Zinfandel: A Homecoming Celebration

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The “Zinfully” Intriguing  I Am Tribidrag Conference Prepares to Host Some of the Wine Industry’s Biggest Names

By Cliff Rames

It’s been over 15 years since we learned of Zinfandel’s origins in Croatia, where 15th century documents identify the nearly forgotten wine grape variety by its ancestral name, Tribidrag. Today, the revelation continues to resonate in vineyards, wineries and wine glasses across the globe—Zinfandel has finally come home.

The story of Zinfandel’s repatriation is one of deep roots, old vines, and forgotten vineyards—a fascinating script with an amazing cast worthy of a Hollywood movie treatment. Cheekily referred to as “Zin Quest”,  it is an epic tale of intrigue and modern forensic detective work that spanned two continents and involved a team of UC Davis researchers, headed by Dr. Carole Meredith, and two Croatian grapevine geneticists, Professor Edi Maletić and Professor Ivan Pejić.

 

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Hollywood movie aside, if you haven’t yet read the story or require a refresher, check out my Zinfandel in Croatia: A Sort of Homecoming article, which I chronicled in 2014 for The SOMM Journal and later republished (with permission) on this blog.

Better still, make plans to attend the first-ever I Am Tribidrag International Conference! This two-day celebration and immersion program into the amazing story of Tribidrag/ Zinfandel/ Crljenak Kaštelanski will be held April 27-28, 2017 in Split, Croatia at the five-star Hotel Park, just a few short miles from the Kaštela vineyard where the “Original Zin” vines were discovered in 2001.

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Ivica Radunic’s “Original Zin” vineyard in Kastel Novi (photo by Cliff Rames)

The I Am Tribidrag conference will feature an exciting program of guided tastings, supplemental wine tours and excursions, and lectures by several winemakers and distinguished authorities in the industry, including: Dr. Meredith; professors Maletić and Pejić: California winemakers David Gates (Ridge Vineyards) and Joel Peterson (Ravenswood Winery); botanist and grape geneticist (and co-author of Wine Grapes) Dr. José Vouillamoz; and Italian winemaker Lisa Gilbee.

Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine, will also be attending as a special guest. Described by Decanter magazine as “the most respected wine critic and journalist in the world”, Robinson has authored several books, including The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine (with Hugh Johnson). Ms. Robinson also co-authored the book Wine Grapes, which authoritatively defers to “Tribidrag” as the historical and rightful name for the variety also known respectively as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Primitivo, and Zinfandel (in fact, if you turn to the entries in the book for those varieties, Robinson directs you to “See Tribidrag”).

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With an incredible line-up of speakers, the I Am Tribidrag Conference is a must for any Zinfandel advocate, wine lover, history buff, or student of ampelography (the field of botany concerned with the identification and classification of grapevines). Guided, comparative tastings of over 20 different wines will showcase how variations of terroir impact the character of Tribidrag grown in different areas of Croatia and benchmark regions like California and Italy. A series of extracurricular wine tours and excursions will provide guests with an introduction to the Dalmatian landscape that Zinfandel calls home.

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One of the “Original Zin” (Crljenak Kastelanski) vines found in the Radunic vineyard (photo by Cliff Rames)

Here is the conference program schedule:

Day 1: Thursday, April 27, 2017
16:30–18:30: Registration
18:30–19:00: Opening ceremony, presentation of the Programme and Speakers
19:00–20:00: Story of Tribidrag (Prof. Carole Meredith, Prof. Ivan Pejić)
20:30–23:00: Buffet dinner and tasting of indigenous Dalmatian varieties

Day 2: Friday, April 28, 2017
10:00–11:30: Zinfandel in the United States, with tasting (D. Gates, J. Peterson)
11:30–12:00: Coffee break
12:00–13:30: Primitivo in Italy, with tasting (L. Gilbee)
13:30–15:00: Lunch break
15:00–16:30 Tribidrag in Croatia, with tasting (Prof. E. Maletić, G. Zdunić)
16:30–17:00: Coffee break
17:00–18:30: Tribidrag in the Rest of the World, with tasting (J. Vouillamoz); Special guest Jancis Robinson

Up to 150 guests are expected, and tickets are selling fast. To reserve your spot at the conference, please follow this link: http://tribidrag.org/prijava-registracija/?lang=en

I hope to see you all in Split, where we can raise a glass and unanimously declare, We Are Tribidrag!

