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The LoCA Life & Times

In Lodi, wine comes first. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Meet the passionate people behind our handcrafted wines and gnarly old vines.

Randy Caparoso
 
August 17, 2010 | Randy Caparoso

The Farmer Is the Man

Wine:30 Harney Lane clubbers

Wine:30 Harney Lane clubbers

Harney Lane's wines son más caliente que una pistola

Lodi wine lovers are funny people (like the Wine:30 Harney Lane clubbers pictured to the above). On one hand, they pride themselves on knowing good wine when they drink it — don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows – while grousing about the fact that for too long wines from Lodi have been associated with jug wines, even though all along wineries from other regions have been buying Lodi grapes and sneaking them into their ultra-premium wines.

On the other hand, the Lodi insiders like to keep their secrets: like Harney Lane, one of Lodi's newest wineries (founded in fall of 2008), now producing some of the best wines to ever come out of this old region. Just ask the persnickety judges from the 2009 San Francisco International Wine Competition, who awarded the 2007 Harney Lane Lizzy James Zinfandel a "double gold" (twice as good as a single one, we guess).

Of course, this immediately caused the '07 Lizzy James to be sold out, which wasn't hard to do since only about a couple hundred cases were made. Oh, but wait… Harney Lane's 2008 Lizzy James has just been released, and it may very well be even better than the '07: oodles and poodles of thick, sumptuous, black velvet canvassed flavors suggesting blackberries and luxury chocolate with swirls of vanilla and s'mores. Unfortunately, barely 300 cases of the '08 Lizzy went into bottle, which no doubt will soon have the Lodi insiders are screaming for s'more (now that we've let the cat out of the bag).

[ TASTE LODI! 2008 Harney Lane Zinfandel ]

So what's the story behind this latest sensation? When you meet with the Harney Lane owners, Jorja and Kyle Lerner, the last thing you think is "cult wine producer." You know the kind – with the jillion dollar homes the size of gymnasiums, sitting atop hills overlooking Napa Valley and filled with original art and first run books by 16th century Italian poets, and such. Yet Jorja and Kyle are very comfortable in their element — a spanking new, little winery and tasting room set among a shady old grove of trees alongside their vineyard (typical of Lodi – vines as old as 103 years!).

Wine:30 Harney Lane clubbers

Who wouldn't buy a zin from this couple (Harney Lane's Jorja and Kyle Lerner)?

His background was in business and finance, and her specialty was in physical therapy, but with one hitch: Jorja is also an only child of George and Kathleen Mettler, co-owners of Harney Lane, who can trace their own Lodi lineage back to great grandparents who arrived in Lodi at the turn of the last century. Jorja says that originally she didn't want to marry another farmer, but she ended up with one anyway because Kyle recognized the old family business of tending to ancient vines in such beautiful terroir for what it is: like sitting on a pot of gold.

So rolling up his sleeves, Kyle transformed himself from mild mannered businessman to super-farmer, and he now manages 100 acres of the family's own vineyards, plus another 450 acres belonging to about forty other old timers — some of these blocks as small of 9 acres, other as large as 100. While Harney Lane as a winery (at 9010 E. Harney Lane) is one of Lodi's newest, like over 80% of Lodi's wineries, it is 100% owned by the same farmers who have been nurturing this rich land for a hundred years or more.

Harney Lane Winery

Harney Lane Winery

Here's the kicker: out of all the vineyards the Lerners currently control, only about 3% of it goes into Harney Lane wines (the rest, mostly to the usual big producers). That's why the wines of Harney Lane are so damned good: the Lerners essentially scrape off the cream of the crop to fashion their ultra-powerful Zinfandels, their lusty, blueberry pie-ish Petite Sirah, and for further kicks and grins, a little bit of wild honey-fresh, minerally and bone dry white wine made from the Spanish grape called Albariño.

Who needs cult wine, when the real thing is here in Lodi!

When Harney Lane throws parties, you get the whole brick (oven) and kaboodle...

When Harney Lane throws parties, you get the whole brick (oven) and kaboodle...

 

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