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 »  Home  »  Trivia  »  (E) Zinfandel and Croatia- Researchers Solve Mystery of Z's Origins
(E) Zinfandel and Croatia- Researchers Solve Mystery of Z's Origins
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/29/2002 | Trivia | Unrated
(E) Zinfandel and Croatia- Researchers Solve Mystery of Z's Origins
 
 
Nenad, 
Here's another reason to drink a red wine (and it's good for your heart). 
Cheers, 
Steve Rukavina   
    
    <A HREF="http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Home/1,1137,,00.html">Home</A> 
> <A HREF="http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Daily_Main/1,1146,,00.html"> 
Daily Wine News</A> > Researchers Solve Mystery of Zinfandel's Origins     
 
Researchers Solve Mystery of Zinfandel's Origins 
 
Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2002 
 
By Lynn Alley 
 
The hidden origins of California's Zinfandel grape have at last been 
uncovered, according to prominent grapevine geneticist Carole Meredith, who 
is known for her discoveries of the parents of <A 
HREF="http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Archives/Show_Article/0,1275,1307,00.h 
 
tml">Cabernet Sauvignon</A>, <A 
HREF="http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Archives/Show_Article/0,1275,2371,00.h 
 
tml">Chardonnay</A> and <A 
HREF="http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Archives/Show_Article/0,1275,3322,00.h 
 
tml">Syrah</A>. Using DNA profiling techniques, Meredith and two Croatian 
scientists, Ivan Pejic and Edi Maletic, discovered in December that Zinfandel 
and an indigenous Croatian grape called Crljenak are one and the same. The 
modern search for Zinfandel's roots, so to speak, dates back to the late 
1960s. While traveling in Italy, USDA plant pathologist Austin Goheen noticed 
that the Primitivo grape widely cultivated in the Puglia region bore a strong 
resemblance to Zinfandel. He brought Primitivo cuttings back to the 
University of California, Davis, where he was based, for a closer look. 
Goheen made his assumption based upon visual criteria, but he could never be 
sure that Primitivo and Zinfandel were exactly the same variety. Other later 
tests backed up Goheen's theory, but a definitive answer didn't come until 
the 1990s, when Meredith -- a professor of enology and viticulture at UC 
Davis -- used DNA profiling techniques capable of establishing grapevine 
identity beyond doubt. Meredith determined that Primitivo and Zinfandel were 
indeed two clones of the identical variety. But the question remained: Where 
did Zinfandel-Primitivo originate? Italian researchers had determined that 
Primitivo had only been cultivated in Puglia for about 150 to 250 years, but 
were not sure how it had arrived in the region. Available historical records 
first document Zinfandel's presence in the eastern United States in the 1820s 
and indicate that it was then brought to California in the mid-1800s. An 
Italian colleague had told Goheen in the '60s that a grape variety similar to 
Primitivo grew in Croatia. Since there had long been an interchange of vines 
between Croatia and southern Italy, Goheen speculated that this Croatian 
variety, called Plavac Mali, might shed further light on the 
Zinfandel-Primitivo mystery. In 1977, he obtained Plavac Mali cuttings and 
cultivated them at Davis, but never determined whether it was the same 
variety or a related one. Still on the trail of Zinfandel's origins in the 
'90s, Meredith decided to visit Croatia to gather DNA samples of Plavac Mali. 
In May 1998, Meredith, Pejic and Maletic searched many different vineyards on 
the Dalmatian coast and on some of the larger islands offshore. She brought 
back 150 samples to Davis for comparison with Zinfandel and Primitivo 
samples. Although a definite relationship could be demonstrated between 
Zinfandel and Plavac Mali, Meredith's work showed they were definitely not 
the same variety. She believed that one was the offspring of the other, but 
could not tell which was parent and which was offspring. Pejic and Maletic 
continued to examine other old Croatian varieties, and in June 2001, the team 
determined that a grape called Dobricic and Zinfandel were clearly the 
parents of Plavac Mali. The discovery was compelling evidence, but still did 
not prove conclusively that Zinfandel had originated in Croatia. Then, in 
December 2001, Pejic told Meredith he had found a sample of a grape called 
Crljenak, which he felt certain was Zinfandel. Pejic had the technology to do 
simple DNA comparisons in his Croatian lab, but wanted Meredith to do a more 
detailed, definitive analysis at Davis. Meredith's tests indeed confirmed 
that Crljenak and Zinfandel were the same variety. At long last, Zinfandel's 
Croatian heritage has been established beyond doubt. But Meredith pointed out 
that the grape's trail doesn't necessarily end there. She speculated that 
Crljenak could have been brought to Croatia from Albania or Greece. However, 
the presence of one confirmed offspring and many other similar vines in the 
region indicate that the variety has been in Croatia for a long time. 
 
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