A couple of times a week I receive wine sample invitations from various PR firms. I reply to the requests, and within a week or so, the wines are delivered to my house. When I received the Harney Lane Winery shipment, I was struck by the personal touch. In addition to the wines and tech sheets, I received a handwritten note (on Harney Lane stationery) and a business card from a Harney Lane employee.
A wine region with generations of winegrowing history, and a focus on family farming. According to the Harney Lane website “we have been proud stewards of the land since 1907, farming vineyards on Harney Lane and surrounding areas for over 5 generations.” And in 2006 they entered the winemaking side to make wine under the Harney Lane label. Lodi, including Harney Lane Winery, is steeped in tradition and authenticity. I felt that firsthand on my first trip to Lodi in 2016. Read more HERE.
Bright fruit aromas of apple, ripe pear, and white peach are followed by toasted nuts and butterscotch, laced with honeysuckle. The 2017 vintage showcases the Lodi appellation with a classic mix of lively fruit, nutty spice, and creamy richness.
A creamy, rich, and smooth Chardonnay expression. This wine coats my mouth, yet leaves me wanting more. Medium-plus body and flavor intensity. Beautiful and elegant. Showcases precision and balance.
A rich compilation of concentrated blackberry compote, dried fruit, floral perfume, black spices, cinnamon, maple, and bread pudding. Voluptuous, bold, and full-bodied.
Deep, ripe black fruit abounds (got prunes?). This is the Lodi Zin I want to present to someone who self-professes to not like Lodi Zin. The varietal and the Lodi terroir are showcased here. A deep dark Zinfandel, yet with acidity retained to allow the fruit to take center stage. No flabbiness here. Tasting this wine will erase any memory of a mass-produced Calfornia red.
*These wines were received as samples for review
If you have read this blog before, then you know I am a BIG fan of the Lodi wine region. Lodi wines are quality, terroir-driven, and the value is unmatched! Your dollar certainly goes far when visiting and buying wine in Lodi.
Did you know that Lodi is the Zinfandel capital of the world? Over 40% of the state’s Zinfandel comes from the Lodi AVA. There are over 125 winegrape varieties grown here, but Zinfandel is the true stand out. Zinfandel thrives in Lodi’s Mediterranean climate. The warm, sunny days and cool evenings (in other words, a wide diurnal range) help the grapes to ripen fully, yet not get too ripe, as can happen in places where the temps don’t cool down at night.
Lodi is most commonly known for their Old Vine Zinfandel. In fact, Lodi has more acres of old vines than any region in California. While there is no exact definition of “Old Vine”, many vines are 50 years old, or more. When I visited for the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2016, I visited vineyards that had 100+ year old vines. Gnarly, old vines are fascinating to look at. There’s lots of twists and dark, old-looking wood. The yields tend to shrink the older the vines are, so each vine is precious, as more vines are needed to make a single bottle of wine.
Lodi Zin thrives in the deep sandy loam soils common to the Mokelumne and Clements Hills appellations, and most of the older plantings are own-rooted. Below are a couple of Old Vine Zinfandels I was sent for review:
This wine is 85% Zinfandel with some Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in for good measure. The Mettler family has been farming in Lodi for six generations. Their vineyard lies in the “Epicenter” of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel district, hence the name. The grapes are organically grown. This wine is delightfully purple in color. The nose shows red plus black fruit (plums and prunes), black pepper, cedar, sweet vanilla, and molasses. There is an interesting earthy, smokey note. The palate: WOAH! Chocolate and coffee reign here. So much so that it almost feels like you are eating some sort of mocha dessert. Speaking of dessert, sometimes I opt to drink my dessert rather than eat it. I am not a huge dessert wine fan, so my dessert sometimes ends up being a nice, full, ripe dry red. This would be my “dessert” wine of choice. Oh and the finish on this wine….it never ends. A stellar showing for Old Vine Lodi Zin.
The grapes for this wine are from 60-70 year old vines in the Family Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi. This wine is medium garnet in color. So. Many. Raisins. Both on the nose and on the palate. Raisins almost always bring me to Old Vine Zin. Also, spice box (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), vanilla, leather/saddle, plus cocoa/mocha. This is a special wine to be enjoyed slowly.
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Lodi wines, as I have written multiple blog posts about the region (see HERE). I used to be a naysayer, but I have since visited Lodi multiple times and tasted many wines, not just the crap that’s sold at the grocery stores. What people might not know about Lodi is that they are one of the leaders in regards to sustainable winegrowing.
