The SOMM Journal

June / July 2017

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Page 109 of 124

{ }  109 Tribidrag, you say? Dr. Ivan Pejic´, Professor of Plant Breeding at the University of Zagreb and conference speaker, explained: "Tribidrag is the historical name in Croatia for the genotype we know as Zinfandel in the U.S., Primitivo in Italy, Crljenak Kaštelanski in parts of Dalmatia and Kratošija in Montenegro. Substantial historical evidence suggests the likelihood that Tribidrag origi - nated in Croatia and is a founder grape of many other local varieties." Pejic´ should know. In December 1997, he and Dr. Carole Meredith, a grape geneticist from U.C. Davis (now retired), along with Pejic´'s colleague, Dr. Edi Maletic´, launched the now legendary search for Zinfandel's mysterious origins. Dubbed "ZinQuest" and utilizing state-of-the-art DNA profiling, the investigation culminated in 2001 with the discovery that would forever change the wine world: Genetic material extracted from California Zinfandel and Italian Primitivo plants perfectly matched Tribidrag vines found in Croatia (for the full account, see "Zinfandel, A Sort of Homecoming," The Somm Journal, October/November 2014). Organized by the Tribidrag Association, the I Am Tribidrag conference reunited Pejic´, Maletic´ and Meredith in Croatia for the first time in 15 years. Held in Split, just a few miles from where the "Original Zin" vines were discovered, the event featured field trips to local wineries and vineyards, several masterclasses on the history and pedigree of Tribidrag and its numerous offspring and guided tastings of wines from eight coun - tries. "I suspect never is history has there been so many Tribidrag wines in one room," joked Meredith during the opening cer- emony. Special guest and Master of Wine, Jancis Robinson, echoed the observation, telling The Somm Journal: "I can't remember a previous context in which a single variety from so many different sources has ever been compared." Other notable speakers included David Gates, Vice President of Vineyard Operations at Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma, CA; José Vouillamoz, a Swiss grape geneticist and co-author of Wine Grapes ; and Lisa Gilbee, biodynamic winemaker and owner of Morella winery in Italy. Addressing the audience, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Croatia Douglas Jones mused that Tribidrag is "the story of the American Dream: a little-known grape variety from Croatia travels to the United States, achieves tremendous success and fosters a special connection between the two countries." An emotional highlight of the evening was a video-streamed message from Miljenko "Mike" Grgic´, the Croatian-born founder of Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley and early supporter of ZinQuest. At 94 years old, he apologized for being unable to attend the conference but raised a glass and smiled with glee at its realization. "The roots of Zinfandel have been found. Tribidrag did not disappear and is accepted as a good wine. We celebrate this achievement. It makes me happy!" No conference dedicated to Zinfandel would be complete without the "Godfather of Zin" himself, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, who con - ducted (with Gates) a comparative tasting of five California Zinfandel wines (Carol Shelton 2014 Monga Zin, Michael David Winery 2014 Earthquake, Ravenswood 2013 Old Hill Ranch, Ridge 2014 Lytton Springs and Turley 2014 Judge Bell). Reflecting on the value of the conference, Peterson told The Somm Journal that he was fascinated by the science behind DNA pro - filing and the historical aspects of Zinfandel as an ancestor variety. "This data validates Zinfandel and creates an improved sto- ryline. I haven't had this much fun with a single grape variety in a long time, and I've been working with Zinfandel for nearly 50 years!" Robinson agreed, saying the Tribidrag discovery improves the image of Zinfandel in the United States. "Wine lov - ers today are fickle and love novelty. The fact that there is something new to say about Zinfandel helps." Masterclasses on Primitivo in Italy (with Gilbee), Tribidrag in Croatia (with Maletic´ and Goran Zdunic ´), and Tribidrag in the Rest of the World (with Vouillamoz and Robinson) showcased the variety's diversity from different terroirs, including Australia, Chile, India and South Africa. Peterson noted how Zinfandel is a "chameleon" variety for its ability to respond to dramatic changes in soil and climate. "I am struck by how differently it expresses itself from dif - ferent terroirs, particularly here in Croatia where it conveys a limestone minerality and high-toned berry notes. You don't typically see that in California Zinfandel." PHOTO: CLIFF RAMES PHOTOS: CLIFF RAMES Tribidrag (aka Crljenak Kaštelanski; Zinfandel) in Croatia is gaining popularity as a refreshing rosé, such as this tasty quaffer from Vuina winery near Split. The first release of Radunic´ Crljenak Kaštelanski, a wine produced from grapes grown in the vineyard where Meredith and the ZinQuest team discovered the "Original Zin" vines in 2001. Grk, a white variety related to Tribidrag and native to the Lumbarda growing area of Korcˇula island, is a quintessential island wine: exotic and distinct with a signature marine minerality and savory fruit profile. Bire is a leading producer of this unique, rare treat. A promise of delights to come: This first-vintage barrel sample from Dalmatian wine producer Ante Sladic´ shines with purity and a focused raspberry and savory Mediterranean herb character.

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