Zig Zag Zin

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Not too much in the wine business makes my jaw drop anymore, but it almost hit the table the other day in Ukiah. I was there getting an update on the progess of Mendocino County’s Wine Commission, which could potentially work the same magic on Mendo’s reputation that the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission did on Lodi’s.

Well actually, Lodi didn’t have a reputation before, so the magic would be different. Because Mendocino County certainly has a reputation for something other than wine. Something as leafy as a grape vine, and that is harvested in the same season, but which is generally consumed drier and hotter (and sooner). If you’re already lost, please click over to another blog. If not, read on.

So I sit down with Tim Thornhill and Paul Dolan, who are partners in Mendocino Wine Company. They both own vineyards in the county, and they’re also co-owners of Parducci Wine Cellars and a number of other brands. They would dearly love to see Mendocino’s reputation rise, because it would satisfy them emotionally, psychologically, and, oh yes, way financially.

Dolan sets down a bottle of their new Italian-style red blend, called Tusk ‘N Red. (Pronounce it “Tuscan.”) Nice package, evocative of Chianti labels but with a whimsically placed elephant in the Italianate scene. A nice wine, too, blended from Sangiovese, Carignano, and other grapes favored by Mendocino’s Italian immigrants in centuries past.

Then Thornhill puts down a bottle of their new Zinfandel, called Zig Zag Zin.

Now, if you’re of a certain age or subscribe to a certain joie de vivre, you are probably already forming a mental image of a slender cardboard package with the folded filmy papers inside. The lettering is faintly exotic in style, the corners are decorated with little curves, and there is some kind of dervishy-looking guy winking out at you from the label.

For those of you who are not forming this image, Zig Zag is the most popular brand of, um, cigarette rolling papers. And these guys have created a wine label that looks for all the world like a Zig Zag rolling paper package. Same shape. Same size. Same curved corner cuts. Same lettering. Same bright color. Unbelievable. I stared at the label, then at Dolan and Thornhill. They shrugged back, as if to say that they are as surprised as I am.

Turns out they were surprised. “We expected to get rejected,” Thornhill tells me, “but apparently none of the regulators in Washington right now lived through the Sixties or Seventies in California.”

Of course, Zig Zag Zin is not a wine for morally righteous bureaucrats in Washington. It’s a fun, friendly Zin for the rest of us. So naming it after an icon of the counter-culture makes sense – especially when you’re coming from a county in a region known as the “Emerald Triangle.” If you want to build up Mendocino’s reputation, why not start with something it’s already known for?

I did get a good update on the Wine Commission thing (state legislation has passed and the county's winegrowers vote their approval next month). But I'm still amazed at that bottle on my desk. Heck if it doesn't give me the munchies just lookin' at it.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.

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