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.

Randy Caparoso
August 16, 2016 | Randy Caparoso

Snapshots and bloggers' fond memories of the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi

Wine blogger, Rob Frisch (Odd Bacchus), experiencing break-of-dawn Viognier picking in Lodi's Phillips Farms

The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference (August 10-14, 2016) has come and gone through sleepy ol' Lodi Wine Country like the digital tornado it was: nearly 300 wine blogging demons, plus a couple dozen wine industry professionals attending as speakers or observers (wine blogging as a marketing medium, after all, is an animal of a different stripe).

It went well, if we say so ourselves. But don’t take our word for it. Here is a photo log, along with insights from a number of those in attendance...

Happy wine bloggers at #WBC16 entrance: Steve Edwards, Christine Campbell, Joshua Decolongon, Sujinder Juneja, Leeann Froese, Dave Nershi and Donita Dyer (photo courtesy of Donita Dyer)

We’ve said it time and again: Lodi is nothing if not authentic. – Robyn Scott, Wine Bloggers Conference blogger

Courtney Cochran enjoying McCay Lodi Grenache at the source, in Abba Vineyard

WBC in Lodi was incredibly memorable, from the hospitality and enthusiasm of the winegrowers and vintners to the warmth, camaraderie and curiosity of the bloggers. I think what was most impressive was the variety and quality of the wines coming out of the region – it blew my mind and left me eager to return to Lodi! As a wine nerd, anywhere I can taste Bacchus, Zweigelt, Albariño and Graciano (alternative varietal wines) expertly grown within a few hundred yards of each other – within that lovely bend in the Mokelumne River – is a total star in my book. Big thanks to the conference organizers and to everyone from Lodi who made the event such a terrific experience. Looks like Lodi really does rule. – Courtney Cochran, Fetzer Vineyards Public Relations Director

Wine bloggers "speed-tasting" with Lodi vintners in Hutchins Street Square

While much of Lodi is big business, there is this emerging Lodi, consisting of farmers. They are collaborating and celebrating their sense of place, creating estate and single vineyard wines that truly shine. These are the wines that are very much worth the trip to the region to seek out, and then, to go a step further, to actually get “behind the label” with: where you meet the passionate people who produce them. – Leeann Froese of Town Hall Brands (Vancouver, British Columbia)'s Thea Dwelle (left) getting on her speed-tasting

I think Lodi Wine did a KICK-BUTT job... and remember, I do shows for a living, and speak at trade shows several times a year in the entertainment industry. How much better could you have done? Other than adding expensive PA, lighting, plus live flames, smoke or fog effects, you (the LoCA staff) played the top of the game. My POV...

My first trip to the Lodi AVA was for #WBC16. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew Lodi would surprise me. And from the start of the pre-conference event, I was surprised. We met some of the nicest, most talented, and down-to-earth grape farmers and winemakers who are doing tremendous work. I don't say that lightly. I only can say that having tasted over a hundred Lodi wines and from really being impressed by them.

The Lodi Winegrape Commission and local wineries who were involved gave the wine media their everything; bringing us into their shops, homes and places of work, from their fields and into their private blending and barrel rooms. They hosted us better than many people treat family! They worked incredibly long hours to provide tons of informative, powerful sessions and up-close and personal opportunities, along with tastings of their latest, greatest, and the rare cellar treasures. – Jim van Bergen of JVB Uncorked

Wine bloggers riding working harvester at sunset in Lodi's Harney Lane estate

As a first-time participant to the conference, I was impressed with the diversity attendees who came from all over the world with varying backgrounds and a mutual deep love of wine. And as a first time visitor to Lodi, I was equally impressed with the diversity in varietals grown there and the deep passion each grower has for their vineyard and for the Lodi community. – Alexandra O’Gorman, Director of Communications, Ramey Wine Cellars

Following early morning Viognier harvest, group shot with "Freakshow" host, Michael David's 6th generation grower Kevin Phillips (center, red)

I first discovered Lodi was a lot more than about Zinfandel during a research visit in 2008, and after subsequent visits over the past eight years. The region’s wines continue to exceed expectations for quality and value. Lodi’s historic old vine vineyards are its treasure; and the success of Lodi’s Iberian varieties and the warm, heartfelt welcome extended by the region’s growers and vintners point to the region’s strengths and future.

I also came away from the conference with a very positive and more accurate impression of the wine blogging community. When I polled the 98 attendees of my Discovery Session about two thirds of the audience had some level of Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certification. I spoke with a least a dozen bloggers who were either pursuing Diploma, the highest level of certification WSET offers, or preparing to enter the program and there were many Diplomas (DWSETs) in attendance. When writers who are passionate about wine up their game by pursuing a rigorous training program like WSET and seek out professional development at the Wine Bloggers Conference, it’s a huge win for everyone. - Deborah Parker Wong DWSET, WBC speaker and Northern California Editor of The Tasting Panel Magazine

Lovin' the smell of Lodi Viognier in the morning in Michael David's Phillips Farms

At (Lodi’s) Corner Scone Bakery, picking up pastries for an early morning panel, we felt the warmth and welcome from the Lodi community most strongly. Everyone wanted to know which local winemakers were speaking, and they answered every name we gave with a story.

