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.
27 reasons to be at Treasure Island fest
Lodi Wine Country returns to San Francisco Bay this coming Saturday, October 8, 2011 (1 to 5 PM) at the Treasure Island WineFest, where over 45 of Lodi’s finest producers will be pouring over 200 Lodi AVA grown wines. Advanced purchase tickets are now on sale at tiwinefest.com for $55 (tickets at the door are $65, and just $25 for designated drivers).
Here’s your chance to experience the best of Lodi in the spectacular setting of Treasure Island off the picturesque Bay Bridge — one great reason for you need to be there… and here are 27 more:
An Abundance of richness… We suggest starting off your Treasure Island adventure with a sip of the 2010 Abundance Vineyards Bountiful Blanc, which garnered “Best of Lodi” honors at the 2011 California State Fair. What wowed the descriminating judges? The luxurious, seductive taste of this off-dry white wine, dripping with lemony crisp, exotically scented fruitiness.
Mi casio, Nicasio… that is, Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. in Marin County, which produces cheeses based upon the recipes of a fromager who lives in the same village in Switzerland from where Nicasio proprietor Rick Lafranchi’s grandfather first emigrated 100 years ago. These are farmstead cheeses. Meaning: artisanal, and coming from the milk of cows raised on the same place the cheese is made – in this case, the farm owned by the Lafranchi family since 1919, and now the source of these certified organic, amazingly fresh and pure tasting cheeses epitomizing artisanal Northern California cheesemaking.
Barrel sample a monumental 2010 Zinfandel… m2 winemaker/proprietor Layne Montgomery tells us his 2010 Special Block Zinfandel, from a vintage even Lodi old-timers are saying is the best in memory, “has just turned the corner from angry fermented grape juice to something a little more vinous.” From the lowest yielding section of the acclaimed Soucie Vineyard (next to the block Michael-David utilizes for its top-of-the-line Lust bottlings), the barrel sample you’ll be able to sample is currently tasting more like a multi-layered molten chocolate raspberry cake – “like Zinfandel with a cattle prod up its rear,” adds Montgomery. You don’t want to miss that!
Sauce for ganders… Desperately Seeking Chocolate is a Santa Cruz Mountains company that specializes in the ultimate yet pure and wholesome chocolate sauces, sold in places like Whole Foods and other specialty markets. DSC president Cathy Wylie tells us, “we’ll be debuting our Single Malt Whisky Fudge Sauce, made with bittersweet chocolate, fresh cream, brown sugar and sherry-cask aged single malt scotch whisky. It is dark and velvety smooth, with a nice little kick from the whisky.” Need we say more?
The legendary red shorts… If harvest duties aren’t calling, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Peirano Estate winemaker/proprietor Lance Randolph in his red shorts; which, local legend has it, may not be removed anytime between April 1 and the moment the last grape in Lodi is picked each year, lest he weather gods be angered (he did once, and disaster nearly struck). But even if Randolph can’t make it, you’ll still be able to taste his Immortal Zin, a Lodi classic made from the largest stand of pre-1900s Zinfandel grown in Lodi (planted by Randolph’s great grandfather, Giacomo Peirano).
Tie dyed M marks “the spot”… The familiar, colorfully tie dyed table cloth of Macchia Wines will be present and accounted for, and proprietor Lani Holdener will be sneak previewing, for the first time ever, their popular 2010 Macchia Mischievous Zinfandel. The ’09 is sold out, after taking the Double Gold/Best of Class at the 2011 International Consumer Wine Awards (who could resist its purple silken majesty?), but here’s the thing: everyone knows the 2010 will be even better! Also look for the multi-award winning ’09 Macchia Delicious Lodi Barbera (and everyone also knows how underrated Lodi grown Barberas are).
Kinder, gentler zins… Tom Hoffman, winemaker/proprietor of Heritage Oak, is Lodi’s champion of the more finesseful, brightly fruit focused, crisply balanced style of Zinfandel – every yin, after all, must have its yang – and so if you find yourself leaning more towards this side of the grape these days, be sure to stop by and try this lineup of impeccably crafted wines.
