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.
Many wines other than Zinfandel at 2012 Lodi ZinFest
Lodi crushes about 40% of California’s entire crop of Zinfandel each and every year, and there are more pre-1960 plantings of Old Vine Zinfandel (mostly, still growing on their own rootstocks!) in the Lodi AVA than anywhere else in the state.
Therefore, Lodi Wine Country’s biggest, yearly spring celebration in Lodi Lake Park is called ZinFest, but make no mistake: ZinFesters will be able to taste many more wines other than Zinfandel at this year’s ZinFest.
For a great introduction to the myriad “other wines” grown in Lodi’s diverse sub-appellations, Virginie Boone of The Wine Enthusiast Magazine will conduct a ZinFest Wine School seminar called Unexpected Whites, Unscrupuous Reds (3:30-4 PM). Ms. Boone will introduce six unusual, and fantastic, wines made from grapes like Torrontés, Verdelho, Moscato Giallo, Primitivo, Cinsault and Marzemino.
Lodi wine lovers may know that Primitivo is a clonal variation of Zinfandel, and that Cinsault is a Southern French grape grown in Lodi’s oldest existing vineyard, the Bechthold Vineyard (planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker, still owned by Spenker’s descendents). But Marzemino?
Very, very few students of the vine know of Marzemino, a grape that is rare even in its native Northern Italy (primarily the Alpine region of Lombardia). The grape is so obscure that Barbara Huecksteadt, the owner/winegrower of Hux Vineyards, has to bottle her Marzemino as the 2008 Hux Lodi Dave’s Aria ($25): without the name of the grape on the label, because the ATF – which regulates the language on each and every wine label – has never heard of Marzemino either!
But it will be well worth sitting in on Ms. Boone’s seminar, because the Dave’s Aria is indeed a singularly beautiful expression of this unique grape: deeply bluish-violet in color, with soaring aromas of crushed black cherry and blackberry tinged with sweet licorice veering towards caraway; thick, velvety, viscous on the palate. Deliciously, achingly memorable.
Hux’s Marzemino was originally planted by the late Dave Huecksteadt some 15 years ago, and the 2008 bottling is Barbara Huecksteadt’s tribute to his visionary winegrowing. Only about 300 cases of Hux wines are produced each year – largely gobbled up by Hux Wine Club members – and when she isn’t fully engaged in her day job as Project Manager of San Joaquin County’s Oriental Fruit Fly Project (curently a huge concern to Lodi’s cherry industry), Ms. Huecksteadt still personally tends to the diverse plantings of Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Graciano, Tempranillo, Souzão, Teroldego, Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and of course, Marzemino in her little vineyard,, located towards the eastern side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA.
Be sure to stop by the Hux Vineyards table at this year’s ZinFest and say hello to Ms. Huecksteadt: a tiny yet stellar example of Lodi’s great agricultural heritage.
A rundown on some of the more interesting other-than-Zinfandel choices deserving your attention at the 2012 ZinFest this coming Saturday, May 19:
Barsetti Vineyards: Barsetti’s Zinfandel always appeals to connoisseurs who prefer a more restrained yet rich, finely balanced “Claret” style, which also describes the approach they take to their Chardonnay and Merlot.
Bokisch Vineyards: Lodi’s leading Spanish grape pioneer’s Garnacha, Graciano and Tempranillo have set the standards on the West Coast, but their 2011 Albariño is, simply, a stunner – airy fresh, fragrant, mouth-wateringly crisp and finer than ever before!
Borra Vineyards: Look for two of their red and white wines bottled as Fusion – some of the most intense and exotically aromatic, not to mention silky smooth, varietal blends you will every try.
The Dancing Fox: When is the last time you’ve had a good, dry, French oak aged Chenin Blanc? Find it here, along with an unabashedly fruity Muscato d’Amore that just may hit the spot.
d’Art Wines: Tempranillo and Barbera have long been among Dave and Helen Dart’s specialties, and you’ll see why when you taste their extremely fine, hand crafted wines.
E2 Family Winery: E2’s Verdelho Elegante – made from the Portuguese grape that is quickly becoming today’s “it” varietal – is well worth checking out.
Estate Crush: Expect a bevy of wine labels poured by this producer, where many of Lodi’s growers and independent winemakers go to custom crush their wines. Under Estate Crush’s own label, you should also look for an impeccably balanced, Chardonnay, and pure and zesty Pinot Grigio, as well as a totally refreshing dry Rosé to die for.
Fields Family Wines: Fields’ estate grown Syrah is ridiculously good – among the finest in the state – especially for the price ($18), and their latest edition of Big Red is an exuberantly aromatic, bouncy blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah.
Gnarly Head Wines: While known for their Old Vine Zinfandel, look for Gnarly Head’s latest addition – the bold and blustery Authentic Red, made from Lodi grown Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.
Harney Lane Winery: This 100% estate grown winery 2009 Lodi Zinfandel is actually made from close to 50% Primitivo – Zinfandel’s clonal kissin’ cousin – which is why it is such a bright, gushy, juicy style of zin.