Last spring I participated in a Facebook Live virtual tasting of four Lodi wines all certified under the LODI RULES program. They also sent us a lovely wooden wine box that was to be reused as a windowsill garden with the Lodi Rules information printed on seed paper! The tasting was moderated by three Lodi locals who are involved in some way or another in the wine industry:
Stuart Spencer, Lodi Winegrape Commission
Aaron Shinn, local grower with Round Valley Ranch
What is LODI RULES?
LODI RULES is a third-party sustainable vineyard certification system that was launched in 2006 with five growers and covered 1,200 acres. The program is now over 100 growers and 36,000 acres are certified. The program promotes practices that enhance biodiversity, soil health and water cleanliness/purity and further encourages responsible farming by focusing on the community through land stewardship, employee training, and safety initiatives.
It has been described as “aggressive, progressive, and thorough”. The LODI RULES standards are the most thoroughly and rigorously vetted set of sustainability practices in California’s viticulture industry. This program goes WAY beyond certifying vineyards as organic. There is a LODI RULES seal (see below) that can be used if at least 85% of grapes in the wine come from certified vineyards. Overall, LODI RULES isn’t just about better grapes. It’s also about the people who work with the grapes and their well-being (particularly in reducing their exposure to harmful pesticides).
A stainless steel, cold fermented Sauvignon Blanc that checks all of the boxes. Aroma notes of citrus and tree fruits as well as some herbaceous and floral notes. On the palate, a range of fruits from citrus (lime) to tropical (melon and ripe pineapple).
Beautiful acidity and bright fruit, including citrus (tangerine, grapefruit), stone fruit (peach, apricot), and floral (orange blossom, honeysuckle) plus minerality and a flint note. This is exactly what I want in an Albariño. Young and bright with great acid.
THIS is what Lodi Zinfandel should be. Great fruit concentration and intensity without being overripe and/or jammy. The good acid cuts through the ripe, dark fruit. Lovely notes of red and black fruit (dark cherry, plum, blackberry jam), spice (black pepper plus baking spices), chocolate/mocha, and coffee.
A dark, brooding wine with 21 months in barrel. On the nose, great black fruit, black pepper, sweet, spices, and graphite. The palate also has chocolate/mocha, which give it a nice richness.
As happened last year, I am suffering from the post-WBC blues. A week ago I returned from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California. This was my second conference and the people I met and the connections I made were just as strong as last year at the Finger Lakes, NY conference. I had such a good experience at the conference last year and really ended up loving the region, the people, and the wines. So much so that I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the same experience in Lodi. I can attest that I did! The people are JUST as nice, and the wines, let me tell you about the wines!
When I tell people that I went up to Lodi for the Wine Bloggers Conference they get a funny look on their face (a smirk and a slightly upturned nose) and go “oh….Lodi”. The perception about Lodi is that it is too hot to make good wines, the only wines coming out of there are big jammy Zins, and that it’s only for big, commercial Central Valley operations. I can say with overwhelming conviction that is NOT the case. Are there bad wines made out of Lodi. Yes. Are there big jammy Zins made out of Lodi. Yes. Are there huge commercial/industrial operations in Lodi. Yes. But there are also dozens of other grape growers and winemakers who put out a fantastic, artisanal product that will blow your socks off.
I cannot even begin to tell you how incredible the people of Lodi are. Just about everywhere we went, we felt like we were being welcomed into people’s homes. And sometimes we were! The people we met were warm, welcoming, and proud. The people of Lodi are very proud of what they are doing. They know they are making good, honest, regional wine and have no qualms telling you about it. Lodi is an agricultural town. The growers are TRUE farmers, and many come from a long line of farmers. One grape grower we met was a 7th generation farmer in Lodi. We met MANY people who are 3rd and 4th generation….it was a running theme. These people have been working the land for well over 100 years.
I can go on and on about the people of Lodi, but what you’re really thinking is “can the wines back it up?”. And the answer is yes. There are over 100 varietals grown in Lodi, more than in any other AVA in California. And speaking of, Lodi is the largest AVA in California, with over 100,000 acres under vine. Aside from tasting some great Zinfandels, I also enjoyed Albarinos, Picpouls, Syrah, Grenache, Verdejo, Tempranillo, etc. They also make some amazing dry roses that were a perfect accompaniment to the hot! hot! hot! mid-afternoon vineyard walks.
As you can see, I was overwhelmingly satisfied with my exploration of Lodi, their wine, and their people. And I am not the only one. It is not a mistake the Wine Enthusiast named Lodi “Wine Region of the Year” for 2015. See article HERE. Being a wine blogger, I believe it is my duty to sing the unsung praises of the good people making honest wine around the world. Napa doesn’t need any help and there are plenty of vanity labels (Moet anyone?) who get touted the world round. That’s all great and it works for some, but I want to explore the rocks unturned. I want to talk to the people making wine like their grandpa used to make in their cellar. I want to drink the interesting wines that are indicative of a region and of a terroir, not the wines that taste like a big fat marketing budget went into the bottle. I want the wine to be about the juice. And I want to enjoy these wines with good, tenacious, and passionate people. I can say, without a doubt, that is what I experienced in Lodi, California.