I expected to try a ton of zinfandel coming to Lodi but only sampled about a half dozen all weekend! The wineries clearly wanted to show off what else they could do well, pouring a lot of Sémillon, Cabernet Franc, and Barbera. - Becca Gomez Farrell of

Fantabulous Spanish inspired lunch in Bokisch Ranches' Terra Alta Vineyard

I found myself drawn to white wines while in Lodi, and not just because of the heat. Albariño, Vermentino, and Grenache Blanc? Yes, I enjoyed all three! Then I shifted gears to experience Zinfandels from the Lodi Native project (native yeast fermented, minimalist Zinfandels crafted from heritage single-vineyard sites). I was impressed with the spirit and guidelines behind the wines, as well as the candor from winemakers regarding their initial qualms and reservations. Finally, I love me some old, gnarled vines and getting to check out vineyards like Bechthold (ancient vine Cinsaut, planted in 1886) was a real treat. - Jameson Fink, Digital Editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine and his own blog, Jameson Fink - Wine Without Worry®.

Onesta owner/winemaker Jillian Johnson field-tasting bloggers on her ancient vine Cinsaut in Lodi's Bechthold Vineyard

One thing I enjoyed about Lodi and the conference (the pre-conference in particular) was the emphasis on the oddballs and outcasts. While I enjoy a Lodi Zinfandel that tastes like it could bench press 400 pounds of oak, I feel like there's magic in that tiny fringe percentage of weird stuff, like the region's interpretation of grapes like Picpoul, Souzão, or Zweigelt - stuff you might not otherwise find in more mainstream wine regions of California. - Vancouver, British Columbia's Joshua Decolongon, WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) graduate and author of his own Josh Likes Wine blog

Liquid refreshments at Harney Lane's al fresco dinner (photo courtesy of Michelle Williams)

It’s easy to get lost in the sheer production capacity in Lodi, but to have the opportunity to meet the people – the farmers, the multi-generation family members, and listen to their stories and the passion they put into their work, and translate it into the diverse array of quality wines I had the chance to taste – that was a pretty remarkable experience! The variety in styles from Rhône to Bordeaux and the microclimates opened my eyes to the specificity that is going into the region's growth in quality. - Mary Cressler, who writes the Vindulge Wine-Food-Travel blog.

Craig Rous explaining ancient vine Zinfandel viticulture in his Rous Vineyard (planted in 1909)

Having collected wines for 40 years and driven past Lodi over 1,000 times for skiing, camping, seeing relatives, I was "re-schooled" on the value and quality of Lodi wines during the course of the week. Particularly at LangeTwins Family’s winery; as well as several other wineries producing wines of amazing character, noteworthy to be purchased. I have a fairly extensive, mostly high-end cellar, so I couldn't believe the price points of Lodi wines! - Michael Kelly, who authors the California Wines & Wineries blog

Kerner grapes and bird's nest found in Lodi's Mokelumne Glen Vineyards (planted to 48 German and Austrian varieties)

LoCA did a great job hosting WBC16. I came with the goal of better understanding Lodi AVA and left with a wealth of knowledge and was pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of wine produced in the region.

#WBC16 has been illuminating... First, the wine industry potential here has no limit. The terroir is capable of producing interesting enough wines to support a solid run at the premium wines category... Multi-generational wine growing families dominate large swaths of the region, bringing a focus on farming science to the local wine industry and its identity. - Tempe, AZ’s Douglas Levin of The Wine DOCG

Michelle Williams doing sugar reading (Brix) of ripening Grenache through refractometer in Abba Vineyard

After participating in several Lodi virtual tastings I had come to love Lodi from afar: especially the unique wines produced from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, the historic Lizzy James Vineyard Zinfandel (by Harney Lane Winery), Sue Tipton's crazy idea to start a winery producing all white unoaked varietals (Acquiesce Winery), the sense of adventure in the Lodi Native project, and the strong camaraderie and stewardship shared among the entire Lodi wine community, which translated right through our live stream videos.

What I discovered during my five days in Lodi, from the pre-excursion, to the Lodi winemaker panel discussions, Lodi winemakers pouring their wines at the speed-tastings, and ending with the Lodi winemakers playing sommelier at the Saturday night banquet is that not only is the sense of stewardship and camaraderie truly authentic, but there is also a true love of community that extends to visitors as well. Lodi not only is a first class wine producing region crafting a wide variety of wines, it is an open community, welcoming all with a warm smile, a delicious meal, and great glasses of wine. – Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog

Baby 'Ez hand-pickin'  Zinfandel at the WBC Opening Reception at Mohr-Fry Ranches

I fell in love with Lodi wines made from Rhône and Spanish grape varieties. What was even more impressive for me however, was visiting Lodi’s historic vineyards and spending time with winemakers involved in the Lodi Native Zinfandel project. - Sharon Parsons of the spaswinefood blog.

