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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
 
September 10, 2014 | Randy Caparoso

Snapshots of Lodi’s 2014 harvest: coming in fast and furious

Daybreak, September 6: consulting winemaker Heather Pyle (left) sorting through Acquiesce Vineyards Piquepoul Blanc pick

Daybreak, September 6: consulting winemaker Heather Pyle (left) sorting through Acquiesce Vineyards Piquepoul Blanc pick

The second week of September is usually when the California grape harvest is just getting started. This year, at this same time, many growers and vintners are saying that they are more than a third of the way through. Why the accelerated time table? Three things conspired to upset 2014's grape carts to some extent:

  • Spring bud break and flowering occurred two weeks (or more) ahead of normal, pushing up harvest dates accordingly.
  • Because grape vines respond to year-to-year variables, the larger than usual crop sizes of the two previous vintages (2012 and 2013) pre-ordained a more moderate sized crop in 2014 (manifested primarily in fewer and smaller clusters on the vines, and clusters with slightly smaller berries).
  • In vineyards that are typically deficit irrigated or close to dry farmed, the state-wide drought during most of the year has also had an effect on cluster and berry sizes, thus reducing tonnage.

Estate Crush’s Bob and Alison Colarossi, tasting their estate grown Stellina Zinfandel, just finishing native yeast open top fermentation on September 5th

Estate Crush’s Bob and Alison Colarossi, tasting their estate grown Stellina Zinfandel, just finishing native yeast open top fermentation on September 5th

And so, like seemingly every vintage, there are upsides and downsides to 2014. One downside is the fast and furious pace. According to Bob Colarossi, a managing partner at Lodi's Estate Crush (an urban custom crush facility, catering to over 60 clients): "This week we'll start to see everything coming in at once. We're still crushing Zinfandel, which is what you expect in mid-September, but we're also expecting some Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah – grapes that we usually don't see until October."

Adds Colarossi, "Sugars in grapes usually picked in October are already topping 25°, 26° Brix (i.e. sugar measurements) out in the fields. They're starting to get overripe, so there's a little bit of a scramble to get them picked right away. The problem for us, of course, will be space. Where do we put all this stuff?"

Like all wineries, Estate Crush is designed for grapes to arrive in somewhat orderly fashion. First, varieties like Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Chardonnay come in and out of the fermentation tanks. These are followed by earlier ripening red wine grapes such as Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Cinsaut; finishing up just in time for grapes like Petite Sirah, Syrah, Carignan, Merlot, and finally Cabernet Sauvignon at the very end. Also, vintners are accustomed to working 12 to 18-hour days during harvest. What they are not relishing is the prospect of 20 to 24-hour days to get everything processed at once.

Estate Crush’s Bob and Alison Colarossi, tasting their estate grown Stellina Zinfandel, just finishing native yeast open top fermentation on September 5th

September 5th: Klinker Brick winemaker Joseph Smith (right), sampling Schmierer Vineyard Zinfandel with Tierra Divina’s Patrick Campbell (producer of !ZaZin and REDS)

Ah, but there are ups to even the downsides. Walking through and tasting berries in a Zinfandel block farmed by Kenny Schmierer on Lodi's east side this past Friday (September 5), Klinker Brick winemaker Joseph Smith commented: "Sugars are hitting 24°, 25°, so it's time – these grapes need to be picked now, not next week. We're two weeks ahead of last year, but I'm wondering how much of the sugaring is due to dessication – grapes shriveling because of the drought, even though Kenny was smart enough to irrigate and keep everything from raisining.

Estate Crush’s Bob and Alison Colarossi, tasting their estate grown Stellina Zinfandel, just finishing native yeast open top fermentation on September 5th

August 26: Onesta winemaker/owner Jillian Johnson in Bechthold Vineyard

"We can deal with the raisining by just skipping over the clusters with an excess of dried up berries," added Smith. "The good thing is that when I'm tasting these smaller berries, I'm noticing a very meaty quality to the skins, and a richer than usual purple color when I'm spitting them out. The aromas, flavors and colors in red wines come from the skins, and so I'm suspecting that these grapes are going to make really good wine – better than most years."

During the third week of August, when picking Cinsaut for her rosé in the Bechthold Vineyard – Lodi's oldest continuously farmed growth (planted in 1886) – Onesta winemaker Jillian Johnson attributed 2014's lower yields mostly to the drought: "In the past we've gotten as much as 24 tons from the south end of Bechthold. This year that same block gave us just 7 tons. 2014 has been so dry, but that can be a good thing. This year we'll make wines that are more concentrated than usual. Our rosé will be rich in fruit, with a great backbone of acidity, and our reds will be deeper in color and sturdier in structure."

The universally revered Marian's Vineyard – ancient vine Zinfandel planted by Mettlers in 1901, and farmed today by Mohr-Fry Ranches – has a history of good, healthy yields in the 3 to 4 ton/acre range. Stuart Spencer, the St. Amant winemaker/owner who receives these grapes exclusively, reports that the quality of his two pickings (on September 4 and 9) were "great," but less than 2 tons/acre, primarily due to lighter cluster weights.

