White Zinfandel

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White Zinfandel, often abbreviated as White Zin, is a dry to sweet, pink-colored white wine which was invented by Sutter Home Family Vineyards winemaker Bob Trinchero in 1975[1]. Originally the result of a stuck fermentation and fortuitous accident[1], White Zinfandel is made from the Zinfandel wine grape, which would otherwise produce a bold and spicy red wine. White Zinfandel is not a grape variety but a method of processing Zinfandel grapes. As of 2018, Sutter Home White Zinfandel is the no. 1 White Zinfandel, with 29.1 percent dollar share of the $300 million White Zinfandel market and 73.1 percent of the 187 mL White Zinfandel market[2].

History of White Zinfandel[edit]

In 1972, Bob Trinchero—co-owner and winemaker for Sutter Home Winery—began experimenting with his prized Amador County Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel. He extracted some of the juice right after crushing the grapes but prior to fermentation. This technique—long employed by French vintners and called saignée (or “bleeding”)—intensifies red wine color, body, and flavor by increasing the ratio of grape skins to grape juice during fermentation. The juice and pulp of most red grapes is white; it’s the skins that impart color and tannin to red wine. The method worked beautifully, and the 1972 Sutter Home Zinfandel was a marvelously dark, rich wine.

This process resulted in eleven barrels of white juice, which Bob had extracted and fermented separately. Bob reluctantly decided to bottle the white wine, which he considered hard, dry, course, and reminiscent of Chardonnay. Sutter Home bottled 220 cases of this wine, which they decided to name Oeil de Perdrix (meaning “eye of the partridge”), after a French, slightly pink white wine of the same name.

Regulators mandated that a wine label couldn’t solely use a foreign term, and insisted that Sutter Home include an English-language descriptor. Since it was white, and made from Zinfandel grapes, Bob wrote “White Zinfandel” under the French name to satisfy the regulators. The wine, tough to position in the market, did not meet with instant acceptance. Bob ultimately decided not to make the wine again in 1973.

But, when Bob abandoned the saignée method, his red Zinfandel lacked the same intensity as before. In 1974, he returned to bleeding some of the juice off the red wine, and the Zinfandel was again a hit. And again, the second vintage of White Zinfandel generated only a tepid response.

Sutter Home White Zinfandel, the Original White Zinfandel

The third time changed the face of the American wine industry. In 1975, Bob repeated the saignée process. Sutter Home was making more of its successful Zinfandel than ever, so he was left with even more extracted white juice—about twice as much as he’d had the first time. Since the white juice wasn’t a priority, he stored it in barrels and decided to come back later to check on it. When he returned to sample it two weeks later, the wine was a very light pink.

While Trinchero had been busy making the red Zinfandel, the white wine had suffered a stuck fermentation—that is, the fermentation stalled before all the grape sugar could be converted to alcohol. At first he tried to get the fermentation going again, but when it stubbornly resisted, Bob bottled the wine as it was, with about two percent residual sugar. Sutter Home took Oeil de Perdrix off the label in favor of White Zinfandel.

The subtle change in the White Zinfandel’s taste and appearance transformed customer opinion. Suddenly, people asked for it, first buying bottles then cases. Since Bob had dropped the French term, now people had a wine they liked with a name that they could pronounce. The 1975, White Zinfandel sold out, and it soon became the first Sutter Home wine to sell out every year[3].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Trinchero Family Wine and the American Dream_Historical Memoir.pdf" (PDF). Dropbox. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  2. ^ AC Nielsen: All Nielsen Data, 52 weeks ending 1/27/18
  3. ^ "Trinchero Family Wine and the American Dream_Historical Memoir.pdf" (PDF). Dropbox. Retrieved 2019-02-26.