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.

Randy Caparoso
April 22, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

East vs. west side 2010 Zinfandels


Head trained Bare Ranch Zinfandel, in the heart of the Mokelumne River AVA

Winemakers who have been working with Zinfandel vineyards grown on both the east and west sides of the Lodi AVA (i.e. American Viticultural Area) have long known that there are some differences between the wines, despite overlapping characteristics reflecting the pretty much consistent Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta influenced macroclimate and soil types found in Lodi.

Just within the heart of the Mokelumne River AVA, where the vast majority of Lodi’s heritage plantings (Zinfandel vines 30 to over 100 years old) are located, there is enough variation of Tokay sandy loam in the soil to make an impact.  Many of the old vineyards east of Hwy. 99, for instance, are sandier, almost beach-like, than what you generally find west of Lower Sacramento Rd., and that means more readily drained soils and vine roots having to dig down even deeper to draw water and nutrients.


Corene Phillips (left; Michael~David lab manager) examining the "eastside" zins at Bare Ranch

The end result:  enough plant energy is diverted that the berry clusters as well as berry sizes are often smaller in east side vineyards; leading to higher skin to juice ratios, which in turn yields Zinfandels slightly stronger in tannin as well as varietal spice qualities.  Smaller berry sizes on the east side also tends to lead to slightly higher acidity, despite the fact that the east side is usually a degree or two warmer on average than the west, due to further distance from cooling Delta breezes.


Adam Mettler, Michael~David GM/Winemaker

The general consensus among vintners and growers:  Lodi’s east side Zinfandels are usually more structured, firmer, and often spicier; whereas west side Zinfandels are often rounder, plumper, with a little more of the fruit forward opulence associated with Lodi zin in general.

But please note the operative term, “often,” because this is not always the case.  Vintage conditions as well as grower and winemaker decisions (especially in respect to irrigation, choice of picking dates effecting sugar, pH and acidity, not to mention all the variables associated with vinification and barrel aging) often blur distinctions and expectations.

It’s not a matter of quality differentials either.  Adam Mettler, the GM/Winemaker at Michael~David Winery, tells us that “year to year, some vineyards outshine other vineyards, but it varies each year.  Some of our better Zinfandels may come from the west side one year, and from the east side another year.”

If anyone should know, it’s Mettler, since Michael~David’s resoundingly successful Zinfandel program (7 Deadly Zins, Earthquake, Lust, et al.) has grown to the point that they now need to source from over 35 vineyards between I-5 and Lower Sac on the west side; plus another 35+ vineyards east of Lower Sac beyond the flat landscape of the Mokelumne River AVA, going into the hillier, shallower, more cobbley soil regimes of the Borden Ranch and Clements Hills AVAs, rising towards the Sierra Foothills.

In recent years, in order to foster a strong team relationship with growers, Michael~David has been holding “Grower Barrel Varietal” tastings at their Bare Ranch property at Davis and Woodbridge; to which they invite all of their major growers to taste, “blind,” selections from the winery’s best barrels, coming from vineyards from all parts of Lodi.  This past April 14 they held their barrel tasting for “Westside” growers, and on April 19 for “Eastside” growers.  The April tastings were also a fascinating preview of the 2010 vintage, which most of Lodi’s growers and winemakers believe to be the region’s “best” in recent memory.


Kevin Phillips, VP of Operations

Kevin Phillips, Michael~David’s VP of Operations (and son of CEO/co-owner Michael Phillips), had these interesting observations to share about the east vs. west side Zinfandels coming off the 2010 vintage:  “Because 2010 was just about the coolest vintage we’ve ever experienced in Lodi, the east side Zinfandels had more degree days than normal to ripen.  The east side tends to ripen quickly because it is usually slightly warmer than the west, and some of the vineyards are almost like sand pits.  But because of extra degree days in 2010, the east side zins are really standing out in 2010.  They’re more my style — bigger, bolder, more structured than most of the west side zins, with tons of spice nuances, like white pepper, black pepper, cinnamon and clove…

“The west side zins are also very consistent in 2010, with more raspberry, strawberry, fruit driven qualities; and typically, with a little less natural acidity than the east side.  There’s always that belt of vineyards along Turner Rd. — growers like Bob Bishoberger, Pat Hale, the Maleys and the Langes, and our own Phillips Farms and Bare Ranch — that consistently produce this fruit driven style.  In 2010 they’re quite different from east side vineyards like Dave Devine’s on Peltier Rd., Graffigna off Kennison, and Hale’s on Kettleman, which grew smaller berried clusters, giving us bigger wines, with more black fruits and spice.  We don’t usually see such a distinct contrast in styles between east and west, but 2010 is one of those years.”

