Lodi – Reinvention from Within.
The Lodi AVA is often described as the engine room of the American wine business, but for many wine critics, the mention of Lodi Zinfandel brings to mind hugely alcoholic, sweet red wines that are too big for any serious wine lover to consider as an accompaniment to food.
In a blind tasting, they’re relatively easy to pick out with their characteristic “fly-tox” nose, sweet and super-ripe palate and low acidity. Certainly that was my perspective as I have encountered many nameless Lodi Zinfandel wines in blind tastings over the last 25 years.
The good news is that there is a movement to reinvent Lodi Zinfandel and other wines from the region. If you haven’t been there, it’s worth planning a couple of days, as there are dozens of wineries and a diverse range of quality wines to be sampled.
When John Tilson’s Wine Underground newsletter on the Lodi Native Zinfandel program arrived in my inbox on November 22nd, I welcomed an opportunity to visit some of the founders of the movement on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
Lodi – the Engine Room of the US Wine Industry
Lodi is home to over 80 wineries, hundreds of wines declaring Lodi as place of origin, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes. Lodi is also the home of highly acclaimed Old Vine Zinfandels, with some plantings dating back to 1888.
These vines, many of which are still planted on their own roots, are naturally low yielding, due to their age and consistently produce high quality fruit.
It’s been said that Lodi fruit finds it’s way into some of the wines produced in every winegrowing region in the USA. That’s quite believable.
The region produces more than 100 grape varieties that produce delicious full-flavored varietal wines.
Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World producing over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel.
The Lodi Native Program
The goals of the Lodi Native Program are:
- To demonstrate to more sophisticated consumers, media (print and blogosphere) and gatekeepers (such as specialty retailers and sommeliers/restaurateurs) that distinguished, distinctly identifiable vineyards exist in Lodi, similar to other great wine regions of the world.
- To encourage preservation and appreciation of old vine plantings – well as of Lodi’s long tradition of grower/custodians – by focusing more attention on vineyard sites, vis-à-vis real and tangible sensory expressions in each bottling.
- To build professional camaraderie, a culture of information sharing, and new challenges for Lodi’s Zinfandel specialists.
Lodi Native Winemaking Protocols
- 100% Zinfandel bottling’s from a single contiguous vineyard (exception: old vine plantings with long established field mixes) located within the Lodi AVA.
- Preference for established “old vine” plantings (i.e. pre-1962), with exceptions made for distinctive younger plantings.
- Native yeast (non-inoculated) fermentations only.
- No use of oak chips, dust or similar amendments.
- No acidification or de-acidification.
- No new oak or use of inner staves in aging process.
- No water addition or de-alcoholizing measures.
- No tannin additions.
- No inoculation for malolactic fermentation.
- No use of Mega-Purple or other concentrate products.
- No filtering or fining.
- No must concentration, Flash Détente or similar extraction measures
- Proposed-cuvées are to be submitted by each producer for sensory evaluation and subsequent approval of entire group.
- Preference for vineyards certified by Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing and/or CCOF
First up at 11AM on the day after Thanksgiving we arrived at M2. The rusty steel-walled tasting room with corrugated iron roof is iconic and architect designed. The shortcomings of the steel walls became apparent as a limo with 8 people arrived and then a bus with 12 people and the din made it difficult to hear cellar staff speaking.
The wines however, were of high quality and consistency.
2014 Viognier 14.6%
Lovely apricot nose, sweet ripe, long, lovely
Alicante Bouchet 13.7%
Lively, bright, good acidity, nice drinking now
2013 Weigat Zinfandel 14.7%
Nose; candied fruit, ripe, typical, sweet and easy drinking.
2013 M2.1 Zinfandel 14.5%
Lighter color, peppery nose, lovely acidity and great length, delicious.
2013 Old Vine Zinfandel, Souci Vineyard 14.5%
Jammy, perfumed, long fine tannins, not at all out of balance, lovely.
2013 Lodi Native Zinfandel Souci Vineyard 15.6%
Ripe, dark fruit, concentrated, lovely acidity, long finish, fine tannin, balanced. Surprising how balanced this wine is at this level of ripeness.
Clockstopper Shiraz-Tempranillo 15%
Candied red fruits on nose, easy drinking style.
If you like big, ripe, over-the-top wines, then Macchia is the place for you. I tasted a selection of their more than 20 wines. They have a loyal cadre of followers and a welcoming homely tasting room. A very interesting array of Italian varietals at ripeness levels I have never seen before.
2012 Sangiovese Amador, 15.1%
Super ripe, slight aniseed, light tannin, low acidity and drink now style.
