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.
Turley’s Passalacqua to pay tribute to classic Lodi Zinfandels at 2013 ZAP Festival
This past December, Tegan Passalacqua – the winemaker/vineyard manager of the prestigious Turley Wine Cellars (a Napa Valley based Zinfandel specialist, also sourcing several wines from Lodi) – took an afternoon to talk and walk through the Lodi vineyards he will be highlighting in a special tasting taking place in San Francisco this coming February 1, 2013, as part of the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) yearly celebration of the Zinfandel grape.
Mr. Passalacqua is also one of the founding minds behind the Historic Vineyard Society, which endeavors to chronicle and encourage the preservation of heritage plantingss (defined by HVS as any vineyard planted prior to 1960) throughout the state of California. As part of ZAP’s February 1 FLIGHTS/Forums of Flavor (taking place at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill), HVS will be presenting four Zinfandels from historic vineyards in Lodi, and another four each from Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Mendocino County.
Passalacqua will be leading the Lodi portion of this seminar because, as he puts it, “I’ve always counted Lodi among the finest places to grow Zinfandel in the state.” Naturally, in his Lodi flight, Mr. Passalacqua will include his 2010 Turley Cellars Dogtown Lodi Zinfandel, grown in a Clements Hills–Lodi AVA vineyard owned and farmed by Turley, dating back to 1944.
Our most recent notes (over our Christmas 2012 dinner) on the 2010 Dogtown: a fragrant, feminine nose of black cherry, Chinese tea and red licorice/star anise perfumes against faint yet distinctive, loamy earth tones; these lacy nuances progressing into a full body, possessing a pervasive sense of lightness, restraint, even delicacy in the mouth (which is amazing, considering that the wine weighs in at 16.2% alcohol – if we didn’t have the label in front of us, we would have guessed it at closer to 15%).
Says Passalacqua, “Every vintage our Dogtown Zinfandel is among the best we make (Turley produces over 20 different Zinfandels each year, from Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, and Amador County), and I thought that in 2010 our Dogtown was just about our best. We love its grip, the classic loaminess you expect in Lodi Zinfandel, and the black and green tea spices I always associate with the vineyard. This is why we’re always high on Lodi.”
So high, in fact, that in the spring of 2012, Mr. Passalacqua went so far as to purchase the old 19-acre Baumbach Vineyard (dating back to 1915) from the Kirschenmann family for his own, personal use. The Baumbach (which Passalacqua now calls Kirschenmann Vineyard, in honor of its longtime owners) is located on Bruella Rd. on the east-side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, right alongside Ross Schmiedt’s vaunted Dairy Vineyard (going into Schmiedt’s Twisted Roots 1918 Zinfandel, as well as into Turley’s Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel). Right across the narrow Schmiedt Rd. are some ancient Zinfandel, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet (plus younger Tempranillo vines) now owned and cultivated by Michael McCay (of Lodi’s McCay Cellars), as well as Jean Rauser’s heroic stand of Carignane (along with Zinfandel and inter-plantings of Alicante Bouschet and Grand Noir de la Calmette), dating back to 1904.
The wines to be presented by Passalacqua at ZAP's upcoming FLIGHTS seminar:
• 2010 Macchia Outrageous Lodi Zinfandel (a more pedal-to-the-metal varietal rendering, sourced from the dry farmed, 100-plus-year old Noma Ranch on Victor Rd., representing an east-side Lodi Zinfandel);
• 2010 McCay Contention Lodi Zinfandel (a decidedly lusher, rounder, opulent style typifying Lodi’s west-side, from a 1943 planting currently farmed by Bob Lauchland, right alongside the railroad tracks running through Kettleman Lane/Hwy. 12)
• 2010 St. Amant, Marian’s Vineyard-Mohr-Fry Ranches Lodi Zinfandel (the Spencer family’s benchmark Mokelumne River-Lodi style Zinfandel from the Frys’ 1901 planting, located south of the town of Lodi; combining the taut structuring of the east-side with the damned-the-torpedoes varietal extravagance of the west-side).
The purpose of the seminar, says Passalacqua, is to “give a feel for regions as a whole, and what old vines can bring to that. The whole point of HVS is to educate the wine drinking public by showing how special these vineyards are. Especially for a region like Lodi, which is often overlooked. We want to show off the diversity that we know exists among the old vines in Lodi, and by doing that, demonstrate the great heights this region can reach.”
Adding his own thoughts on what Zinfandel lovers attending the seminar might expect, Passalacqua tells us: “The Turley Dogtown is an outlier – located in Clements Hills, clearly apart from what comes out of Mokelumne River, which is the heartland of what Lodi has to offer. Our vineyard has some of the sandy quartz that is dominant in the Tokay Fine Sandy Loam defining Mokelumne River, but with more iron-rich clay and loam in the soil, along with a clay hard pan that restricts root penetration – whereas in the sandy loam of Mokelumne River, roots can get down to 30 feet or more.
“But just amongst the Mokelumne River growths, clearly the old-timers always knew there were differences between the Tokay Fine Sandy Loam on the east-side and the Tokay Fine Sandy Loam on the west-side, with vineyards like Mohr-Fry representing a mid-point. I wish there was an established vocabulary that can better define those distinctions. All we know is that it effects the plantings, and it effects the wines. People will be able to taste the differences in the ZAP seminar.”
When talking about his own, newly acquired Kirschenmann Vineyard, Passalacqua’s enthusiasm knows no bounds. “Am I excited?” he asks, while standing between his 97-year old vines. “Hell yes, I’m excited – life couldn’t be better for me.” What fascinates Passalacqua is the particularly deep, sandy soil and, climatically, the “slightly colder pocket of air” of this particular stretch of old vines, planted right up against one of Mokelumne River’s sharper bends, as it races down from the Sierra Nevadas into the Delta.
In Passalacqua’s vineyard, there are 15 acres of gnarly, head trained Zinfandel vines, originally planted in 1915. In amongst the old Zinfandel are scattered plantings of Carignane and Mondeuse (a.k.a. Mondeuse Noire – a black skinned grape more common to the Savoie region of France); plus, in separate blocks, 2 acres each of trellised Petite Sirah and Pinot Gris, both planted more recently (in 1992).
Commenting on the ancient vines surrounding his own property, Passalacqua says, “I don’t know of any other places in California where there is as much concentration of seven, eight old vine blocks of such significance, within such a small area (less than a square mile). This is a pretty cool site to be in – certainly, one of the coolest spots in California.”
Of course, it all comes down to what ends up in the bottle. Although Passalacqua is currently selling his fruit to a roll call of “hot” winemakers – such as Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co, Abe Schoener of The Scholium Project, Newsome-Harlow‘s Scott Klann, Arnot-Roberts‘s Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts, and about a dozen more – through his experience with the adjoining Schmiedt property, he already has a feel for what his vineyard is capable of producing.
“Ultimately, the Zinfandels from Kirschenmann will not be for everybody,” says Passalacqua. These will be prettier, higher toned wines, not inky dark or massive, with medium to medium-plus concentration, and aromatics that are more on the floral side, yet with a good amount of spice, pepper and just enough tannin structure to make it full, but not gigantic.
“It’s always all about the site… and contrary to popular opinion, the sites in Lodi are far more diverse than what people think!”