Mettler adds this comment on the 2010 vintage, contrasting the fruit from Lodi with the fruit Michael~David also draws from Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Mendocino:  “You can put me on record saying that by and large Lodi did a lot better for us than any other parts of California.  The cool year in Napa and Sonoma gave us wines with a lot of green, underripe, pyrazine (i.e. bell peppery/vegetal) character — not so nice.  The 2010 Lodi whites, on the other hand, are the best I’ve ever seen, and y0u can already taste that in our 2010 7 Heavenly Chards, which we’ve just released.  We’re not yet in the position to say the exact same thing about our 2010 Lodi reds, but they will certainly be among the finest we’ve ever ever produced.”


Typical "sand pit" loam on Mokelumne River's "eastside"

To give you a preview of the 2010 Zinfandels that will go into the Michael~David bottlings, some notes on some of the more distinctive barrel lots tasted at Bare Ranch this past April:


Cusamano “Small Block” Vineyard (Turner Rd.) – Very fragrant, floral, sweet red berry nose; lush, juicy, round flavors around a core of firming tannin; amazing balance despite finishing an average of 16.92 alcohol.

Perrin Vineyard (Turner Rd.) – Like Cusamano’s “Small Block,” bright and flowery with red berry and sweet tea notes; juicy, mouthwatering, full flavors (17.41 alc.).

Phillips Farms (Woodbridge Rd.) – Broader and fuller in feel than the aforementioned two, yet saturated in sweet red berry flavors.

Cusumano “Big Block” (Turner Rd.) – Very bright, high toned red berry fragrance, yet deep, rich, broad and densely textured on the palate.

Soucie Vineyard “Select Vine” (Turner Rd.) – Rich, crushed strawberry nose with peppery/smoky spices; plush, royal feel with dense tannin beneath holding up fairly full alcohol (16.87%).

McQueen Vineyard (Turner Rd.) – Nice combination of velvet texturing and sturdy tannin, holding lush, red fruit forward qualities.

Kolber Vineyard (Hwy. 12) – Smoky/toasty spiced oak notes tinging perfumed red and black berry fruit qualities; broad, meaty, round and fleshy on the palate.

Maley Vineyard (Woodbridge Rd.) – Loamy/earth tones lightly shading aromatic red fruitiness; firm and full on the palate despite relatively moderate alcohol (14.67%), finishing with savory, peppery, tobacco-like notes.

Bishofberger Vineyard (Turner Rd.) – Flush with bright, sweet raspberry notes; svelte, sweet toned, yet zippy with good acidity and moderate weight (14.62% alc.) on the palate

Chandler Vineyard (Peltier Rd.) – One of the softer lots, yet bright, plush and buoyant, with lighter tannin underpinnings.


Michael Phillps (right), with consultant Barry Gnekow


Devine Vineyard, “Block C” (Peltier Rd.) – Pungent cinnamon/clove spices inundating fragrant red fruitiness, nicely contrasting dense, meaty, well muscled full feel (16.41 alc.) on the palate.

Devine Vineyard, “Block F” (Peltier Rd.) – Another Dave Devine standout; luscious strawberry/raspberry aromas; firm tannin and fullness (15.55% alc.), yet brighter, zestier, more mouth-watering than Devine’s “Block C.”

Fuso Vineyard (W. Jahant Rd.) – A different kind of spice — fennel, licorice, cracked pepper and sausage meats — embellishing intense wild berry nose; rich, round, full flavors, finishing with a smack of toasty oak.

Goehring Vineyard (Locust Tree Rd.) – The slight kitchen herby/loamy spice notes here seem more characteristic of “westside” zins, but it goes to show how easy generalizations do not always hold water; sweet red/black berry notes aplenty, and big, fleshy feel solidified by strong tannin rather than sheer alcohol (15.31% alc.).

Graffigna Vineyard (Kennison Rd.) – Pepper and peppermint spiced berry fruitiness filling out a full body (16.01% alc.) supported by sturdy tannin.

Machado Vineyard (Orchard Rd.) – Slightly earthy (like crushed brown leaves), autumnal kitchen spices in red berry nose; round, fruit forward qualities on the palate belying its full alcohol (16.93%).

Berryhill Vineyard (Borden Ranch AVA) – Super bright, lilting, red and black berry perfumes, veering towards blue fruits; zesty entry, soft tannins, and more moderately weighted feel (14.74% alc.).

Renton Vineyard, “Bigger Block” (Peltier Rd.) – Peppermint/black pepper spiced nose, strawberryish fruitiness, and medium body balanced by an acidity leaning towards a tart, and mouth-watering, side.


Autumn 2010 sunset at Michael~David's Bare Ranch



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