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.
Lodi icon leaves legacy of uncompromised quality & character
Hundreds of related family, friends and colleagues gathered at Vinewood Community Church and Harney Lane Winery today to remember and celebrate the life of George Mettler (born March 14, 1943), who passed away this past February 15, 2013 (please see our September 2013 post, the patriarch of Harney Lane).
In many ways, the Harney Lane Lodi Patriarch’s Promise ($40) – a varietal blend sourced from grapes grown on the winery property, from four vintages (2007 through 2010) – is a direct reflection of the man, for whom home, love, laughter, family (and just below that, farming and fly fishing) loomed largest. On a sensory level, the Patriarch’s is deep, dense yet perfectly smooth; with flavors of berried trail-mix spiced with cinnamon, cracked pepper and earth toned suggestions of fennel root and mushrooms, plucked from rich, organic loam.
Above all, the Patriarch’s is also a brightly fruited, full bodied, generously giving red wine, without a bit of overweening weight: in that sense, an essence Lodi’s incredibly consistent Delta sun and soil, and also of Mr. Mettler himself – known for his quiet consistence, uncompromising standards, and not in the least, remarkable humility.
If Lodi wines have reached a point where strong sense of even-keeled balance, dependable ease and generosity are just to be expected, that’s due as much to the terroir as to the families who have been farming it for over 100 years.
Mr. Mettler came into this legacy through his grandfather Henry Schnaidt, who first planted the 64 acre Harney Ln. property, on the east side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, in 1906. When Schnaidt passed away in 1964, George started up the Mettler & Son farm management company with his mother Frances Mettler, which was expanded even further after his son-in-law Kyle Lerner (married to George and Kathy Mettler’s only child, Jorja) joined the family business in 1996. Today, Mettler & Son manages 100 acres of its own vineyards, plus another 450 acres belonging to some 40 other Lodi legacy holders.
Harney Lane Winery, which was launched in 2008, represents the culmination of George Mettler’s life and labors. In many ways, this family winery’s story is the same as most of the 80-plus wineries based in Lodi today: representing a fourth and fifth generation of Lodi growers, the Mettlers and Lerners came to recognize that in order to take firm control of their own fortunes, especially for future generations, they need to produce their own wines rather than remain dependent upon the whims of wineries, and the vagaries of the overall economy and up-and-down market for wine grapes.
From the get-go, Harney Lane Winery has been a resounding success: in January 2009, a double-gold awarded by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for their 2007 Lizzy James Zinfandel – from vines originally planted in 1904 on the family’s Alpine Rd. property, named for Kyle and Jorja’s two kids, Kirsten Elizabeth and Ian James – conclusively confirmed the codes that defined the life of George Mettler: hard work, uncompromising quality, living for family, and loving every minute of it.
At the memorial for her husband, Kathy Mettler was quoted to say that if there was one thing that George Mettler would want to share with everyone, it would be simply this: “get on the boat.” Whether it was fly fishing, grape growing or winemaking, Mr. Mettler’s way of doing things did indeed entail going about his business on the quiet side, but with herculean patience and skill, while never, ever accepting second-best.