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.
Stonum's KMS Mule Plane Vineyard Lodi Carignan is the perfect wine for contemporary tastes
Stonum Vineyards' newly released 2020 KMS Collection "Unbroken" Lodi Carignan ($35 ) is meaningful for several reasons:
1. It is the purest possible expression of Carignan, one of the Lodi appellation's original heritage grapes, cultivated in the region since the 1800s because, quite simply, the grape variety's Mediterranean origin is perfect for Lodi's Mediterranean climate.
2. As part of the contemporary trend towards single vineyard designation, the wine comes entirely from one of Lodi's heritage vineyards, the Shinn family's Mule Plane Vineyard — so-called because this 5-acre block of own-rooted (i.e., not grafted on rootstocks from a different variety) was originally leveled by mule and plow back in the late 1920s.
3. Stylistically, the wine is relatively light and almost prickly in acidity, which gives this varietal red a precise, shiny, and sharply focused profile very much in keeping with the growing consumer preference for wines that are the opposite of "big," "fat" or overly ripe in fruitiness. The big bonus about this style, which is almost European in its sleek, nimble feel, is that these qualities are exactly what gives this wine exceptional food versatility, especially with pasta, Mediterranean-style dishes, toothsome salads in balsamic vinaigrettes, and seafood such as grilled salmon and raw tuna.
The production of the KMS Carignan, as it is, was small (140 cases), but its significance is potentially bigger. Reminiscent, you can say, of many of the minuscule production wines that set the California wine industry on an artisanal, premium quality track back in the 1960s and '70s, when handcraft wineries were frequently called "boutiques."
Getting into specifics, our sensory impressions — as we enjoyed it with variations of sashimi and sushi hand rolls — included a "booming" raspberry/cherry fragrance with a floral (rose petal-like) quality, and airy, perky, palate freshening qualities on the palate. Stonum winemaker/grower/owner Kathy Stonum's own description — the "KMS" in the brand name stands for her full name, Kathleen Margaret Stonum — includes words such as "strawberry," "cranberry" and "warm raspberry pie." You get the picture. Delicious.
The best way to describe Stonum's contemporary approach to the crafting of this wine is "restraint." Grapes were picked at only 21.8° Brix (i.e., sugar reading) — significant because, up until recently, almost all California grapes (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, you name it) are picked at well over 24° Brix, which easily results in finishing alcohol levels in excess of 15% (California vintners routinely add water to fermenting musts to get alcohols back into the 14% range). The KMS Carignan needed no such intervention, finishing at just 12% alcohol naturally on its own.
If it's high alcohols in California reds that have always bugged you, this is the wine for you.
Ms. Stonum tells us that their Carignan bottling is nicknamed "Unbroken" because it signifies her family's determination to grow and prosper beyond its first generation (the Stonum vineyard, planted entirely to Zinfandel, and winery we were established by Ms. Stonum and her late brother, Mike Stonum, in 2006).
The KMS Carignan, in fact, involved the hands of multiple family members in its making. Make that also feet — half of the grapes, a third of that left intact as whole clusters, were hand punched in an open-top fermenter, and the other half of the grapes were kept entirely intact in a closed fermentation tank where the grapes were allowed to commence fermentation on its own volition through a process called carbonic maceration, which accentuates fruit qualities, and then foot tread after 4 days to start up a regular fermentation.
To fully capture the Mule Plane-grown Carignan grapes' intrinsic sensory qualities, the wine was allowed to ferment entirely with its own "native" yeasts (i.e., the fermentation started and finished on the power of the microflora found naturally on the grape skins, rather than inoculated by a commercially cultured yeast). The wine was aged for less than 5 months in strictly neutral French oak barrels to further enhance the natural fruit and vineyard qualities.
Explains Ms. Stonum: "Our vision for our secondary label, KMS Collection, is to promote different varietals demonstrating the range and versatility of the Lodi winegrowing region. It also gives us the artistic opportunity to do something fun and invigorating. Each of our KMS Collection wines will tell its own story." Future KMS releases coming down the pipe will include a Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Souzão. "KMS will stay fluid," says Stonum, "giving us the freedom and opportunity to experiment.
"The KMS Mule Plane Vineyard Carignan is a perfect fit for us," she adds. "Old vine Carignan creates a wine on another level — red fruit-driven, earthy, rich and smooth with moderate tannins, making it extremely food-friendly."
A perfect wine, that is to say, for today's evolving and adventurous tastes, plus the foods many of us love to eat!