May 10, 2006
Zin Win...Not

A watered down version of a bill originally meant to designate zinfandel California's official state wine made it out of a Senate committee this morning, but where it goes from here and what it means is unclear.

For sure, it lacks its original standing, which would have put zinfandel right up there with the dog-face butterfly, golden poppy, golden trout, gray whale, bear flag and about 20 other symbols that amount to a shorthand version of California's natural and cultural history.

In recent weeks, however, Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, amended her original measure to substitute "the historic wine of California" for "the official state wine of California," clearly a weaker and less significant and divisive designation, though a nice gesture.

The change was made, said Migden's legislative aide, John Vigna, because of "concerns about designating a commercial product an official anything."

Eh? As I suggested in an earlier column, if legislators were to buy into this argument they might as well move out of their redwood houses (state tree), stop attending performances at the Pasadena Playhouse (state theater), quit eating quail (state bird) and remove their gold wedding bands and toss them my way (state mineral).

So, Sen. Migden caved, though it's not clear right now who got to her, but I suspect the cabernet-sauvignon lobby out of the Napa Valley, the state's best organized and best heeled community of vintners, exerted some pressure.

To his credit, Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, whose district includes much of the north state's wine areas, abstained from Wednesday's vote before the Senate's government organization committee. "He likes zinfandel as much as an any varietal, but as chair of the select committee on California’s wine industry he felt that there was no way he should show special consideration for any one variety," said his spokeswoman, Darby Kernan.

Fair enough, and words we'll remember if anyone urges him to support a bill to designate cabernet sauvignon as California's official state wine.

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