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The I Am Tribidrag Conference is organized by the Tribidrag Association of Zagreb, Croatia. Founded by wine enthusiasts Davorka Krnić-Trick, Fani Prodan,and Iva Drganc, in collaboration with Edi Maletić and Ivan Pejić. The association’s mission is to promote the native wine grapes of Croatia in partnership with other wine enthusiasts and renowned wine experts.

For more information, please visit www.tribidrag.org, or email info@tribidrag.org.

For further Information about accommodations and available wine tours, please contact mice@globtour.hr

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Wine Review: Bibich 2015 Debit

Text and photos © 2016 Cliff Rames

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Debit, a white variety native to Croatia’s Dalmatian coast between the cities of Šibenik and Zadar, was once considered a workhorse grape of great proficiency, so much so (the story goes) it gained its nom de plume during the Napoleonic Era when Dalmatian land owners would barter and pay off their tax debts with their crop instead of coin. This was possible because debit, when unmanaged in the vineyard and left to its own devices, will produce high yields (and consequently simple, one-dimensional wine). So, debit’s proficiency and reliability  served the locals well during the Napoleonic era–and later through the 20th century during Croatia’s time as one of the republics in Yugoslavia, when Socialist-style cooperatives demanded quantity over quality.

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Zinfandel in Croatia: A Sort of Homecoming

(Republished with permission from the original article in the Oct./Nov. 2014 issue of The SOMM Journal)

Croatia’s prodigal grape finds its roots. Can it go home again?

By Cliff Rames

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Sherlock Holmes, were he an ampelographer, would be pleased. Solved was an age-old mystery that spanned oceans and continents, the New World and the Old. Through hands-on detective work, forensic know-how and cutting edge technology, the missing link in the evolutionary story of a popular and beloved wine grape was uncovered, the mystery of its origins revealed in a word: Tribidrag – the ancient Croatian name for Zinfandel.

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A Summer Send-off with Škrlet

By Cliff Rames © 2014

Just because the sunsets arrive earlier, the shadows cast longer, the nights undulate with the mating songs of crickets and the haunting bumps of falling acorns, does not mean that it is suddenly unacceptable to drink white wine.

True, my craving for red wine – suppressed in the oppressive heat of summer – is beginning to awaken and warm my veins. Nonetheless, autumn and winter are still fine times to crack open a white wine – preferably one of fuller body – when the urge strikes or menu demands.

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Zlatna Žlahtina 1999: Golden Grape or Faded Glory?

By Cliff Rames © 2014 

A few weeks ago I was rummaging around my father’s wine cabinet and found a forgotten, dusty bottle of white – a 1999 PZ Vrbnik Zlatna Žlahtina from the island of Krk in the Kvarner wine growing region along the northern coast of Croatia. Since my father rarely drinks white wine and didn’t even know the bottle existed or where it came from, he let me have it. For “research” purposes. 

Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014
Photo: Cliff Rames © 2014

I was skeptical. A 15-year old Žlahtina? I mean, I’ve opened 3-year old Pinto Grigio wines that were an oxidized mess. Also this particular bottle was never properly stored, languishing for most of its life on a shelf in my parent’s sunny dining room.

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Sunday Snapshot: Babić of the Mountains

By Cliff Rames © 2014

Several years ago I had the distinct opportunity to visit the vineyards of Stipe Gašperov, which lie in a very remote, rugged and starkly barren region in the mountains behind the seaside resort town of Primošten. Here Mr. Gašperov somehow managed to plant and cultivate babić grapes in a moonscape-like terroir of limestone and red soil. The vines in places are literally planted in small crevices or holes in stone. It’s no wonder then that his wine is called “Kamena Suza”, or tears of a stone.

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