Once more, with feeling… Lodi musician Bill Russell was a huge hit at last year’s Treasure Island fest, and he’ll return with his perfectly wine and food-friendly, light-as-air, smooth-as-silk Latin jazz, accompanied by his son Rick Russell on saxophone and the ever-dapper Anthony Lopez on percussion. Fresh from an appearance at the Concorso Italiano in Monterey, Bill reports that he is totally psyched and ready for their Treasure Island return.
Golden slumbers… Ripken Vineyards will be sharing their 2006 Late Harvest Lodi Viognier: one of the finest sweet wines made in California, period. Words fail to describe the exhilaration of its honeyed fragrances (dried apricot, peach syrup, nectarine and golden raisins) and glycerol smooth richness, caressing and dancing on the palate at the same time. Like liquid Pavlova… tasting is believing.
Decanted luxury… LangeTwins Vineyards’ Charlene Lange tells us she’ll be pouring tastes of their 2007 Midnight Reserve – a seamlessly knit, flowing, chocolate fountain of a red, meticulously crafted from Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec by the LangeTwins’ highly respected winemaker, David Akiyoshi. Lange prefers to decant their finest reds before pouring, and she says, “I might even wear my tiara” to make things all the more special.
Cinderella steps… Treasure Islanders will be able to celebrate the debut of the Rhône inspired wines of Acquiesce Vineyards, grown by Susan Tipton (board chair of Slow Food Lodi), made with the help of consulting winemaker extraordinaire Heather Pyle (of The Lucas Winery). Please stop by to cheer Tipton on!
Toffee talk… Joel Sakakihara of r & j toffees in El Sobrante (Contra Costa) will be offering tastes of delectably crunchy toffees he and his brother Ryan produce from a recipe their grandfather, a cook for the highly decorated Japanese-American 442nd U.S. Regimental Combat Team in World War II, used to make by the hundreds of pounds each year for his church during the holidays. All natural, slowly and lovingly cooked incrediments!
Meet the Cabernet elite… Kim Mettler Eels, and her husband/grower Jason Eels, will be on hand to pour their 2008 Mettler Family Vineyards Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon (Gold Medal winner at t he recent California State Fair). They’re also debuting the ’09 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel and ’09 Petite Sirah.
Wide blue wonders… Because it takes place during the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Week, the afternoon of the Treasure Island winefest will be highlighted by the unforgettable sight of the Blue Angels soaring majestically above the Bay, just above the island in perfect, breath taking synchronicity.
Walking, talking Lodi history… If you stop by the Harney Lane Winery table, you’re sure to meet George and Kathleen Mettler, pouring incredibly rich Zinfandels grown on the family’s estate located on eastern side of Lodi, originally farmed by George’s great grandfather over 100 years ago. Their daughter Jorja will undoubtedly be there, too, along with husband Kyle Lerner, who currently manages the farm and this highly acclaimed winery.
The best “wine chocolates” in the world… may very well be those of Truffle Gateau. Don’t take our word for it: Nieman Marcus features these sliceable (“like soft ripened cheese,” says owner Linda Bartlett of Sacramento), decadently rich and wine-friendly Belgian chocolates. Try their Double Decadent, Peet’s Coffee Espresso, and Milk Chocolate Southern Pecan with any of lush, juicy red wines grown in Lodi, and you might be hooked for life.
(Wish that I had) Jessie’s Grove… Jessie being the pioneering woman who rolled up her sleeves, manned the plows, and preserved the pre-1900 Zinfandel, Carignane and Cinsault vines planted by her father Joseph Spenker and still farmed today in the heart of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA by her great grandson, Jessie’s Grove Winery winemaker/proprietor Greg Burns. Greg and his crew will be at Treasure Island, personally pouring wines from these incredible, ancient plantings (look for the ’06 Cinsault, ’09 Zinfandel and sweet, fortified Ancient Vine Tokay).
Lodi knows sleek, contemporary style wine... like those of Uvaggio. Wines that more and more consumers are calling for: wines that are the opposite of big and blustery; with crisper, brighter, more fruit (rather than oak and tannin) focused, and delicioso with the wide variety of foods (Asian, Latino, hot dogs, haute cuisine, et al.) we all love to eat. If this be your cuppa, stop by and see winemaker Jim Moore at his Uvaggio table, and taste his Vermentino (a stony, lemony crisp Mediterranean varietal white), Moscato Secco (bone dry yet extravagantly scented style), Primitivo (Zinfandel with bouncy, fruit forward personality), and Barbera (perhaps the ultimate “food wine”).