The LoCA staff, who literally did *everything* during the #WBC16 week

I was so humbled to learn that it was the Lodi Wine Commission who did all the unglamorous work of cleaning dirty wine glasses and serving the main dinner. None of us expected that kind of care. - Austin Beeman, Director of Strategy at Cutting Edge Selections

LangeTwins Family's Joe Lange wooing bloggers during WBC speed-tasting

Lodi News-Sentinel's Sara Jane Pohlman on “wine speed dating” at the Wine Bloggers Conference:

The best word to describe Kirst Hall on Friday afternoon was hectic. Spread across 19 round tables, 295 wine bloggers wrote tweets, posted Instagram photos, typed notes and recorded videos as winemakers from the Lodi area and beyond poured wine and shared their stories.

“This is live wine blogging,” said Allan Wright, owner of Zephyr Adventures, which organized the event.

Wright says to think of it like speed dating. Ladies stay seated, while men spend five or so minutes at each table before moving to the next. In this case, the bloggers are ladies waiting to be wooed, and the winemakers are looking to impress.

Tweeting and tasting during WBC speed-tasting

Each winery kept their stash of wine bottles on a long low table along the edge of the room. They circled around to each of the tasting tables throughout the one-hour event. Several Lodi wineries were pouring, including LangeTwins, Michael David Winery, Klinker Brick Winery, Kenefick Ranch and Harney Lane Winery.

The tasting tables were much more packed, with a bucket to dump wine, water bottles, wine glasses and a slew of electronic devices. Bloggers used laptops, tablets, cell phones, voice recorders and video cameras to record their impressions of each wine...

Group shot with Harney Lane owner/growers Jorja and Kyle Lerner (far left)

Lodi character: Peirano Estate owner/grower Lance Randolph

Special night for bloggers at Harney Lane Winery

LoCA Vineyard Liaison Stephanie Bolton field-tasting in Rous Vineyard

Lodi icons: Jerry and Bruce Fry of Mohr-Fry Ranches (among 115-year-old Marian's Vineyard Zinfandel vines)

Picpoul Blanc in Acquiesce estate

The force is with #WBC16 in Lodi (photo courtesy of Mary Cressler)

Among 130-year-old Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut vines, Fields Family's Ryan Sherman tastes bloggers on his Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsaut

Sexy, sultry Graciano in Bokisch Ranches' Las Cerezas Vineyard

In The Lucas Winery's classic 83-year-old Zinstar Vineyard, WBC speakers Deborah Parker Wong and Mary Orlin ( toasting the Lodi moment

A Lodi "string-of-lights-kind-of-night" in The Lucas Winery's ZinStar Vineyard (photo and quote courtesy of Courtney Cochran)

Harney Lane estate mechanical harvester driver

Wall-to-wall Grenache in Abba Vineyard

Break-of-dawn blogger-Viognier-picking crew in Michael David's Phillips Farms

Michael David honcho taking a break from weekend swim-time with his kids to show bloggers Lodi's landmark Bechthold Vineyard (own-rooted Cinsaut planted in 1886!)

Bloggers do Viognier picking in Phillips Farms

Macchia winemaker/owner Tim Holdener leading field tasting of Rous Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

At Klinker Brick Winery post-dinner party: DJ Chris Sawyer (The Sommelier Files) and Kimberley Noelle Charles (Charles Communications Associates) gettin' serious about their vinyl

Bokisch Ranches owner/grower Markus Bokisch explaining bench-grafting of Picpoul-on-Viognier-on-101-14-roostock in his Terra Alta Vineyard (Lodi's Clements Hills AVA)

The essence of Lodi: 114-year-old, own-rooted Zinfandel in Mohr-Fry Ranches' classic Marian's Vineyard

Lodi Native project (native yeast fermented heritage vineyard Zinfandels) vintners: Todd Maley (Maley Bros.), Mike McCay (McCay Cellars), Layne Montgomery (m2), Tim Holdener (Macchia, Chad Joseph (Maley Bros.), Stuart Spencer (St. Amant), and Ryan Sherman (Fields Family)

In Abba Vineyard, Mike McCay and Phil Abba talkin' Grenache viticulture

One last, delicious close-up of ancient vine Lodi Zinfandel (Marian's Vineyard, planted in 1901)










Joe Becerra's Gravatar
Joe Becerra
@ Aug 17, 2016 at 1:41 PM
I was impressed with the overall quality of the wines. The innovative Lodi Native project is something that other wine regions should consider. Nice going LoCA for putting on a terrific conference.


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