perhaps Carole Migden was thinking this might get people drinking zinfandel.

GRAY: I think that if she’s representing the state of California economically, she just wants to get people drinking wine. This is a very important product. It’s a $15 billion industry out here. It still pales before high tech and, for that matter, tourism. But I’d read recently that Napa Valley had surpassed Disneyland as the state’s number one tourist attraction. So people from the rest of the country are coming out here specifically with wine as a magnet.

JAGOW: OK, Blake, thanks so much.

GRAY: You’re welcome.

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