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.
Saving Lodi's Historic Vineyard Society-registered vineyards
There are 16 Lodi AVA vineyards currently registered by California's Historic Vineyard Society (HVS). There are actually dozens more Lodi vineyards in the Lodi wine region that meet HVS's requirements to be called a "historic vineyard," but this is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, and enrollment of vineyards is strictly voluntary.
If a grower or vintner wishes to have a vineyard included on Historic Vineyard Society rolls, they must put in an application. They must also submit some kind of documented evidence that at least one-third of the vines in their vineyard was planted at least 50 years ago. In doing so, they are also helping to support Historic Vineyard Society's core mission: simply, the preservation of California's oldest vine plantings.
The Lodi Winegrape Commission is currently sponsoring a Save the Old campaign for precisely the same reason — to garner support for Lodi's oldest vine plantings in order to keep them from disappearing. In recent years, however, drumming up enthusiasm for wines made from old or ancient vines has been a bruising battle. But in Lodi, this battle is important because old vine grape sources are like living, breathing representations of Lodi history and culture. More like precious, priceless heirlooms than garden-variety agricultural commodities.
Take, for example, the Historic Vineyard Society-registered vineyard called the Giorgi/Ferrari Vineyard, which has been chugging along since the 1920s, when Corrado and Santina Giorgi first planted these 15 acres of own-rooted Zinfandel on the west side of Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA.
"My mother [Isabel Ferrari] has always been determined to hold on to this vineyard," says Diedre Ferrari, Corrado and Santina's granddaughter, "and I refuse to tear it out." Alarmingly, though, the Ferrari family has been hanging on by the skin of their teeth. In the past, the Giorgi/Ferrari Zinfandel has been going to large wineries like Delicato Family Vineyards. But there was one recent vintage when the Zinfandel grapes didn't go anywhere, so there was no reason to pick them.
This past year, all the Giorgi/Ferrari grapes were fresh-field-packed by M&R Company in 36-pound wood crates and shipped out to wholesalers in Canada and on the East Coast, who sell primarily to home winemakers. "Thanks to Donna Reynolds [M&R Company vice president]," says Ferrari, "our grapes at least found a home." And, as it were, a reprieve, at least until more wineries renew their interest in this historic, Prohibition-era planting.
Another west side Lodi Zinfandel planting registered by Historic Vineyard Society is the Star Valley Vineyard, an 8-acre growth owned by JW Moore and planted in 1962, also on its own natural roots. From the beginning all the fruit was sent to the Mondavi family who own Napa Valley's Charles Krug Winery. But in recent years, no longer. According to vineyard manager Garret Schaefer, "In this down market, it's been tough to get wineries to look at the grapes, and even tougher to get the price these old vine vineyards deserve." Schaefer manages the JW Moore's farming operations for his mother and grandmother, fourth and third generation Lodi growers Wendy and Marilyn Moore.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Schaefer followed the example of numerous other Lodi growers such as the Feltens of Klinker Brick, the Langes of LangeTwins Family, the branches of Mettlers of Mettler Family and Harney Lane, and the Phillips family of Michael David Winery: Schaefer and his wife Haylee started up their own independent label, called Alliance Winery, in order to carve out a home for Star Valley Vineyard's grapes.
The first vintage of Alliance Winery Zinfandel was 2016. The current release, the 2018 Alliance Lodi Zinfandel ($28), is a plump, luscious, roly-poly red wine teeming with blueberry and black cherry-like fruit with a faint hint of earthiness — in other words, classic west side Lodi Zinfandel.
"I knew the [Star Valley Vineyard] fruit was phenomenal," says Schaefer, "but all these years no one else knew about it because wine was never made from our stuff." Schaefer enlisted the winemaking help of a cousin who owns Comartin Cellars in San Carlos to "showcase" the vineyard. "Alliance started as a marketing venture to help sell our grapes, but the reception has been so positive that we've producing wine every year since 2016."
The Alliance concept, according to Schaefer, was conceived to underline "the bond between God and farmer. On the back label we put in a quote from my grandfather James Moore who said, 'I don't own the land, I'm just taking care of it.' The wine is more of an alliance of farmer, family and land." The past two vintages, most of the fruit from Star Valley Vineyard has been going to a couple of other wineries. If anything, the Alliance brand has been helping to keep interest in the grapes, and the vineyard itself, alive.
There is another little known Historic Vineyard Society-registered site way out in Lodi's Clements Hills AVA, located alongside Hwy. 88 between the little communities of Lockeford and Clements. It is called Viola's Vineyard, and was planted by John R. Wiederrich in 1948 and 1949. According to Wiederrich's granddaughter Janet Klapstein, "Viola's is named after my mother, Viola Klapstein. It's 35 acres of Zinfandel, with a few stray plants of Tokay, all planted on their own roots. The vineyard is on a sandy bluff overlooking walnut trees and a cherry orchard. Most of the grapes have been going to wineries like [E. & J.] Gallo and Delicato."
All of these vineyards — Giorgi/Ferrari, Star Valley, and Viola's — share the attributes of all historic vines: they have been well loved throughout their history, notwithstanding the economic ups and down, ebbs and flows of their long lives. They have also survived because they sit on favorable sites — natural conditions conducive to the making of good wine. If this were not true, they would never had lived long enough to become "old," "ancient," or historic vines.
A photo-listing of other Lodi vineyards currently registered by Historic Vineyard Society...
Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut (planted 1886):
Faith — Lot 13 Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1915):
Katushas' Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1915):
Lizzy James Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1904):
Marian's Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1901):
Mohr-Fry Ranches Zinfandel (planted early 1940s):
Mule Plane Vineyard Carignan (planted 1927-1930):
Old School Vineyard Flame Tokay (planted 1906):
Rous Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1909):
Schmiedt's 1902 Block Zinfandel (planted 1902):
Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1916):
Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1928, 1934 and 1942):
ZinStar Vineyard Zinfandel (planted 1933):