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.
The latest Freelance red (the wine formerly labeled Coup de Grâce) still vanquishes the competition
The 2015 Freelance Wines Lodi Coup de Grâce ($25) has an eye-catching label depicting George Washington leading his blue-coated men into battle, amidst falling snow looking more like shimmering Fourth of July confetti.
The red wine inside is even catchier: A full throated, dense yet lusciously rounded blend of Lodi grown Zinfandel (47%), Petite Sirah (29%), Petit Verdot (15%), and Cabernet Franc (9%). The aromatic profile is deep and spicy – cracked black pepper mingling with a whiff of smoke, like the proof of bombs-bursting-in-air. What’s not to like?
There are, of course, many other premium red wine blends out in the market. The store shelves, and online shopping sites, are teeming with them. When they came out with their first vintage of Coup de Grâce, a 2011, the minds behind the wine – winemaker Adam Mettler (who holds down two day jobs, as Director of Winemaking at Michael David Winery as well as for Mettler Family Vineyards) and Mike Stroh (Marketing Director at Michael David Winery) – made no bones about their concept of blended reds: They called it Coup de Grâce precisely because it was meant to “vanquish the competition.” Hence, the label on their first four vintages, which depicted sword-wielding samurai warriors and a red ink splattered logo underlining their blood-thirsty aspirations.
“The old label was a little dark,” admitted Mettler, in a conversation on a wet morning earlier this month. “The new label rebrands the wine as a ‘Freelance’ proprietary red. There is still a little violence – a dead red-coat is lying on the ground, at George Washington’s feet – but the label better reflects how we feel about winemaking in Lodi. That this is a region where we can feel freer, or more independent, with the variety of grapes available to us in our blends.”
Adds Mettler: “As in the four previous vintages, the 2015 Coup de Grâce is still based on old vine Zinfandel; which is very ‘Lodi,’ since we have more of that than anyone else. Zinfandel gives the wine its dark fruit and weight, which we enhance with lots of barrel age. The use of Petite Sirah in the blend helps scale back the Zinfandel character a little bit, so it is not so overly jammy. The Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc shift the profile a little more towards a Bordeaux influence – slightly herbal, good structure, and also less jammy. All the components pull together nicely.”
Although the wine is not found in every state, Mettler tells us that Vintage Point, a Sonoma based marketing company, has successfully found placements in 18 states across the country. “The project started as a 100-case job, and they took it to 2000 cases right off the bat – pretty good size for a ‘side’ label.”
Does the rebranding of the front label as “Freelance” (the “Coup de Grâce” moniker is now found only on the bottle’s back label) signal a possible expansion into other wines? Says Mettler, “That’s definitely part of the game plan – opening things up for possible line extensions. We can’t say what that might be, but we’re tossing around a couple of ideas.”
The Freelance partners, Mettler and Stroh, obviously have an established track record, as part of the team conceiving and executing tremendously successful blends associated with Michael David Winery (sub-brands like Seven Deadly and Freakshow, which started off as single-varietal reds, have been expanded into red wine blends).
Of the art of producing top-selling commercial red wine blends, Mettler tells us: “Half the time, I can’t really tell you what kinds of wines people like to drink. Some people say it’s big alcohol, structure, maybe a little jamminess and sweetness. Yet ours seems to work, and it’s actually less jammy, with almost no residual sugar. Coup de Grâce is a more structured wine, with more luxurious oak, without tasting oaky. Then again, we’re not making a $5-$10 red wine blend. Our wine is meant to sell for around $25, but deliver the richness of a $50 wine.”
Adds Mettler, “Whatever you do when making a red wine blend, it probably just has to be good; have a good mouth-feel, and absolutely no flaws. That’s why, working in Lodi, we might have an advantage. We can do that, get it priced very competitively, and still sort of ‘vanquish’ the competition.”