2013 Lodi Barbera 15.4%
Delicious, very ripe, sweet, low acid, delicious
2013 Amador Barbera Cooper: 15.5%
Bright, Complex, wild brambles on nose, high acidity, amazing at this ripeness.
2013 Amador Barbera, Linstead Vineyard 15.1%
Bright, sweet, balanced, delicious
2014 Zinfandel Lodi (Ambitious) 15.8%
Big, bright, jammy, balanced, lovely at this alcohol – surprisingly drinkable.
2014 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel (Mischievous) 15.8%
High alcohol evident on nose, concentrated old vines, sweet, balanced, no tannin, long finish.
2013 Zinfandel Lodi Native 15.9%
Super-ripe, sweet red fruit on the nose, low tannin, long finish, delicious Lodi Zinfandel 2013 Lodi 100-YO 15.1% (Luxurious)
Concentrated, perfumed and tart cherries on nose and palate, mouth filling intensity and old vine complexity, lovely, long, amazingly balanced.
Fields Family Wines
The Fields Family winery is a little off the beaten track, but well worth seeking out. Michael Perry was our host and we were impressed with the quality and intensity of these wines at moderate alcohol levels. None of these wines lacked ripeness, or balance, which begs the question, why make wines at 15.5+% when they are perfectly balanced at 14%? We had an Australian clone Shiraz open over a 3-day period and it was fine on day 3 when we finished it. I recommend decanting these wines an hour or two before you plan to drink them.
2014 Viognier 14.1%
Intense, candied orange peel and apricot on nose, clean, long, lovely acidity, doesn’t get much better.
2012 Sherman Old Vine Zinfandel: 14.8%
Aniseed and dark fruit on nose, lovely acidity, lighter style, delicious now.
2013 Lodi Native, Old Vine Zinfandel: Stampede Vineyard, (Clements Hills) 13.9%,
Lighter color, concentrated blueberry flavors, plenty ripe, long, newer style–balanced, lovely.
2012 Shiraz: Australian clone 14%
Perfumed, ripe, blackcurrant and spice, fine tannins, long finish–delicious.
2012 Syrah: 14.5%
Lighter color deep purple red, some pepper on nose, lovely rich round, some oak, balanced, lovely.
2012 Vin du Sol: GSM 14.5%
Light red color with a tinge of purple, lovely, round, long, drink now.
2013 Tempranillo: 14.5%
Neutral nose, intense dark black fruits on palate, long complex tannic structure, delicious
2009 Mt. Veeder Cabernet 14%
Dense, dark color, typical Cabernet nose of capsicum and spearmint followed by some blueberry. Plenty of structure and acidity, delicious.
If you are into Port and Vintage Port in particular, then St. Amant is a must visit. The tasting room itself is pretty rustic, but the Ports are the best I have tasted in California.
Medium body, ripe, round, delicious
Old Vine Zinfandel: 14.7%
Lovely, ripe, intense, long, balanced, delicious
Zinfandel 100-year-old Marion 14.5%
Complex, long, chewy tannins, delicious
Jammy nose, dark berry fruit, intense palate and long finish, delicious
Vintage Port: A blend of Bastardo, Touriga, TInta Cao, Tinta Roriz & Souzau
Nose slightly oxidized as it had been open for a few days. Palate sweet, explosive, long and lovely – fantastic VP
Vintage Port: Bootleg
Another stunning vintage port. I love everything about this wine from the spicy sweet rich nose to the incredible length and fine brandy spirit. Stunning.
A wonderful rancio nose, light caramel color flows onto a smooth, long and intense palate with a finish that never quits. Gorgeous
The author at McCay Cellars.
This tasting room is in the Eastern suburbs of Lodi and is more like a wine-bar than a tasting room. Looked to be 30+ people settled in for the afternoon when we visited, our last stop of the day. I was pretty fatigued at this point after a big Thanksgiving, so tasting notes truncated.
2014 Lodi Viognier 14.1%
Lovely nose, apricots, clean, dry, straightforward.
2012 Zinfandel Trulux: 14.6%
Sweet, slightly off-nose, spice and raspberry on nose and chocolate on palate, nice length.
2011 Zinfandel Contention 80 YO vines
More extracted, high acidity, earthy, complex, long, lovely – a classic.
2011 Cabernet Franc: 14.3%
Fragrant, elegant, loads of acidity, chewy finish, needs time.
2013 Tempranillo: 14.1%
Ripe dark berry fruit– tannic, long finish, good acidity, needs time.