Have you been to Lodi? If so, tell me about it in the comments section below! Did you have the same awesome experience I did?
Next week I'll share lots more from my trip to Lodi. Vineyard walks, winery tours, winemaker dinners, and all kinds of good stuff!
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:
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.
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.
My notes say “an absolutely pleasing palate. Nice Acid. Give me food.” Word.
Really lovely red fruit on this wine with a nice, clean medium finish.
Red and black fruit. Pepper and a slight taste of cocoa on the palate. This wine has the most complex palate of the three.
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.
Next week I will head up to my second Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC16) in Lodi, California. Last years conference was a whirlwind. I had started my blog and WSET Diploma classes not a month earlier. There was A LOT going on at one time, but I can say that my time at WBC15 in Finger Lakes, NY was eye-opening and inspiring!
Ok, back to Lodi! In 2015 Wine Enthusiast named Lodi the “Wine Region of the Year”. See article HERE. The goal of this annual award is to “recognize not only excellence in wine quality, but also innovation and excitement coupled with the courage to take risks and the skill to succeed”. What an honor for Lodi! I’m chomping at the bit to get up there in a few days and explore!
Now, let’s get ready for the Wine Bloggers Conference by exploring a unique project called Lodi Native. The goal of Lodi Native is to make minimalist (aka low-intervention) terroir driven Zinfandels in the Lodi and Mokelumne River sub-AVAs. Bottom line: to make simple, clean wines with a focus on the fruit that the earth provides.
So...how do you make low-intervention wines?
Well, you start with some rules. Ground rules for the Lodi Native winemakers include (these are simplified a bit than the full list, which can be found HERE):
1. Native yeast fermentation (native fermentations start spontaneously by ambient yeasts and can produce a wine with a wider range of flavors and characteristics; this is in contrast to inoculated fermentations that are initiated by the winemakers which can produce more stable and predictable wines)
2. No malo (malolactic fermentation is a when harsh malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid, adding flavor and complexity to the wine)
3. No acid adjustment (in warmer climates wines can be acidified because the acid levels in warm-climate grapes can be a bit low; acidification is considered a “correction” for grapes that were picked too ripe)
4. No new oak (new oak can impart flavors such as vanilla, coconut, and spice. Neutral oak or stainless steel tanks impart little to no additional “flavors”)
5. Pre-1962 Old Vines are preferred (the industry consensus is that older vines make better wines)
6. No de-alcoholizing (in warmer climates the alcohol levels in a wine can reach higher levels than in cooler climates)
7. No tannin additions (commercial tannins are made by extracting tannins from wood and then adding them to wine. This is in contrast to naturally occurring tannins that can be found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes)
8. No filtering/fining (filtering and fining can be done for aesthetic purposes to ensure the wine does not end up hazy or cloudy)
Who came up with this Lodi Native idea?
One man: Randy Caparoso. Randy is a full-time wine journalist who blogs HERE and who also consults with restaurants. He is an Editor-at-Large for the SOMM Journal and blogs for LodiWine.com. In Randy’s own words, the objective was to highlight heritage vineyards. According to him, it is the vineyards themselves that are the real “natives”.
What is Lodi Wine about?
Grapes have been growing in Lodi since the 1850s with old-vine Zinfandel as king. Lodi used to be known predominantly for selling grapes to winemakers in other regions, including: Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Valley. When consumers would see “Lodi” on the label, they would perceive the wine to be a big jammy fruit bomb. Consequently, Lodi (and the Central Valley) came to be know as a place where industrial wines are made: wines with a lot of intervention and tinkering. Within the last 10-15 years, Lodi has started to be known as a “destination” for wine. There are over 70 small boutique wineries in Lodi. Many of them are family-owned and have been making wine for generations. The vineyards have warm and welcoming tasting rooms onsite and tourism overall to Lodi has increased. This has incentivized the winegrowers to hold onto more of their grapes to be made into wine under their own label.
This blog post is just an amuse bouche...we are not delving into the wines just yet. In my next post I will share the wines with you and introduce you to the 6 winemakers who made this Lodi Native project come to life.
Layne Montgomery of M2 Wines
Stuart Spencer of St. Amant Winery
Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines
Michael McCay of McCay Cellars
Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines
Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards
Where do you get these wines?
These wines are available exclusively as a 6-pack from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Each 6-pack retails for $180.