Primitivo is often Invited to the Table.
The Primitivo is a classic Italian red wine that is often invited to dinner again and again. With it’s black skins, dark berry aromas, and peppery finish, the Primitivo pairs well with most cultural foods and has a bright, well rounded body that can be enjoyed year round. However although abundantly loved, this wine has traveled under the radar for years with many different names. After research and testing we now believe that the Primitivo is genetically identical to the American Zinfandel and originally comes from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. It’s first name was “Tribidrag” or “Crljenak Kaštelanski” but through out history has been known as many different names around the world.
The Italian Name is Primitivo
Our old red friend was given the name “Primitivo,” the first one, by Don Francesco Filippo in Italy in the early 1800s. At that time, there was a lot of movement in Europe. Empires were continually changing shape, wars raged, steam engines transported goods, and America held promises for a brighter future. Wine lovers like Don Francesco Filippo brought wine with them as he set out for better lives. He settled in the Apulia region, the heel of Italy, and named the Croatian wine “Primitivo” because it was the first red wine to ripen in the vineyard.
With a new Italian name, Primitivo flourished in the Apulia Mediterranean climate and became a favorite with local villagers for it’s fresh fruit, wine, and raisin qualities. Even in farming communities fruit was hard to come by and a sign of wealth in the 1800s. Since Primitivo ripened early each year and had abundant harvests, every village farmer spent their early fall months eating like kings. For over a century the Primitivo remained a small local table wine in the Apulia region and is still widely popular there today.
To American with a New Name and New Future
While Primitivo was thriving in Italy, the first American sale of Primitivo was recorded in 1830 from the Imperial Nursery of Vienna. In a new country with a new future, the Croatian grape was given another new name, “Black Zenfendal”. George Gibbs purchased the root stock in Boston, Ma, and brought the wine with him across the country as he chased gold in California. By 1855 Black Zenfendal was planted at the Oak Knoll Vineyard in Napa Valley. By the 1890s “Black Zenfendal” was considered the most commonly produced wine grape in America.
Life was good for Black Zenfandel (or Primitivo or Crljenak Kaštelanski) in the states for a short while. Like in Italy, the wine was a part of many meals and celebrated for its rich flavors and abundant harvests. However in the 1920s we all know what happened. . . . The United States Prohibition changed the course of America and forced many farmers to pull their vineyard roots for sacrament wine varietals or another crop all together, and the Black Zenfandel history was lost in the chaos of the change.
An American Re-Branding in the 1930s
Much loved wine is hardly forgotten however, and when Prohibition was lifted in 1933, the American market was on the rise after the Great Depression. Practically overnight the market for wine grapes was re-opened. Farmers and marketers pushed for new “All American” products to support the country they loved and our Croatian wine was given yet another new name –The “American Zinfandel”!
It was the same wine with another new name. The American Zinfandel, like so many times before rose quickly in popularity and by the 1970s was considered the most popular wine in America. Everyone loved the wine and new it well by it’s new name, but the origins of the wine had been forgotten.
There was still a great mystery surrounding the wine grape’s past. Questions needed to be answered and in 1968 UC Davis Professor Austin Goheen travelled to Italy to track down the true origin of the beloved American Zin. After several rounds of genetic testing he found that the much loved Italian Primitivo is the exact same as the American Zinfandel. In 1990 Carole Meredith continued his research at UC Davis to discover the wine grapes originated in Croatia. And so the mystery is solved and we now know that although it goes by many different names, Primitivo is a beautiful, well loved wine again and again.
Primitivo at Heringer Estates
The Primitivo embraces Clarksburg with it’s long growing season, warm days, and cool evenings. Like in Italy the Primitivo is one of the first varietals to ripen in the Clarksburg vineyards and expresses beautiful aromas of blackberry, dark cherry, tobacco, and pepper.
Written by Creative Director, Cara Gregor