Craig Rous, an east-side Lodi farmer long known for his winemaker's mentality, talked about his Rous Vineyard Zinfandel as it was being picked for Lodi's Macchia Wines and McCay Cellars this past September 3: "You can clearly see that these old vines (planted in 1909) have much less growth than in years past. Canes are very short, but the fruit looks very good – it's just that there's not a lot of it. It's a good thing for the winemakers, because smaller cluster weights will produce Zinfandels with great colors and flavors. But it's not so good from my end, because yields are not so great."

Giving the winemaker's perspective, Michael McCay commented on the Rous Vineyard Zinfandel by noting the 2014 crop's "atypical elongated clusters – no jacks, almost no 'red berry' (i.e. berries with transparent red rather than opaque purplish colors, indicating weak, watery flavors), and very evenly ripened."

September 3: McCay Cellars’ Mike McCay (left) and grower Craig Rous (right) with Rous Vineyard Zinfandel

September 3: McCay Cellars’ Mike McCay (left) and grower Craig Rous (right) with Rous Vineyard Zinfandel

Macchia winemaker/owner Tim Holdener added: "I'm really excited about 2014 Rous. The shorter canes meant there was more sunlight on the grapes. Ripening was accelerated, but it's good to pick earlier. Overall, the Zinfandel has been reaching more mature levels at lower sugars than usual. We'll be able to produce more intense wines that are also more balanced, more refined – not so much the big alcohol monsters that have been associated with the appellation in the past."

Finally, one of the first Lodi Zinfandels to be picked in 2014 was the Stampede Vineyard – on August 25, and going mostly to the Sonoma based Bedrock Wine Company (with a smaller portion supplying Lodi's Fields Family Wines). "It's another vintage of the century," pronounced Bedrock owner/winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson, with tongue fixed squarely in cheek. "But really," added Twain-Peterson, "grapes are looking great – we're seeing really brown seeds and lignified canes, even at this early date."

In Bedrock's customary fashion, Twain-Peterson was aiming for sub-23° Brix for his 2014 Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel – a sugar level that, theoretically, gives more moderate alcohol (between 14% and 15%) and zestier acid balance. "We're in great shape," says Twain-Peterson, "the farming is really dialed in this year, thanks to the Perlegos brothers (Stampede Vineyard owners).” Everything, it seems, is turning into “Lodi gold!”

A few snapshots of the 2014 harvest thus far:

August 25: Jeff Perlegos with typically tiny Zinfandel cluster from his Stampede Vineyard

August 25: Jeff Perlegos with typically tiny Zinfandel cluster from his Stampede Vineyard

September 23: son of winemaker Michael Klouda taste-testing Schulenburg Vineyard Zinfandel

September 23: son of winemaker Michael Klouda taste-testing Schulenburg Vineyard Zinfandel

In Schulenburg Vineyard, Kristina Davey-Flores picks Zinfandel with her son

In Schulenburg Vineyard, Kristina Davey-Flores picks Zinfandel with her son

Ancient Zinfandel in Mohr-Fry Ranches’ Marian’s Vineyard (planted in 1901)

Ancient Zinfandel in Mohr-Fry Ranches’ Marian’s Vineyard (planted in 1901)

St. Amant’s Stuart Spencer checking on his Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel

St. Amant’s Stuart Spencer checking on his Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel

Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel going into destemmer in St. Amant Winery

Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel going into destemmer in St. Amant Winery

St. Amant crew doing final sorting of Marian’s Vineyard grapes

St. Amant crew doing final sorting of Marian’s Vineyard grapes

Screw feed in St. Amant Winery

Screw feed in St. Amant Winery

Screw feed pushing Zinfandel grapes into destemmer at St. Amant Winery

Screw feed pushing Zinfandel grapes into destemmer at St. Amant Winery

In Schmierer Vineyard: smaller, slightly shriveled Zinfandel cluster, typical of the 2014 harvest

In Schmierer Vineyard: smaller, slightly shriveled Zinfandel cluster, typical of the 2014 harvest

August 20: third week of Chardonnay harvest in Phillips Farms’ Bare Ranch (for Michael David Winery)

August 20: third week of Chardonnay harvest in Phillips Farms’ Bare Ranch (for Michael David Winery)

August 29: Mokelumne Glen Vineyard Gewurztraminer harvest for Borra Vineyards

August 29: Mokelumne Glen Vineyard Gewurztraminer harvest for Borra Vineyards

Fantastically fragrant, pink Gewurztraminer grapes in Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Fantastically fragrant, pink Gewurztraminer grapes in Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Mokelumne Glen Vineyard owner/grower Bob Koth

Mokelumne Glen Vineyard owner/grower Bob Koth

Rare, zesty, minerally Kerner grapes in Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Rare, zesty, minerally Kerner grapes in Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Borra winemaker Markus Niggli tasting Kerner grapes

