Giant leap taken by Lodi wines at 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competiton
This year wines with Lodi on the label took home a total of 201 medals: 36 of them gold medals; and out of those, 3 earning double-golds (meaning, unanimously proclaimed gold medal winners within their respective judging committees). Compare this to last year's SFCWC, when Lodi wines received 19 golds (including 3 double-golds); or the 2012 competition, when Lodi also took 19 golds (with 2 double-golds).
How stiff was the competition? The San Francisco Chronicle's annual wine judging has grown to be the largest in the U.S. This year, 60 judges examined a record number of 5,825 entries, submitted by over 1,500 wineries located in over 25 states. California wineries, of course, dominate the entries; but these judges are obviously being called upon to examine wines representing a huge range of styles and terroirs.
But it isn't just the sheer number of wines and styles involved. The Chronicle's professional wine judges are also among the most respected in the world. Jessica Altieri, CEO of Wine Channel TV in Chicago, was one of those judges; commenting, “The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition represents all that is good in the world of wine today… it is a 'Super Bowl'-like opportunity for wine brands and winemakers, small and large, to present their wines to a 'tasting palate' of judges that is second to none!”
So the question begs: is the growing success of Lodi wines in the 2014 competition a sign that there is more acceptance of Lodi style wines, or just the fact that there are more and better Lodi wines than ever before? We suspect that all of these factors are playing a part.
For example, by far the most successful Lodi winery at this year's competition was Peirano Estate Vineyards. Peirano garnered no less than 5 golds for their Syrah (also a double-gold winner), their Rhône style red wine blend (bottled as The Unknown), their Merlot, their Chardonnay, and a Bordeaux style red (a 50% Cabernet Sauvignon blend called The Other). Absolutely none of these are wines that could be described as "big" or "powerful." Instead, they are reflections of the philosophy of Peirano owner/grower Lance Randolph – whose family has been presiding over this estate since its founding in the 1890s – who stubbornly clings to the quaint, old fashioned idea that wines should be brightly fruited yet well balanced, smooth drinking, and moderately scaled – not ultra-ripe, super-jammy, oaky or high in alcohol.
Ironically, the persnickety judges at the San Francisco Chronicle competition – ever-conscious of prevailing contemporary styles – have finally come around to Randolph's restrained, fruit-first approach. Peirano's old school wines have suddenly become hip – the cutting-edge of California winemaking!
What's also not being lost upon examination of the 2014 results is the fact that the judges are also coming around to the fact that Lodi does not produce the type of fat, flabby, tutti-fruity wines associated with "hot" winegrowing regions. First of all, it's a bad rap: Lodi's climate is in the exact same range as mid-Napa Valley, much of Sonoma County and Paso Robles, and even large portions of Santa Barbara where very respectable wines are being grown.
Secondly, both Lodi growers and winemakers have awoken to the fact that the Delta is extremely conducive to classic wine grapes: the region now grows the largest range of Vitis vinifera in the world, and wineries inside and outside Lodi are mining it like, well, "gold" (as in gold medal winners).
Hence, two of the Lodi grown "Best of Class" winners at the 2014 competition (wines elevated by the judges as the absolute best in their respective categories):
- 2012 Estate Crush Albariño
- 2010 Magnavino Lodi Petite Sirah
Magnavino Cellars is a winery located in Oxnard, California. This is a long haul from Lodi, but evidently they are smart enough to know that Lodi is a great place for growing Petite Sirah. In fact, Magnavino also took home a Chronicle gold for their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, also grown in Lodi.
Estate Crush is a custom crush winery located closer to home, in Downtown Lodi; where owners Nick and Sandy Sikeotis and Bob and Alison Colarossi produce wines for multiple commercial brands as well as for their own label. Their own 2012 Estate Crush Albariño has the pedigree – sourced from Bokisch Ranches' Terra Alta and Vista Luna Vineyards – and this white wine is a literal spring bouquet of white peach, lemony citrus, lavender, and breakfast plantain, wrapped in dry, minerally, and yes, moderately scaled sensations, just the way the San Francisco judges like it.
