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August 16-22, 2006

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News of the Food

Zin of State

By Alastair Bland

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) and several members of the state assembly threw a fabulous party in the dining room of the State Capitol. Forty winemakers poured samples of more than a hundred wines for throngs of partygoers as part of a promotional effort to sway members of the assembly into approving House Bill 1253, which calls for the designation of Zinfandel as the "historic wine of California."

Senator Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, wrote the bill and kicked the night off with some inspiring thoughts. "This measure will boost that established greatness, reach, credibility and interest in our vintage wine, and will boost California's home-based pride by honoring Zinfandel, our quintessential historic wine!" she declared lustily.

The dining hall filled up with celebrities, and the room quickly grew hot. Several senators came, along with a half-dozen assembly members and scores of illustrious folks from the state's vineyards. Senator Dick Ackerman, R-Fullerton, arrived early in the night and began drinking enthusiastically at the Sierra Foothills tasting table. I asked if he was driving home. He didn't laugh, just vibed me with a hard stare. I left him to his booze.

Mike Dunne, wine writer for the Sacramento Bee, attended. We drank together and traded gossip. He told me he believed there would be opposition to the wine bill in the Assembly. "There are some Cabernet people," he nearly whispered, "and they're kind of uptight about it."

I found Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery posing for a photo by the Southern California table and demanded to know, since he's so smart, if he could identify the wine I was presently drinking. He stuck his nose deep inside the glass.

"It's definitely Sonoma," he said. "It's got mild acidity, good structure. It's aged in French oak. Very well-made, but I can't say beyond that."

He got the answers all right, and he came just short of identifying his own wine, for I was drinking Ravenswood.

Rocky Rushing, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, D-San Fernando, also sweltered in the dining hall. Rushing told me that Migden's proposal for a state wine is long overdue, but he conceded that honoring Zinfandel is not as important as providing for the poor and educating our children.

The night matured ripely. I spoke with Tony Spinetta of Charles Spinetta Winery. He offered secret gardening advice: Water your plants with wine. "It will make your roses kick ass," he confided.

Before going home, I took a quick survey of the half-drained bottles, seeking the most potent wine, for Zins are getting bigger all the time. Donn Reisen of Ridge Winery, bravely clad in a pink-orange silk shirt, admonished me. "I certainly hope you are not planning to focus on the rather tired and old subject of alcohol when you could be looking at the fact that you're consuming wine made from the same vines that provided pleasure for the '49ers."

Partygoers that night downed enough booze to kill a grapevine, if not a rosebush. If any lawmakers went home intoxicated, they must have gone home convinced, too, as on Aug. 10 the bill passed the Assembly on a bipartisan 46-20 vote. This monumental legislation now goes to the desk of Gov. Schwarzenegger, who is next to squeeze this great old grape.

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