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.
At Peirano, the power of believing – and the famous Red Shorts
As of Thursday, October 25, 2012, there are still grapes to be picked in Lodi, despite the dark weather and downpour at the start of the past week.
Meanwhile, the memo came in Monday (October 22) from Peirano Estate Vineyards, a property originally planted by an Italian immigrant named Giacomo Peirano in the 1890s: Lance Randolph – Giacomo’s descendent, and current Peirano winemaker/owner – has taken off his red shorts! Wrote Mr. Randolph:
We finished harvest on Saturday. I put my jeans on yesterday (we got the cover crop planted before the rain). I did notice they are a bit tighter than last year… the advantage of the Red Shorts (sic) is that they can stretch a bit! Won’t put them on again until April 1st. The harvest is over but we’re certainly not done with crush – Malbec going into the fermentor on Saturday afternoon…
The removal of the Red Shorts from Randolph’s anatomy usually signifies the very end of the yearly Lodi wine grape harvest (to learn more about this solemn affair, please visit The legend of the red shorts). In a conversation this past Wednesday, Randolph attributed the fact that there are still unpicked grapes out there to “some non-believers who don’t know the story of the Red Shorts… all the old-timers are already done with their picking.”
The memorable thing about the 2012 vintage, according to Randolph, was that “it started out as one of the most stressful years in my life.” But in the end, all that worry turned out to be “for nought… this ended up being the year where Mother Nature taught us still another lesson – that it is never smart to fight with Mother Nature.”
Mr. Randolph goes on to explain:
The heart attacks started with the dry winter and cold, wet spring, which got us scrambling out into the fields, thinning shoots, pulling leaves, dropping fruit – pulling out all the stops to prevent all the problems that have plagued us in the past, like shatter, mildew, the botrytis rot we get when the clusters are too big or too tight. It turned out, we didn’t need to do anything. Mother Nature didn’t throw us any of her usual curves – she matured the fruit meticulously, with very few heat spikes, and not one spot of mold or mildew. We could’ve boarded a plane and vacationed in Hawai`i the entire time, before coming home to pick grapes!
But when the time did come to pick, Mother Nature gave us two clear choices in 2012 – you either pick for flavor and reap the rewards, or you pick by sugar and get punished for it. Of course, we picked for flavor, starting with Chardonnay on September 6. Grapes like Zinfandel came in on September 21, at 24° or 24.5° (Brix). But if you got greedy and decided to wait for 27°, you found that the flavors were gone – all you’ll get is a high alcohol wine that tastes more like jam than fresh fruit.
For the record, Mr. Randolph has always been one of the few Zinfandel producers who has stubbornly believed in a balanced, moderately scaled Zinfandel – even during the years when the biggest accolades and prices went to the ultra-ripe, super-jammy and oaky 16%+ alcohol styles. These days, Randolph’s restrained, fruit-first style has suddenly become hip – the cutting-edge of California winemaking. The Red Shorts rule again.
Wanna know what the cutting-edge of old-school Lodi tastes like? Take a gander at the currently released 2011 Peirano The Immortal Zin Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($14), which prickles the tongue with its soft, gushy, yet bright, lively, high toned raspberryish varietal fruit, unfettered by drying tannin, excessive alcohol or oakiness.
The 2011 Peirano The Heritage Collection Petite Sirah ($14) is just as forthright in its pure and unadulterated spiced blueberry/blackberry fruitiness, despite the robust tannin typical of the varietal.
Yet the prices of Peirano wines remain ridiculously reasonable, despite the production (over 12,000 yearly cases of the Zinfandel alone) and the historicity of the grapes: Peirano’s 80 acres of head trained 117 year old Zinfandel remains the largest single block of own-rooted vines (Randolph describes them as “natural rooted”) in the world (Peirano’s head-trained Petite Sirah, inter-planted between the ancient zins, went into the ground in the mid-eighties). No wonder these wines sell out within a few months each year!
Like most of Lodi’s growers, Randolph is also happy about the fact that not only will 2012 will be remembered for its quality, it will also be remembered for its yield. Says Randolph, “tonnage was up 35% to 45% over last year, which was low, and by 20%, 25% over normal years. Better yet, Zinfandel was the heaviest – and these days, we can’t seem to make enough Zinfandel – yet the grapes came in perfect flavor/sugar/acid balance. Just last week, I had to order 150 new barrels – the first time in my life I’ve had to go up to a barrel maker and say, ‘give me everything you’ve got, or what can get made right away!’”
Walking out into the old vines, Randolph pointed out the smoothly raked rows between his meticulously manicured little vines. “Last Sunday we covered the furrows and seeded for a cover crop – something my grandfather taught me how to do 25 years ago. That way, the beneficial insects like lady bugs will have a place to over-winter, and next year we’ll put the furrows back in to irrigate, and the cover crops will become a natural source of nitrogen for these old vines. They’ll need it, too, because they really put out this past year.”
Randolph’s final words, while gazing down into the opened top of one of his “basket” trained centurian vines? “Remember that the Red Shorts do work – you just have to believe, like Tinker Bell told those kids, and then the old vines, and Mother Nature, will be good to you.”