The two other Lodi grown 2014 double-gold winners actually came from wineries located outside of the region: a 2012 Cabana Lodi Sauvignon Blanc, produced by a tiny urban winery located in Sacramento; and a 2012 Truckee River Lodi Zinfandel ($20-$24.99 category), produced by a winery founded to take advantage of the cold weather in Truckee, California (presumably ideal for fermentation and barrel aging) – 5,817-feet high up in the Sierra Nevadas!
Zinfandel, of course, is the longtime Lodi signature grape. Michael David's Earthquake Zinfandel ($25-$29.99 category) took a gold – demonstrating once again that it is entirely possible to produce a balanced style of Zinfandel in a full bodied, richly oaked style. You just have to be good at it, like the Phillips family and their crack team of winemakers.
Still, a glimpse at other gold medal winning Lodi Zinfandels also tells you that, more and more, judges are looking for less than full bodied, and more fruit forward, styles of wine, with even a little earthiness in the aromas and flavors (not unusual for Lodi, given the region's deep sandy loam soils and plethora of deep rooted old vines). Lodi's gold medal Zinfandels, along with the price categories in which they were judged:
- 2012 Barsetti Lodi Zinfandel (up to $19.99)
- 2011 d'Art Lodi Zinfandel ($25-$29.99)
- 2012 Gnarly Head Lodi Zinfandel (up to $19.99)
- 2010 Ironstone Rous Vineyard Reserve Lodi Zinfandel ($25-$29.99)
- 2010 The Lucas ZinStar Lodi Zinfandel ($35-$35.99)
- 2011 Michael David Lust Zinfandel ($50 and over)
- 2012 Rampage Lodi Zinfandel (up to $19.99)
- 2011 Scotto Lodi Zinfandel (up to $19.99)
- 2012 St. Amant Marian's Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel ($20-$24.99)
- 2010 Tumble Lodi Zinfandel (produced at Estate Crush; $25-$29.99))
- 2011 Van Ruiten Family Lodi Zinfandel (up to $19.99)
- 2011 Klinker Brick Old Ghost Lodi Zinfandel ($35-$39.99)
Other gold medal winning wines inviting remarks:
- The 2012 LangeTwins Family Lodi Sauvignon Blanc continues to prove to the world that Lodi's sandy soils and Mediterranean climate are ideal for white wine grapes.
- As it has in past competions, the 2011 Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah impressed the judges with its rich, full yet fluidly balanced qualities.
- Special kudos go to Estate Crush for golds bestowed upon six other wines produced and bottled by their team under different brand names; including a 2012 Giovinazzo Lodi Barbera Bianca (a tart edged, bone dry, pale orange "pink"), an earthy, easy going 2010 Robert Lauchland Jubilee Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, a more sinewy textured 2011 Twisted Roots Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2011 Hunters Oak Lodi Petit Verdot, and a 2010 Hunters Oak Lodi Grenache.
- Most people wouldn't think of Lodi as a place for Pinot Noir, but we do have our gold medalists; especially considering the fact that judges are putting more value on clarity of varietal character to go along with moderate weight – hence, the gold medal winning 2012 Grady Family Lodi Pinot Noir (still another wine produced at Estate Crush), as well as the value priced (less than $9) 2012 Harlow Ridge Lodi Pinot Noir.
- A more mature 2008 Jessie's Grove Lodi Carignane, produced from downright ancient vines (planted in 1889), snuck in with a gold – which goes to show that even old guys can still shimmy like a sister Kate!
Needless to say, in wine competitions like the San Francisco Chronicle's there is often just a hair's qualitative difference between, say, gold medal and silver medal winners. Silver medal wines are generally considered of "excellent" quality by competition judges because even they know that within committees there often is just one judge holding a wine back from a gold. In other words, luck of the draw plays its part; not to mention the vagaries of what happens when people are tasting up to 100 wines a day. As in all competitions, the process is imprecise; but that's wine for you – just like baseball, love and life, chips fall where they will.
As it were, out of the 201 medals accorded to Lodi grown wines in 2014, 105 of the wines were silver medal winners, compared to 57 bronze medal winners: in other words, skewed more towards the higher than lower side, at least in the estimation of the 2014 judges. To paraphrase Sally Fields, they like us!
For a full listing, please visit the SFCWC's page on 2014 Medal Winners, and…
A big congratulations to all of Lodi's award winning producers!