How Zinfandel Came to California
CALIFORNIA ZINFANDEL GRAPES
Adam S. Eterovich
Croatians have had wineries and vineyards in California since the 1850’s. The first winery in Nevada was organized by the Milatovich Clan prior to 1900. The contribution of Croatians was from the 6000 acre Divisich table grape empire in the San Joaquin Valley to the prize winning Mike Grgich wines of the Napa Valley in California. Croatians brought their wine growing expertise from Dalmatia on the shores of the Adriatic Sea to shores of the Pacific Ocean in California. Zinfandel grapes have been discussed in California by Croatian Americans long before the American experts entered the picture. Mike Grgich should be given the scientific credit for its discovery and origin in Dalmatia thru his expertise as a professional vineyardist.
How Zinfandel Came to California
In California, the arrival of Zinfandel vines in the mid-19th century was attributed for many years to Count Agoston Haraszthy of Hungary. In the time of Haraszthy, Dalmatia, Croatia was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary. It is entirely possible that Haraszthy brought Zinfandel vines to California in 1861, although he was not the first to bring them to America, since the grape had already been identified on the East Coast decades earlier as coming via Vienna in Austria. Others attribute Italian Monks bringing it to Italy, then to America. The probability is that Haraszthy or Dalmatian, Croatians brought it in their ships that came to California during the Gold Rush.
Agoston Haraszthy-Father of California Wine
In the 1850s Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian nobleman, arrived in Sonoma with cuttings of the Muscat Alexandria grape, which he planted at Buena Vista, outside Sonoma, the first large vineyard in California. The wine industry, which had been centered in Southern California, soon was thriving in the north, thanks to the innovation of Haraszthy and the hundreds of cuttings he introduced from Europe.
Croatian Mother of California Wine
In 1861 Haraszthy traveled to his homeland, Hungary, and other parts of Europe and collected vines and trees for planting in California. His collection was published by the State of California as a Catalogue of Vines and Trees.
Croatia was a part of Austria and Hungary at that time. All cuttings were listed as Hungary with a few from Illyria; others were listed by country. He was proclaimed The Father of California Wine. Agoston Haraszthy was born on August 30, 1812 at Futok, Backa, Vojvodina to a noble family.
Vojvodina is not in Hungary, it was a part of Austria and was ancient Croatian territory. In 1834 he married a noblewoman, Eleonora Dedinsky, from Dedina. The Dedinsky coat of arms is registered as Croatian arms and her grandparents, Cupor, are also Croatian nobility. The Cupor arms have the Croatian checker in its shield. The Haraszthy and Dedinsky arms are similar in design indicating relationship. A genealogy of Haraszathy shows related families of Horvat, Balasovich, Kubovich, Burian, Halas; all found today in Croatia.
California Gold Croatian Wine
At the same time Haraszathy was in Europe, August Senoa, a famous Croatian writer, published “California Gold Croatian Wine” in the Zagreb Times Newspaper in Zagreb, Croatia in 1862.
CALIFORNIA GOLD CROATIAN WINE
God has blessed California with gold;
Gold has exalted the land far and wide;
Its rivers and brooks roll treasures untold,
Its rocks conceal gold veins in their inside.
But from whatever you have had you fill
You no more derive any joyous thrill.
When it is far, however, what a change!
The gold that leaves its native land, and sails
The ocean to Europe- is it not strange?
May a fine day roll on Austrian rails.
Well, Austrian? Gold? But where is it? Where?
My brothers, in museums. Look it up there.
And we, the gentle souls, think it meet
To be content with a sheer paper sheet.
The country of Croatia overflows with wine,
Its drops more precious than gold, crystally clear:
God Himself has consecrated our vine,
Its fame expanding world-wide, far and near,
One cannot be a prophet in his land,
Sometimes we may not drink as manners demand.
When far and away, however- what a change!
Whenever leaving your home for some time,
You prize Croatian wine- is it not strange?
You miss it under a foreign clime.
And while I drink that wishy-washy beer,
I often brush away a painful tear.
Then I remember you, my charming home,
Your fiery wine, opulent, flavorsome,
With life in it and real love beside,
With heaven in it and thunderous song.
With olden glory and national pride,
With courage and concept lucid and strong;
Sure cure for old age, bright sunshine for youth,
Proof our hospitality tells the truth.
And you, my brothers in Croatian parts,
Keep on dancing, sing from you fullest hearts;
Our wince is foaming, see it sparkle, my dear,
Let jokes be cut- let everybody cheer,
Propose a toast to too many a son
Who lacks our wine beneath a foreign sun:
Drink moderately to keep yourselves alert
Let enemies should plan an assault;
Drink boldly to be able to avert
From new-glory-bearing vines any fault;
Drink modestly this divine, fierce gift;
Drink wisely, Mirza teaches, foster thrift.
Zagreb Times Newspaper 1862 Croatia
Mysterious Origin of Zinfandel Grape
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 finding 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 the 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.
Zinfandel is the Croatian grape, the crljenak kastelanski, a relative of Plavac Mali. This is in the Kastela District near Split, Dalmatia, Croatia. This grape is also found on the Islands of Solta and Brac just off the mainland of Split. Many people from this area were in California during the Gold Rush. The oldest Croatian Society in America was organized in San Francisco, California in 1857. Croatians had vineyards in California in the 1850’s.