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.
Acclaimed Mikami Zinfandel is culmination of 100 years of undaunted Lodi farming
One of the finest Zinfandels made in California today is one that even the most devoted Zinfandel lovers never heard of: made by Mikami Vineyards, sourced from a 15-acre vineyard owned by Jason Mikami, located on the west side of Lodi’s historic Mokelumne River AVA. Mr. Mikami grew up on the family farm in the seventies and eighties, but branched out on his own as an adult – establishing a successful career in the tech industry (particularly in Interactive television and cloud computing). He now lives in the Bay Area, but maintains the same Sargent Rd. vineyard property originally purchased by his parents, Jim and Aiko Mikami, in 1963.
The vineyard, however, is a legacy that will always remain in the family; and the Mikami Vineyards Zinfandel (produced since 2009), according to Mikami, is something that he is conscious of doing “in honor my father and grandfather… something that would make them proud.”
How good is the Mikami Zinfandel? Good enough to garner a “Best of Class” for Zinfandels in the $35-$39.99 price category at the 2013 San Francisco Wine Competition – a rare accomplishment for any winery (the Mikami was voted the “best” over 12 other gold medal winning California Zinfandels in its class, and there was a total of 19 other gold medal Zinfandels from Lodi in other price categories).
Only 125 cases of the 2010 Mikami Vineyards Lodi Zinfandel ($39) were produced; and when you taste it, you can see why the normally persnickety Bay Area judges were enthralled: it is a dense yet velvet textured wine that is neither overly “big” nor lean (today’s judges particularly hone in on wines with a strong sense of balance to go with some kind of individuality or terroir related authenticity).
Regal in its purplish ruby color, the Mikami Zinfandel is drenched in wild berry aromas, with floral notes (violet, or suggestions of lilac) as well as dark chocolate and humus-like undertones; these varietal fruit qualities surging through a finely finished wall of tannin and flavorful phenolics.
Although crafted for Mikami in Napa Valley by winemaker Kian Tavakoli, the earthy nuances and sheer generosity of varietal fruit is pure, unadulterated “Lodi.” In fact, the 2010 came off of trellised vines that were only 6 years old; going into the ground in 2004, in place of older head trained Zinfandel and Tokay vines (originally planted in 1923) that were on the property when Jim Mikami began farming it.
Jason Mikami traces his family’s farming tradition to his grandfather, who first came to Northern San Joaquin Valley from Japan in 1895. “My grandfather was a laborer and grape grower. He worked hard, and was able to make a good life and raise a large family here. My father, who was born in 1920, continued the grape growing tradition.”
Then came World War II; when, like many American citizens of Japanese ancestry, the family was relocated into internment camps in Rowher, Arkansas. In 1945 the Mikamis returned to Lodi, determined to pick up where they left off – first along Turner Rd., and then on Sargent in the sixties.
Jim Mikami, who passed away in 2005, was a virtual one-man team – managing, pruning, irrigating and harvesting his own vines. Today, longtime Lodi grower Mike Manna (of Lodi’s Manna Ranch) does the farming for the Mikamis, in accordance with Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. Typical of many Lodi vineyards, most of Mikami’s grapes go to large commercial wineries; and fruit from the three rows closest to the old family home is targeted for the Mikami brand.
Aiko Mikami, who is now 83 years old, still lives among the vines, and is her own testament to the resilience of Lodi’s farming pioneers. Jason Mikami tells us, “my mother emigrated from Hiroshima in Japan in 1955.” Amazingly, “she was one of the few survivors of the atomic bomb.”
Standing on the wooden walkway between the house and the vineyard with his mother, Mikami tells us, “To the very end, my dad did everything around here. He didn’t live to see the replanting. He would have also loved to see the wines we’re making today, because he really believed in the quality of the environment here in Lodi, especially for Zinfandel.
“It’s humbling to think of the work they put in before me, but that’s the reason we are still here!”