Lodi knows natural, contemporary style Chardonnay… and Borra Vineyards – one of Lodi’s original small, handcraft wineries – is a leader in this alternative approach to the grape: their 2010 Member’s Reserve Chardonnay, which owners Steve and Bev Borra will personally introduce, is bone dry yet fruit focused, with high acid and an elegant texturing resulting from 100% natural yeast fermentation and battonage (lees stirring) in new and neutral oak for nine months. Their old vine reds (look for their Barbera) are also killer – must-tries.
Crisply aromatic bluegrass with a touch of sweet tea and a neverending finish… Doing the walking minstrels sort of thing, Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players will be there to soothe your senses with their acoustic style of bluegrass that is, quite simply, just about the snappiest, catchiest, happiest, coolest sounds you will ever hear. Snap may be old timey, but they are also pure, authentic, and thoroughly good-timey — like Lodi wine!
Chantilly lace… Always telling your dates, ain’t got no money honey? Not only is the 2008 Hybrid Pinot Noir – grown and produced by Lodi’s Peltier Station – the best pinot a sawbuck can buy, it is truly soft, pliant, fancy and lacy like a good pinot should be, even if a little wiggly here and a little giggly there: the sweetly strawberryish perfume true to the grape, and the red rose petal spiciness and whiffs of loamy earth enough to melt the heart of the biggest Bopper.
Honest to goodness… The folks at Honest Tea simply say, “Nature got it right, we put it in a bottle,” and they’ll be offering complimentary beverages for your thirst slaking pleasure. What’s not to like about a company that’s enjoyed runaway success since 1998 by producing teas made from real tea leaves, unadulterated ingredients and minimal sugariness; while being listed as one of planetgreen.com’s “Top 7 Green Corporations of 2010,” and ranked by The Huffington Post as one of the leading “8 Revolutionary Socially Responsible Companies?”
The Spanish revolución… By now you’ve heard all about it – Lodi is America’s leader in Spanish grape varieties, changing the way we see and appreciate wine – and Bokisch Vineyards is Lodi’s leading grower. You must visit with Markus and Liz Bokisch, who will be pouring their newly released ’09 Bokisch reds (like their wonderfully fresh Garnacha and earthy, sensual Tempranillo) and their 2010 whites (an Albariño that slices and dices across the palate).
Taste of things to come… Estate Crush – a custom winemaking facility near Downtown Lodi – will have its own table, and there you’ll be able to taste wines by Lodi’s smallest, newest wineries, like Aurora Vineyards and Crazy Legs (the latter, producing a fabulous zin from the 69 year old vineyard known as Trainwreck, now going into zins by McCay and Jeremy). You can also learn about Estate Crush’s Private Barrel program, where consumers can create their very own, handcrafted barrel of wine. You, too, can be a Lodi winemaker!
What is “margarita” wine? That would be Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi’s Winemaker’s Selection Lodi Vermentino – nothing to do with tequila, salt and shakers – which winemaker Betsy Gilliland says is how they describe this refreshingly unique varietal white wine’s “clean, crisp, lemon-lime flavors,” with its “touch of minerality in the finish.” And so, if you don’t blow out your flip-flops and step on a pop-top before catching Gilliland at the Woodbridge table, treat yourself to the Vermentino and her other Winemaker’s Selection and Section 29 wines, reflecting the cutting-edge, experimental side of this brand not seen in stores.
Get big on Petit… What is Petit Verdot and why is everyone suddenly talking about it? It is one of the five traditional grapes of France’s Bordeaux region, and Lodi’s Grands Amis Winery is one of the few California growers able to master it. Grands Amis winemaker Roger Nicholas will be pouring his ’08: a transcendent, liquid compote of raspberry and blackberry in dense, sumptuous texturing.
The comeback grape… If you long for the days of mojo rising, shameless expense accounting, chickens in every pot, and when ordering a red wine with your steak was as simple as saying “Merlot,” then dry your eyes because Vicarmont Vineyards is producing a Lodi grown Merlot that is not only affordable, but also contains all the thick yet lush, round, rolling, juicy flavors many of us once loved in the grape. Say hello to owners Vic and Carrie Mettler, who will undoubtedly be pouring this dark nectar, and sample the best of Lodi’s long and lasting winegrowing heritage!