Introduction of Zinfandel to Santa Clara County

When did Zinfandel first come to California? Where were its vines planted - and by who ?

Antoine Delmas first imported several French winegrape cultivars into the Santa Clara Valley. He introduced Zinfandel cuttings to Santa Clara County, if not to the state in general, as well.

California Digital Newspaper Collection
San Jose Herald, Vol. XXXVIII, No.120
“The Zinfandel: Its Introduction into Santa Clara County”
by A. lielma(?)
May 20, 1885

"Articles have recently appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin in which one party credits the importation of the Zinfandel grape into California to the late Capt. [Frederick] Macondray of San Francisco and another to the late Col. [Agoston] Haraszthy. Now comes Antoine Delmas of this city, the father of D. M. Delmas, the well-known lawyer, and affirms in this connection that in 1852, being then a nurseryman here, he imported from the Ville Moraine of Paris about a hundred varieties of grapes, including the Black St. Peter, a variety which he and other well-informed viticulturists aver is identical with the Zinfandel about the first importation of which into the State a discussion has been raised. Many of the varieties of foreign grapes which have since become so popular in this and other counties were, in the year mentioned, introduced here by Mr. Delmas, his importations embracing a large number of Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties.

"In 1854 Mr. Delmas made a large exhibit of grapes of the Black St. Peter and other varieties at a fair held in this city and at another fair held in Sacramento, and during the same year he supplied Gen. M.G. Vallejo of Sonoma County with cuttings. In support of the statement that the Black St. Peter and the Zinfandel are one and the same variety, if indeed the statement needs to be supported, Mr. Delmas says that twenty-four years ago he grafted the vineyard of J. P. Pierce of Santa Clara with Black St. Peter and that the vines so grafted have since been indisputably recognized as Zinfandel.

“It thus appears that, if none of these vines had been imported into California earlier than 1852, to Antoine Delmas of Santa Clara County belongs the honor of their introduction.”

Is there documentation of Zinfandel (aka Black St Peter) growing in California before 1852?

Additional Resources:

PowerPoint Presentation
“Comparison of California Heritage Zinfandel & Primitivo Grapevine Selections in Napa Valley” (PDF download)
by Michael Penn, MS Viticulture & Enology
March 19, 2015

Details of “California Zinfandel”:

  • 1852, Capt. Macondray sails from Boston to California with a supply of vines and trees, begins a nursery in San Francisco;

  • 1852, J.W. Osborne grafts over Oak Knoll vineyard to Zinfandel and other varieties from Macondray;

  • 1852, Antoine Delmas imports ‘Black St. Peters’ to his nursery in Santa Clara. Supplies Mariano Vallejo’s viticulturist as well as William McPherson Hill;

  • 1853, A.P. Smith imports ‘Zeinfandall’ to Sacramento nursery, supplies foothills."

University of California Press eBooks
A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition (1989)
by Thomas Pinney

"Pt. 3: The Development of California; Chapter 9: The Beginnings in Northern California" (p.264-265)

“…Among other Santa Clara Frenchmen … Antoine Delmas…had the most extensive of all early varietal collections in California. Delmas had imported 10,000 cuttings from France in 1854, when he received a special premium from the State Agricultural Society for the ‘best and largest varieties of foreign grapes.’ When Delmas took the first prize for wine at the state fair of 1859, his superior grape varieties were probably a reason for his success. By 1858 Delmas’s collection had swelled to 350,000 vines of 105 different varieties.”

UC Davis
“Winegrapes of UC Davis”
by Nancy L. Sweet, FPS Historian, UC Davis
June, 2021

“…Nurseryman Antoine Delmas of San Jose imported French wine grapes in 1852, including ‘Cabrunet’, ‘Medoc’ and ‘Merleau’.”

Image: “Report on the First District Convention of the San Francisco Viticultural District”, 1885

A report from 1885 lists many local grapegrowers and wine producers. The second page features an investigation into how certain cultivars were introduced in California.

Internet Archive
The San Francisco Merchant, Vol XIV No 6
“Report of the First District Convention of the San Francisco Viticultural District”
July 3, 1885

Google Books
Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and its Wine

by Charles Sullivan
Published by UC Press (2003)

Seven Fifty Daily
“Discovering the Origin of Zinfandel”

by Peter Weltman
February 14, 2019


If anyone wishes to know more about how specific winegrape cultivars first were planted in California - or Santa Clara County in particular - please refer to the thread post linked below.

Wine Berserkers
“Santa Clara and San Benito Wine Heritage”
“19th Century Pioneers of Wine Grapes”
October, 2021