Lodi’s 2012 harvest thus far: ideal pace & patience
Although the Lodi vintners began picking white wine grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho in August, and Zinfandel as early as the first week of September, so far the 2012 harvest has been a little more mañana and a little less of the usual frenzied poco loco. There was a slight spike in activity in Lodi vineyards and wineries this past week (September 23-28), but so far vintage 2012 in Lodi Wine Country has been a surprisingly calm, methodical affair.
But like all vintages, there have been anomalies. Perhaps most unusual, much of the American Viticultural Area’s Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon — two grapes usually among the last to be picked — started coming in last week, whereas most of the Zinfandel is still on the vine. “Things have been coming in looking very good,” says Borra Vineyards winemaker Markus Niggli, “but not necessarily in the usual order.” Consequently, Harney Lane Winery, which held its second annual benefit Cancer Grape STOMP! this past Sunday (September 23), brought out Merlot rather than Zinfandel for folks to smash with their bare feet.
Meanwhile Michael David Winery quietly held a pause that refreshes: a very civilized Clam Bake on the winery grounds – sans beach sand and ocean spray (maybe next year – just a suggestion! – at least they’ll put down a beach volleyball pit), but with lots of shucked and steamed bivalves to go with a bevy of pure, fruit focused Lodi grown wines, crafted in the intense yet immensely approachable Michael David style (see photos below).
Macchia Wines winemaker/owner Tim Holdener described the sedate air around his winery along Peltier Rd. with this explanation: “2012 has been a very relaxing year for us because so far we’ve had no rot, no inclement weather, no major issues. The temperatures have been very moderate, with only one real hot spell, and most importantly, Zinfandels have been coming in with good cluster sizes and riper flavors than what we saw in the two previous vintages (2010 and 2011). Yet the acids have been very good, pHs moderately low, and sugar levels also reasonably low – comparable to the 2010 harvest, but for different reasons… we had much cooler weather in 2010.”
What’s been picked so far, according Holdener, has been “mainly dry farmed stuff with lighter crop loads, which have a tendency to ripen sooner.” Two weeks ago Holdener took his first load of Zinfandel grapes from the outer edges of Leland Noma’s Cemetery Vineyard (next to Lodi Cemetery on Victor Rd. – a vineyard Holdener also calls Noma Vineyard); and a second load, from slightly larger vines in the center of the vineyard, just yesterday (September 27). “Our vineyards with larger crop loads have been ripening at a slower pace,” says Holdener; adding, “by and large, Zinfandel vineyards east of Hwy. 99, have ripening faster than vineyards on the west side of town” – but not atypically, since the deeper, slightly sandier, more porous soils on Lodi’s east side tends to accelerate ripening every year.
According to Chad Joseph – who crafts Zinfandel for Harney Lane as well as Maley Brothers, Valhalla Cellars and Harmony Wynelands – so far 2012 has been marked by “ideal ripening weather.” Crop sizes, says Joseph, are “larger than the previous two years, and Mother Nature has been allowing us to get things ripe under fairly ideal conditions – shoot lengths were shorter and canopies not as vigorous as two previous years, and so vines were stressed a little earlier on, and given the signal to get grapes ripened a little sooner.”
As far as style, according to Mr. Joseph, the 2012 Lodi Zinfandels will be “back to the ripe luscious flavors, with some jamminess and spiciness, that Lodi has always been known for. They won’t be as lean as the past two years… more towards the opulent, fat, rich styles of the past.”
That said, yesterday (September 27) Joseph took his first two tons of Zinfandel from Todd Maley’s vineyard on N. Ray Rd., in the heart of Lodi’s west-side where wines Holdener describes as “voluptuous” are grown. Comparing the slightly smaller, darker berries from Maley’s 54 year old Zinfandel vines to the larger berried bunches coming off younger vines in Mohr-Fry Ranches, which also came in yesterday, Joseph told us, “although Maley is on the west side, there is probably a clonal difference accounting for the difference is cluster size… but then again, Maley has always been a special vineyard, giving us a particularly deep colored, rich, earthy and spicy style of Zinfandel.”
Also yesterday, Sorelle Winery’s estate grown Sangiovese was picked, which owner Mike Scott describes as “our best ever.” Sorelle is still a new kid on the block (their first leaf was 2009), but their wines have already won numerous awards (including a gold for their very first vintage of Sangiovese at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition). Says Mr. Scott, “even though we dropped a lot of fruit, we got the most intense flavors ever – small berries, great pH/acid balance, and sugars at about 25.5° Brix.”
Scott attributes Sorelle’s big quality push in 2012 to more aggressive vineyard practices. “This year we held back water early, and it made all the difference in the world – the grapes began their maturation process sooner, and as a result we’re getting more intense flavors and even better balance, even at over 5 tons per acre.”
Although the Barbera vines between Sorelle’s historic Dodge House (originally built in 1866) and the Calaveras River are also up to 25° Brix in sugar, Scott is going to give these grapes at least another week to hang – waiting for the pH to come down on these notoriously high-acid grapes.
And that’s been the story of the 2012 harvest so far: a diligent, and exacting, forbearance. As Holdener tells us, “this year Mother Nature has not only been kind, she has also been teaching us the meaning of patience – if anything, our biggest challenge so far has been just waiting… you wanna run out and get everything picked, but what’s the rush? So far I’ve been very impressed by 2012, but we’ll see how things go in October!”
Some scenes from Lodi Wine Country this past week: