The Lodi Life & Times

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Randy Caparoso
October 19, 2010 | Randy Caparoso

Why Lodi Zinfandel rocks

Zinfandel is Lodi’s pièce de resistance at the Lodi Wine & Art Auction…

In our first seminar at Lodi’s memorable Treasure Island WineFest this past 10/10/10, we addressed the amazingly innovative, alternative style wines coming out of Lodi today.  Wines like the…

  • lithe and lively, silken textured 2008 Uvaggio Vermentino
  • Chrismas pudding-plump, zesty 2007 Ripken Primitivo
  • remarkably supple, profusive, yet acidity charged 2008 Grands Amis Barbera
  • dark, exotic, hugely recherché 2008 St. Jorge Alicante Bouschet
  • monumentally full, chiseled yet opulently fruited 2006 Jesse’s Grove Ancient Vine Carignane

Alicante Bouschet's purplish juice

… the last red wine, coming from ridiculously old and productive 121 year old vines, staining our lips with purple hued beads, leaving us happily singing of autumn and full-throated ease or some such poetry.  Oh, the handsome variety of wines coming out of Lodi today!

Yet, no matter how you slice it, when you talk about Lodi you always end up coming back to the pièce de resistance of this Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta influenced region:  the all-American Zinfandel.  The final seminar at Treasure Island was a winemaker led tasting showcasing these Old Vine Zinfandels:

  • the juicy, big yet smooth, seamless, blackberry perfumed 2009 Macchia Mischievous
  • the typically rotund, velvet primped, black cherry and strawberry fresh 2008 Klinker Brick
  • the dramatically long, evolving, dense yet cushiony, earth toned, jammy, choco-licious 2008 m2 Soucie Vineyard
  • the autumnal spiced, saucy, bouncy, brazenly buxom 2007 Brazin (B)Old Vine

… each and every one of these raven beauties retailing between $15 and $18.  How does Lodi achieve such an outrageously kind quality/price ratio.  It’s Lodi:  home of thousands of acres (some 40% of the state’s total) of these Zinfandel vines; many of these vineyards 40 to over 100 years old, ungrafted (that is, on Zinfandel rather than nursery rootstocks), and allowed to grow free of trellis wires in a fashion most zin specialists believe results in the deepest, most intense, natural expressions of the grape.

Yet even Zinfandel coming off trellises or younger vines in Lodi seem to respond beautifully to the region’s mild Mediterranean climate and deep, sandy loam soils which seem to drain all semblance of bitterness and astringency associated with big tannin, high-octane wines.  Lodi’s zins may not smack you upside the head like, say, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, or even a well-heeled Bordeaux or Côtes du Rhône from France; but what’s wrong with just plain deliciousness?

There is a lot to be said for $10 to $12 Lodi Zinfandel – like those of Gnarly Head, Michael-David’s 7 Deadly Zins, and Jesse’s Grove’s Earth, Zin & Fire – that gives you all the heady autumnal spice a zin lover looks for in a wine, good enough to eat every day of the week!

Then again, there’s a lot to be said for $15 to $18 Lodi Zinfandel, which are roughly on the par with $25 to $35 Zinfandels coming from other parts of the coast (like Napa Valley and Sonoma’s sub-AVAs).  However, factors like terroir — the “sense of place” derived from climate and topography – do not make comparison of wine from different regions a legitimate way to differentiate quality, even if made from the same grape.

Examples:  sure, you can say that the best Syrah grown in France comes from the Rhône Valley’s Côte-Rôtie.  But if you like a Syrah that is a little wilder, heftier, and so thick you can stand up a spoon in them, then you have to say that France’s finest Syrah comes from Cornas.  But if you prefer a more perfumed, feminine style of Syrah, then France’s best Syrah comes from Crozes-Hermitage.  If you like humongously fat, opulent Syrahs, those of Australia’s McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley are certainly no slouches.  If you like a combination of exotic perfumes, lush fruit and a more muscular, full throated opulence, then you have to say the Syrahs grown in Santa Barbara are among the best in the world.  Gettin’ the picture?

Ex-old vines at Harmony Wynelands

Zinfandel – like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and many more of the world’s great varieties of Vitis vinifera – lends itself to multiple personalities gleaned through regional transparencies, and the wine world is richer for that.

Needless to say, Zinfandel is also no different than other types of vinifera in the fact that winemaking styles have just as huge an impact as terroirs on finished wines.  The winemaker/owners of m2 (Layne Montgomery) and Macchia (Tim Holdener), for instance, are widely respected for their work both in and out of Lodi.  Both produce remarkably rich, elegant styles of Zinfandel (and “elegant” is not a word that is often used in the same sentence as Zinfandel), yet Montgomery’s do tend to have stronger whiffs of earth and brown spices, whereas Holdener’s are invariably and unabashedly sweet toned in their varietal fruit focus.  To each his own:  it’s up to zin drinkers to decide which winemaking style they prefer.  Then again, it’s not like marriage or dating:  you may promiscuously indulge in both!

And if you wish to explore the variant styles and terroir related expressions of Zinfandel made today in Lodi, we strongly suggest that you look into signing up for the Lodi Wine & Art Auction, taking place this coming Saturday, October 23.  This event is an opportunity to not only personally meet and dine alongside some of Lodi’s finest winemakers, but also to taste from over 20 barrels representing the different sub-regions – and expressions of Zinfandel terroir – established in today’s Lodi.

A partial listing of the barrels of Zinfandel that will be marched out at the Lodi Wine & Art Auction:

Harmony Wynelands' winemaker, Shaun MacKay

Harmony Wynelands' winemaker, Shaun MacKay

Lucas Winery: from one of Lodi’s first “small wineries,” both a 2009 barrel and (with dinner) a vertical of their ZinStar – David Lucas’ organically farmed, head pruned, 3.5 acre planting, located on the “left bank” of Lodi’s historic Mokelumne River sub-region.

Michael-David Winery: from Lodi’s most internationally esteemed grower/producer – no less than three of their single vineyard Zinfandels from the Jahant, Clements Hills and Borden Ranch sub-regions of Lodi.

Klinker Brick Winery: single vineyard old vine zin from the “right bank” of the historic Mokelumne River, farmed by fifth generation winemaker/owners, Steve and Lori Felten.

m2 Wines: by mavericky, handcraft winemaker/proprietor Layne Montgomery, a 2009 barrel representing the famed Soucie Vineyard, on the “left bank” of the Mokelumne River, at its coolest, westernmost edge along the Delta.

Ripken Vineyards & Winery: grown by longtime North Coast grower and rootstock king, Richard “Rip” Ripken, a single vineyard Primitivo (the Zinfandel that is “not” Zinfandel) from the “right bank” of the Mokelumne River.

Heritage Oak Winery: barrel of Zinfandel from Hoffman Block 14 located on the “left bank” of Mokelumne River; grown by proprietor Tom Hoffman, whose family has been farming in this part of Lodi since the 1860s.

Barsetti Vineyards: barrel of 2008 zin from a vineyard off Ray Rd. (the Mokelumne’s “left bank,” if you will), made by proprietors Richard Gray and Janis Barsetti Gray.

Other wineries presenting barrel tastings and wine for dinner: Abundance Vineyards; d’Art Wines; Delicato Family Vineyards; Harmony Wynelands; Jesse’s Grove Winery; Lange Twins Winery & Vineyards; Macchia Wines; Peirano Estate Vineyards; Spenker Winery; Van Ruiten Family Winery; Vicarmont Vineyards & Winery; Watts Winery… and more to be announced.

For tickets or more information, visit or call 209.333.5550.  Press/media inquiries also welcome.

Sure, this is a black tie affair, and if you can’t find a partner grab a wooden chair.  But you can bank on an incredible sensory experience of terroir and Zinfandel at Artisan Masters’ Lodi Wine & Art Auction!

Lodi-Mokelumne River grown Zinfandel, vintage 2010


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