Hux Vineyards: Barbara Huecksteadt will be pouring her Graciano, Tempranillo, and a marvelously bright, fluid yet and crisply edgy Grenache Blanc (you have to attend Virginie Boone’s Wine School seminar to taste the Marzemino) – so don’t miss this table!
Ironstone Vineyards: A perennial favorite is Ironstone’s soft, lightly sweet and fragrant Obsession, made from the Symphony grape (a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris).
Klinker Brick Winery: This enormously respected zin specialist has also been acclaimed for their estate grown Farrah Syrah, which is as rich and spicy as they come.
LangeTwins Family: You will be able to taste this major grower’s exceedingly rich and elegant Midnight Reserve (blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec) at their table as well as under the Wine School tent (4:15-4:45 PM), where it will be shown with Fiscalini Farmstead Cheeses’s classic Vintage Bandage Wrapped Cheddar.
Loredona Wines: Loredona’s Lodi grown Viognier wins gold medals everywhere it is entered for good reason – it is among the finest and freshest made in the U.S.
m2 Wines: m2 may be the most artisanal of Lodi’s zin producers, but they also put out a varietal Tempranillo from the Kirschenman Vineyard, on the eastside of Lodi.
Macchia Wines: Everyone loves Macchia’s big, bold, powerful single vineyard bottlings of Zinfandel, but they also make some of the richest, zestiest Barberas in the state, and their Rebellious Petite Sirah is no slouch either.
McCay Cellars: Owner Michael McCay has become Lodi’s poster child zin master among the wine geeks (especially in the Bay Area), but just about his most popular wine has been his artfully spiced blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah called Paisley.
Mettler Family Vineyards: This branch of the Mettler family is eminently deserving of their reputation as Lodi’s premier grower/producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, although both their Zinfandel and Petite Sirah are seriously rich and fantastic.
Michael-David Winery: What doesn’t the Phillips family excel in? Their 6th Sense Syrah as well as Incognito Rouge and White bottlings personify intense, spicy, yet smooth, Rhône style wines; their 7 Heavenly Chards is, well, heavenly fresh and bright; and their proprietary blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot (called Petite Petit) always, simply put, kicks butt.
Mokelumne Glen Vineyards: Where else but in Lodi (believe it or not!) can you find a grower/producer totally obsessed with German grapes like Bacchus, Kerner, Dreirebe (makes an incredibly rich, unctuous dessert style white), and Zweigelt (extremely pretty, zesty, great drinking red wine)?
Oak Ridge Winery: If you’re thirsty, stop by for a sip of their light, pert and refreshing 3 Girls Chardonnay, or the zippy, lemony crisp Maggio Pinot Grigio.
Periano Estate: From an estate vineyard dating back to the 1890s, Peirano’s The Other Red is always a must-try, seductively smooth and luscious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Peltier Station: For about $8 retail, describing this winery’s Hybrid line as “incredible” is no exaggeration – one taste of their citrusy fresh, light and bone-dry Sauvignon Blanc (possibly the best ever grown in Lodi) or their strawberry fresh, soft,, fruit driven Pinot Noir, will tell you that.
Scotto Family Wines: Check out the Scottos’ Lodi grown Moscato – a light, fruity style of white wine as lovable as Sara Lee.
St. Amant Winery: This venerated producer’s Leventini Vineyard Barbera is an all-time Lodi classic, but you should also stop by for a sip of their refreshingly dry, zippy Barbera Rosé.
St. Jorge Winery: Owners Vern and Jenise Vierra turn out a citrusy crisp Verdelho that whispers sweet nothings to unsuspecting palates, while their Tempranillo is meaty, masculine, yet eminently food-friendly.
Stama Winery: Stop by to taste their Cabernet Sauvignon (called The Nymph), as well as their zesty blend of Syrah and Zinfandel.
Talus Collection: Reliably smooth and flavorful varietal bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Grigio.
Toasted Toad Cellars: A fragrant Viognier, as well as an unusual red wine called Toadilly Luscious, made from the Portuguese grape, Touriga Nacional.
Turtoise Creek Wines: By respected wine importers (and former Denver restaurateurs) Mel and Janie Master, two wines grown in Lodi – a Jam’s Blend Chardonnay and a Cherokee Lane Cabernet Sauvignon.
Vicarmont Vineyards: Vic and Carrie’s Mettler’s estate grown Merlot has always been considered Lodi’s finest – plush and elegant – although they also produce a good, solid Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a wine they call Eclectic Pink Rosé (the latter, blended from Merlot and Zinfandel grapes).
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi: This winery’s zesty, mineral and florals scented Winemaker’s Selection Vermentino represents Lodi at its most cutting-edge; and they’ll also be showing a refreshingly dry, Southern French inspired pink wine called Winemaker’s Selection Rosato, blended from Syrah and Zinfandel.