Borra winemaker Markus Niggli tasting Kerner grapes

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut harvest

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut harvest

Alison Colarossi punching down her fermenting Stellina Zinfandel at Estate Crush

Alison Colarossi punching down her fermenting Stellina Zinfandel at Estate Crush

At m2 winery, grape skins of just-drained Zinfandel fermentor, headed for pressing

At m2 winery, grape skins of just-drained Zinfandel fermentor, headed for pressing

At Watts Family, winemaker Franck Lambert pauses for Kodak moment while punching down his fermenting Pescador Vineyard Zinfandel

At Watts Family, winemaker Franck Lambert pauses for Kodak moment while punching down his fermenting Pescador Vineyard Zinfandel

Discarded stems and grapes at McCay Cellars destemmer

Discarded stems and grapes at McCay Cellars destemmer

m2 winemaker/owner Layne Montgomery thieving sample of 2014 Zinfandel

m2 winemaker/owner Layne Montgomery thieving sample of 2014 Zinfandel

Early morning harvest in Acquiesce Vineyards

Early morning harvest in Acquiesce Vineyards

Rare, lemony crisp Piquepoul grapes in Acquiesce Vineyards

Rare, lemony crisp Piquepoul grapes in Acquiesce Vineyards

Hand picking of Acquiesce Vineyards Piquepoul

Hand picking of Acquiesce Vineyards Piquepoul

Acquiesce Vineyards Grenache Blanc clusters

Acquiesce Vineyards Grenache Blanc clusters

Classic black skinned Grenache being harvested in Manaserro Vineyard, planted in the early 1930s

Classic black skinned Grenache being harvested in Manaserro Vineyard, planted in the early 1930s

Close-up of Manaserro Grenache cluster from 80-year old vines

Close-up of Manaserro Grenache cluster from 80-year old vines

Third generation Lodi grower Leonard Manassero with his ancient vine Grenache

Third generation Lodi grower Leonard Manassero with his ancient vine Grenache

Retired discs in Manassero Vineyard

Retired discs in Manassero Vineyard

Browned tendrils in Manaserro old vine Zinfandel block

Browned tendrils in Manaserro old vine Zinfandel block

Gopher holes as massive as the trunks of these 105-year Zinfandel vines in Rous Vineyard

Gopher holes as massive as the trunks of these 105-year Zinfandel vines in Rous Vineyard

Delta Packing Co. field-packing Cabernet Sauvignon for table market

Delta Packing Co. field-packing Cabernet Sauvignon for table market

Lodi Gold Cabernet Sauvignon, freshly field-packed by Delta Packing Co.

Lodi Gold Cabernet Sauvignon, freshly field-packed by Delta Packing Co.

Another Delta Packing Co. label: Smiling Baby!

Another Delta Packing Co. label: Smiling Baby!

September 5: Macchia’s Tim Holdener being interviewed by KCRA-TV’s Tamara Berg in his “Oblivious” Zinfandel vineyard (nearly “forgotten” ancient vines on Lodi’s east side)

September 5: Macchia’s Tim Holdener being interviewed by KCRA-TV’s Tamara Berg in his “Oblivious” Zinfandel vineyard (nearly “forgotten” ancient vines on Lodi’s east side)

Picker in Stampede Vineyard demonstrating his picking knife sharpening technique

Picker in Stampede Vineyard demonstrating his picking knife sharpening technique

Bedrock Wine Company’s Morgan Twain-Peterson with Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel

Bedrock Wine Company’s Morgan Twain-Peterson with Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel

Picking tiny 2014 Zinfandel clusters in Stampede Vineyard

Picking tiny 2014 Zinfandel clusters in Stampede Vineyard

Classic old Mission grapes being field picked with Stampede Zinfandel

Classic old Mission grapes being field picked with Stampede Zinfandel

Rare, later ripening Dolcetto grapes in Celle Vineyard, farmed by Klinker Brick in the south-east corner of the Lodi AVA

Rare, later ripening Dolcetto grapes in Celle Vineyard, farmed by Klinker Brick in the south-east corner of the Lodi AVA

In St. Jorge Winery, proprietor Vern Vierra entertains visitors with barrel tasting

In St. Jorge Winery, proprietor Vern Vierra entertains visitors with barrel tasting

Just-picked Verdelho grapes at St. Jorge Winery

Just-picked Verdelho grapes at St. Jorge Winery

Full clusters of St. Jorge grown Verdelho going directly into bladder press

Full clusters of St. Jorge grown Verdelho going directly into bladder press

At St. Jorge Winery, Verdelho being packed into the press

At St. Jorge Winery, Verdelho being packed into the press

Just-pressed St. Jorge Verdelho juice, headed for fermentor

Just-pressed St. Jorge Verdelho juice, headed for fermentor

Michael David President/owner David Phillips leading tasting

Michael David President/owner David Phillips leading tasting

At Harney Lane Winery, visitors enjoying tastes of Lodi

At Harney Lane Winery, visitors enjoying tastes of Lodi

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