Letters from Lodi
An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.
2 sisters + 1 cool dad at Sorelle Winery
The newly arrived Sorelle Winery is fashioning some of Lodi’s most exquisite wines…
Lodi’s verdant farmlands and vineyards stretch southwards all the way into Stockton zip codes; and one of the region’s newest, brightest, and (already!) multi-award winning stars is Sorelle Winery, located on Hwy. 88 near the Calaveras River, at the southeast corner of the Mokelumne River AVA, just south of Eight Mile Rd.
Sorelle is Italian for “sisters,” and in this case, there are two of them involved: Kim Scott, and her younger sibling, Melissa. But there is a man behind the women: it is their father, Mike Scott, who has done all the work building the winery and planting the vineyard for the benefit of these charming sisters, on a 4 acre site long known as “The Dodge House,” purchased by Mr. Scott in 2007. Very cool dad.
“I’ve been driving by this property practically everyday since I was a teenager,” says Scott, “and when I started looking for places in Lodi to build a winery, it had fortuitously become available.” The white paneled home sitting elegantly among the vines, with walnut and cherry orchards on each side, was originally built by Jonathan Holt Dodge in 1866, and is currently in the process of being lovingly restored by the Scotts. The Sorelle Winery and tasting room (open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, 11 AM-5 PM) behind the house was built to look as if it were erected in the exact same time period, although it was completed just this past August 2010, with a warm, natural, high arched interior paneled with 100 year old pine shelving. A must-see for Lodi wine lovers.
“The property was originally fertile fishing grounds for the Plains Miwok Indians, and around 1825 John C. Frémont, and his guide Kit Carson, were among the first Americans to camp out probably right here where we’re standing. The Dodge family also started a successful vineyard on the property, which was originally 900 acres, and it was planted with the help of George West, the pioneering grower who founded El Pinal Winery.
“The old vines I used to see in the front yard when I was a kid were torn out about ten years ago and planted to walnuts, but the first thing I did when I bought the property in 2007 was take out those trees, which were blocking the view of the house from the highway, and replant with Sangiovese and Barbera grapes.”
Why Italian varieties? “My wife Joanne is the Italian in the family, not me,” Scott tells us. “But we both felt that it should be Italian grapes defining the heritage we can pass on to our daughters. We already have a third generation — Melissa’s baby, Emma, is now one and a half!”
How much cooler can this story get? How about this: at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition this past January, two of the Scotts’ very first releases were singled out by those frightfully discriminating judges for a Gold Medal (the 2009 Sorelle Sangiovese) and a Bronze (the 2009 Sorelle Primitivo). That’s like an NFL or NBA expansion team capturing a world championship in the first year: it just doesn’t happen.* New wineries are supposed to put out funky wines of uneven quality while feeling their oats; not wines of startling focus, clarity and originality, which aptly describes what Sorelle is already producing.
Then again, for many a Lodi wine lover it’s what’s in the bottle that counts most, not so much this fuzzy feelgood wine country story. We don’t know the full story behind how Mike Scott has achieved so much success so fast. Insofar as what we do know, we’ve been warned, he’d have to kill us if we told. Therefore, suffice to say: across the board, what you find in the bottles under the elegantly composed Sorelle labels is absolutely fresh, cool and delicious. Tasting is believing, as gleaned through our tasting notes:
2009 Sorelle, Grazia Lodi Pinot Grigio ($16) – Pinot Grigio is Pinot Grigio. That is, until you’ve tasted Sorelle’s: fragrant with tropical fruit qualities and a pungent citrus (lime, tangerine, Mandarin orange) freshness; and on the palate, light, zesty, properly dry and flowing — as perfect a model of Pinot Grigio delicacy as those scarlet lips and darkened lashes on the archetypal face described in W.B. Yeats’ Before the World Was Made.
2009 Sorelle, Belleza Fra Lodi Barbera ($25) – This is the one Sorelle red that did not medal at the Chronicle Competition, and we’re mystified: it is so crisp and precise in pinpoint balance and varietal perfume, it makes you wanna cry. Luscious burst of dark cherry in the nose, subtly framed by sweet, polished, cinnamon spice-like French oak; fulfilled on the palate by a zesty medium body, fresh and mouthwatering, the crisp acidity and gentle fruit and oak tannins lending deft support to the sensuous fruit sensations. Belleza fra is Italian for “beauty within,” and it’s been a long time since we’ve experienced a Barbera with as much purity of fruit, and allowed to gaze at the grape’s compelling qualities (especially the zest and spiced black cherry notes) in almost naked hallelujah.
2009 Sorelle, Troppo Bella Lodi Sangiovese ($23) – We can see why the Troppo Bella (“too beautiful”) raked in a gold medal: it’s been hard as heck for any winery in California to make decent wine, let alone a delicious one, from this grape, transplanted almost kicking and screaming in New World soils. California grown reds made from Sangiovese are typically undernourished, brittle, and about as appetizing as shoe leather. Sorelle’s, on the other hand, is a crystal clear red and transparently varietal in the nose — of red rose petals, strawberry, crushed dried leaves, a drop of cranberry and the lightest green leafiness. These irrepressibly forward, seductive fruit qualities issue forth on the palate in a fine, zesty, feminine medium body — as bright and bubbly as a wine can get without having any bubbles. An Audrey Hepburn in the studded leather and stilettos she never really wore.
2009 Sorelle, Sorriso Lodi Primitivo ($22) – Primitivo is the anal twin sister of Zinfandel — genetically identical but more even ripening, hence never really prone to the often wild, unruly, straitjacket swings so typical of the Zinfandel grape — and Sorelle captures that discreet charm to perfection: a bright, flowery, red cherry fruit fragrance with just a touch of that varietal jamminess; sleek and medium-full on the palate, little tugs of French oak and natural fruit tannin in the middle, stretching out into a soft, silky, elongated finish with wisps of smoky wood at the end.
“Winemaking,” says Mr. Scott, with rather unconscious aplomb, “really is a gratifying art form.” And Lodi wine lovers are all the more grateful!
* Lodi’s McCay Cellars and Fields Family Wines also reaped Chronicle golds for their first releases, but we’re not counting them in this conversation since their principals honed home winemaking skills and grew wine grapes for years prior to starting their commercial ventures.