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.
2013 harvest continues (Kerner, Albariño, and Cinsaut from Lodi’s oldest vineyard)
Yesterday (August 21, 2013) Borra Vineyards picked their Kerner grapes, which are grown by Brett Koth at his family’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, tucked into the tip of the Mokelumne River’s “Peninsula” (where the river bends into an upside-down u-shape, on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA). The Lodi AVA‘s Mokelumne Glen, for the record, cultivates the most extensive collection of German and Austrian grapes (over 40 varieties, whites and reds) on the entire West Coast.
Kerner, in case you’re also wondering, is a white wine grape of German origin – a crossing of Riesling and another grape called Trollinger. Borra’s crafty winemaker, Markus Niggli, blends Kerner with smaller percentages of Riesling (also grown by the Koths) to produce a fantastically crisp, light, dry and lemony/minerally/apple-fresh white wine under the winery’s “Artist” label. We recently named the 2012 Borra Artist Series Lodi White Wine ($18) as one of the 10 Most Interesting Wines of Lodi.
While tasting the Kerner being harvested at 6:00 in the morning by the Borra picking crew, led by longtime Borra vineyard manager Manuel Maldonado, Mr. Niggli expressed his enthusiasm for the earlier-than-than-usual 2013 harvest. “Kerner is as bright and clean as we’ve ever seen it – in perfect shape, no mold, just right. The grapes have more acid than the 2012, and all the fresh Kerner fruit flavors are there, at just around 22.5° Brix (i.e. sugar readings by percentage).
“A lot of the quality has to do with the way Brett manages the vineyard. The vines are very healthy, he uses no sulfur, and this year he’s kept all the pests under control, even with organic practices.
“Kerner,” adds Niggli, “is one of the grapes that we believe will put Lodi on the map as a great region for white wines. A lot of people wouldn’t expect it because of all the prejudice against the region, yet we are making beautifully fresh, light, dry white wines from these grapes. I’d put them up against any other California whites. On top of that, we are making these wines out of grapes from Germany!”
Earlier this week – this past Monday, August 19 – Turley Wine Cellars winemaker/vineyard manager Tegan Passalacqua was also extolling the prowess of Lodi’s growers during his break-of-dawn picking of the Bechthold Vineyard. Bechthold is the oldest continuously farmed vineyard in the Lodi AVA: planted by Joseph Spenker in 1886, and still proudly owned by Spenker descendant Wanda Woock Bechthold.
All 25 acres of the Bechthold Vineyard is planted to the Southern French grape known as Cinsaut (also spelled Cinsault); and as such, is undoubtedly the oldest, not to mention most coveted, Cinsaut planting in the world.
Turley produces an irresistibly luscious, slinky, fruit-forward red wine from the Bechthold grown Cinsaut. While checking out the large-berried clusters being hand picked by the Phillips Farms vineyard crew (since 2008 Bechthold Vineyard has been leased to Michael David Winery’s viticultural arm, and is now farmed by Michael David V.P. of Operations Kevin Phillips 100% organically), Passalacqua told us, “The Cinsaut is outstanding this year, primarily because the vines are healthier than they’ve ever been. Kevin has really styled the vineyard out.
“Keep in mind that 2013 has been one of the most stressful years we’ve ever seen in terms of heat, and it’s our earliest pick yet (Turley’s previous earliest pick of Bechthold Vineyard was August 29).
“This year we’re seeing the most acidity preserved in the Cinsaut yet. In most years we’re picking as soon as we start to see the acidity drop. This year we haven’t had to worry about that – we’re picking at the sugar level we like (Passalacqua estimated the Bechthold Cinsaut’s sugar last Monday as being around 22.4°, 22.5° Brix). I attribute this to healthy grapes, and the healthiest grapes come from organic farming. I don’t care what you say, organic winegrowing works!”
Earlier in the day this past Monday – starting at 2 AM, and working under portable field lights until the 6:20 AM sunrise – the Bokisch Ranches crew was out in the rolling hills of their Borden Ranch AVA growth, Vista Luna Vineyard, hand picking Pinot Noir (at lower sugars for sparkling wine producers) as well as Albariño for their multiple winery/clients.
Like other Lodi growers, Bokisch Ranches is running 10 days to two weeks ahead of most vintages; but not because of the rash of 100°-plus days this summer, but because bud break and flowering this past spring was 10 days to two weeks earlier than usual.
As we get deeper into the vintage, winegrower Markus Bokisch will undoubtedly take a few minutes out of one of his sleep-deprived days to update us on the particulars of harvest 2013 thus far. Meanwhile, we have a few vivid pictures to share, each telling a thousand words of their own: