Is the popularity of Zinfandel slowly declining?

A Zinfandel vine in Lodi Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.

LODI — According to Visit Lodi, the city is the unofficial Zinfandel Capital of the World, as area vineyards produce some 40 percent of premium Zinfandel in California.

But according to some grape growers and winery owners, the varietal’s popularity has seen a decline over the past couple years.

“Things like this go in cycles,” Lucas Winery owner David Lucas said. “People’s tastes are always changing. I went to Europe recently and decided to check out what kinds of wines they were making over there, and found some were blending the Sangiovese with a Merlot or a Shiraz. Those are the kinds of wines people are attracted to today.”

Lucas said he initially made sweet wines when the Lucas Winery first began operating in the late 1970s.

At the time, he said, sweet wines were not the kinds of varietals the market wanted on shelves.

Times have changed, he said, and younger generations gravitate toward sweeter flavors.

Lucas also noted that harvesting Zinfandel grapes is not a 21st century endeavor.

“You can harvest whites and most reds with a machine,” he said. “But zins are done by hand. The vines are so ancient, it’s hard to get a machine in there and take a grape off. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough hands to do the job.”

Stuart Spencer, executive director of the Lodi WineGrape Commission, echoed Lucas’ sentiments, stating the number of red blends now available on the market have put a dent on the Zinfandel.

If Zinfandels aren’t selling at the wineries, he said, than wineries may not request another shipment.

Some Zinfandel growers in the area, he said, have pulled their old vine Zins out of their blocks and have begun planting either a different varietal, or a new crop altogether.

“If a farmer doesn’t have a strong situation with a winery who will sell a zin, then that farmer has to explore other options,” Spencer said. “And that is something that’s always happening as well. Our growers constantly evaluate their different blocks and determine what’s best long term.”

Spencer did not know what kinds of crops are replacing some of the region’s zinfandel vines, stating it depends on the grower.

“This is something that has been seen in the past few years,” Lodi District Grape Growers Executive Director Amy Blagg said. “(Pulling any wine grape is) something that is hard to see go, especially with Zins. But if the market is not working for growers, they’ll turn to something else.”

Blagg and Spencer said while the Zin may not be the first drink of choice for modern sommeliers at the present time, that does not mean the varietal is at the end of its road.

“Zin has always been cyclical,” Blagg said. “I think it will bounce back. If you look at those wineries who introduced Zin to the region, and who rode out the trends of other wines over the years, they’re still here. And their Zins are still here.”

Spencer said when it does regain popularity among sommeliers, Zin will still not be the only varietal in demand.

“I think the long-term future for Zin is bright,” he said. “We’re seeing a variety of regional markets for wine, and in those other markets, things do come back. But there are a lot of alternatives out there when it comes to wine. Let’s see what happens.”

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