Zinfandel is a wine which is always very hotly debated. For many years there were two distinct wines, the Primitivo from Italy, and the Zinfandel from California. The latter were believed to be two different types of wine until 1967, when a University of California professor noted the similarity between the two wines. The next two decades were spent hotly debating the issue, and only in 1993 was the debate decided when DNA profiling established that the two wines were, in fact, one. Since that time, further evidence has established that Zinfandel/Primitivo vines have been grown in the Mediterranean regions for thousands of years, and that the species probably came from Croatia sometime around 6000BC.
The popularity of Zinfandel among Americans has encouraged production in other warm, dry areas such as South Africa. Planting is no-where near as prolific here as it is in other states around the world, including Italy and Croatia. However, there are a number of small estates producing the wine, and some of these have won awards for their production of this wine in South Africa. As the wine becomes more popular, and there is more demand in the domestic market, there may be an increase in the number of vineyards growing Zinfandel.
The Primitivo/Zinfandel vines are best suited to climates where the weather is stable without being too hot, as the fruits tend to become raisined very quickly during hot summers. The grapes are difficult due to their uneven ripening, meaning that while some grapes are mature, or even “raisined”, while others are completely green. This means that Zinfandel wine makers often prefer to gather the grapes by hand, allowing days or even weeks to pass before a branch is completely stripped of grapes. This very taxing method of harvesting means that the Zinfandel wine will always be higher than other South African wines, both in the domestic market and overseas.
Zinfandel came to South Africa in the 70s, but it was not taken up by many growers, who were more interested in growing vines that were easy and were able to be harvested at one pass. However, the produce of the grape, Zinfandel wine, is considered to be something of a prize, and because of this some South African wine growers have started to turn their hand to growing this rather difficult vine. One of the leaders of this group is the Blaauwklippen wine makers.
This wine estate is head of the table when it comes to Zinfandel/Primitivo wines from South Africa. They often manage to pick the vines easily by cutting the grape bunch in half, horizontally. The bottom grapes are thrown away, and those left on the branch ripen in a much more even pattern. There are two types of red Zinfandel wine produced by this farm. The Red Zinfandel is fruity, with a dark chocolate aroma, while the Noble Late Harvest is chosen for its sweetness and fitness as a dessert wine. The wine grower has also branched out into White Zinfandel, the first in South Africa.