As a reminder, Lodi Native is a winemaking project where the goal is to make minimalist (aka low-intervention) terroir driven Zinfandels in the Lodi and Mokelumne River sub-AVAs. Layne Montgomery a Lodi Native winemaker also with M2 Wines gives a wonderful description of why Lodi Native exists: To prove to skeptics and the ill-informed that Lodi vineyards can, and do, produce world-class wines, to show that “old” vineyards can be productive and profitable, and to prove that the romance and sentimentality can be a “highest and best use” of land, labor, equipment, etc. In summation, to bring attention to Lodi as a great wine-growing region as a whole, and to show that Lodi is a region of merit and deserves respect.
Enough talk about Lodi Native, lets dig into these wines! The first vintage of Lodi Native was 2012. The current vintage is 2013 and this is what I tasted, in this order (lowest alcohol to highest):
Stampede Vineyard, 13.9% ABV, Winemaker, Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)
Marian’s Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Winemaker, Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)
TruLux Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Winemaker, Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)
Wegat Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Winemaker, Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)
Soucie Vineyard, 15% ABV, Winemaker, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines)
Schmiedt Ranch, 15.9% ABV, Winemaker, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)
I was very surprised by the light color of the first couple of wines. When I think of Zinfandel, especially Zins from a warmer climate, I think of deep, dark extractive reds. Honestly, I think of $8-$10 fruit bombs on the grocery store shelves. When I first started drinking wine over a decade ago, I was VERY much into this style of wine. The deeper and fruitier, the better. I have since grown to appreciate more individuality in wines. I enjoy the outliers and the wines that taste “different”. In fact, when presented with a wine choice (be it at a wine shop or at a restaurant), I always strive to enjoy something new. Whether it’s trying a grape I’ve never had or wine from a region I’ve never tasted. See a post HERE where I discuss this topic.
With wine “brands”, the goal is to maintain brand continuity. Consumers want to know that when they pick up a bottle of X wine (insert popular wine brand that can be found for about $8 at every grocery store and big-box retailer), they want to know that it’s going to taste as they expect it to taste. There needs to be a consistency in that wine bottle after bottle. What about vintage variation? Climatic shifts? Michael McCay of McCay Cellars says his goal “is to make a wine with a sense of presence that expresses the character and trueness of the vineyard.” And with that comes all the variances that the earth gives us. It’s a beautiful thing and keeps things interesting...at least in my glass. And now for my tasting notes:
Stampede Vineyard, 13.9% ABV, Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)
This was the lightest of the bunch. Lots of bright red fruit on the nose and palate. I really enjoyed the food-friendly acidity. It took me to Italy and made me crave a simple pizza with crushed San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
Marian’s Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)
This wine was delightful. It struck me as the most balanced of the bunch with not one aroma/flavor standing out. I didn’t feel that that this wine was trying to show me anything more than the pure fruit it came from. Beautiful in its simplicity.
TruLux Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)
My notes say “an absolutely pleasing palate. Nice Acid. Give me food.” Word.
Wegat Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)
Really lovely red fruit on this wine with a nice, clean medium finish.
Soucie Vineyard, 15% ABV, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines)
Red and black fruit. Pepper and a slight taste of cocoa on the palate. This wine has the most complex palate of the three.
Schmiedt Ranch, 15.9% ABV, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)
This is a lovely wine with very well integrated flavors. It calls for red meat and/or grilled foods.
Overall, I am surprised at the wide array of styles presented here, which was exactly what the Lodi Native project set out to do. The wines have differing levels of complexity, which made this exercise be quite an interesting comparison. I can report that Lodi Native does debunk the myth that Lodi is only capable of producing big, jammy Zins. Randy Caparoso, founder of the Lodi Native project wanted to draw attention to the fact that “special terroir related distinctions on a sensory level do exist among these growths the same way that they exist in top vineyards in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany, etc.” He also wanted to prove that Lodi is a place with special vineyards, not just a big sea of vines with zero identity.
I feel that the fruit/terroir shine with these wines. The overall thread that ran through these wines is balance. As Lodi Native strived to convey, that was the work of nature, and not necessarily the work of the winemakers. Caparoso states that heritage/old-vine vineyards are in danger of being pulled out in most every wine region in the world. Old vines tend to have lower yields and low yield vines make very little economic sense. Similarly, they require more manual labor than newer vineyards for pruning, maintaining, and harvesting. Just about every one of the Lodi Native winemakers mentioned to me the pressure to use old vine vineyards for other uses (i.e. newer vines, different varietals, office buildings, warehouses, or urban sprawl).
What’s up next for Lodi Native? The project is growing. Bob Colarossi of Estate Crush just joined. In fact, they are up to 12 winemakers participating. This project is not for everyone. Randy told me that the Lodi Native winemakers spend more time on these wines (which represent 2-3% of their production) than on any of their other wines. This project is helping them grow as winemakers and giving them knowledge that they can take to their other wines. Stuart Spencer of St. Amant told me that he is utilizing some of the Lodi Native principles (native yeast, no additives, and not using new oak) with his other winemaking projects. Tim Holdener, of Macchia Wines admits that he was the biggest “opponent” of the Lodi Native protocols. He felt the project would limit his winemaking abilities. Tim reminds me that “we had to truly trust that these vineyards would be able to stand on their own. And it worked!” Tim now uses at least a portion of these protocols in most of his winemaking.
I’d like to give a shout out to other fellow bloggers who have written pieces on Lodi Native. It’s always interesting and enlightening to get different perspectives…..that’s what keeps things interesting, right? So please have a look and help to support the wine blogging community!
According to Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards, Lodi Native was born out of an idea that wine producers could collaborate to show the true identity, terroir, of Lodi. In my humble opinion, they are succeeding.