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.
Harmony Wynelands’ meditative wines
Shaun MacKay did not take a direct path to his current position as winemaker of Harmony Wynelands, a gorgeous 17 acre winery estate on Lodi’s Harney Lane.
First, like another young man named Gotama did some 1,500 years ago, he endeavored to bind his consciousness with his energy and place in the world. Otherwise, without that “mindfulness,” what’s the point of doing whatever you are doing in your life?
If you’ve ever wondered what’s the point of a lot of wines — especially those that have the “taste” of a grape like, say, Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, without the tiniest smidgen of anything setting them apart from a zillion other Cabernet Sauvignons or Chardonnays — then perhaps you might appreciate what Mr. MacKay has brought to the wines of Harmony Wynelands since 2006, following five years of wending his way in a quiet, and unsparingly lean (even if, granted, beautiful), setting on the western side of Kaua’i in the Hawaiian Islands.
Graphic example #1: the 2007 Harmony Wynelands Lodi GMA ($35) is a startlingly original, haunting blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and the rare, black pulped Alicante Bouschet grape. Mind altering, palate bending juxtapositions abound, like fragrant strawberry and wild berry perfumes intertwined with whiffs of sun baked earth, new Spanish leather and briar patch woodsiness. Sensations are luscious yet emphatically dry on the palate. Brimming with vibrating, high toned fruit, while euphoniously deep, almost thunderous. Moderately full and silky in texture, yet at the same time wild and raucous — like debutantes kicking butt in a biker’s bar. No wonder this particular wine took a gold and was named Best Rhône Varietal Wine at the 2010 California State Fair.
Not that awards, or religion vinous or otherwise, define MacKay’s life. But they do validate the labors of his mother, co-proprietor Linda Hartzell; and they especially make Bob Hartzell — who’s been farming the Harmony Wynelands vineyard since the 1980s — beam with pride.
For young MacKay, on the other hand, the GMA represents a major step on the way to a winemaking approach that expresses “harmony with less dissonance.” Winemaking, to MacKay, is a process of “turning wine into an experience of connectiveness” in respect to natural (soil and grapes) and human (viticulture, vinification and blending) variables. The steady hand of crack consulting winemaker, Chad Joseph (who also works locally with Harney Lane, Valhalla, Dancing Coyote, Boitano and McCormack Williamson), has also given MacKay the freedom to focus on “intentions” as much as goals, within the parameters of practicalities and sound techniques.
“Chad is awesome,” says MacKay, “an amazing teacher, a mentor, and down to earth in his approach. As much as winemaking is pure farming, a chemistry, even alchemy, Chad helps us put it all together seamlessly. He always says, ‘winemaking is not rocket science’ — it’s mostly timing and hard work — and this has allowed me to supply the hard work and spirituality, whether I’m punching down fermenting macrobins, or meditating with the barrels.”
Graphic example #2: the 2005 Harmony Wynelands Lodi Alicante Bouschet ($30). If you have not yet tasted a red wine made purely from Alicante Bouschet, you just haven’t lived — haven’t entered Lodi Wine Heaven, or you are simply, to borrow a famous guitarist’s expression, not “experienced.” The varietal aroma of Alicante Bouschet has been described as elderberry-like, and Harmony Wynelands’ is that and more: boysenberry, shaved cacao, and sun dried berries, couched in deep, earthy, skin-of-berry sensations strapped across a big, black velvet canvas.
To MacKay, Alicante Bouschet requires extreme amount of focus and “prayers.” The grapes are picked “ripe,” but the intrinsic tannin and textural wildness of the grape require “endless racking” and a minimum of two years barrel aging in French and Hungarian white oak. This, too, has not gone unnoticed; re two consecutive gold medals in the 2008 and 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
When you visit Harmony Wynelands, chances are you’ll be well met by either Shaun or Linda themselves. Then you’ll also be wowed by their tasting room, which is not so much a room as a vertical, high beamed, 30 by 30 ft. structure built to house a 1,500 pipe 2/11 Robert Morton organ that originally graced San Francisco’s Castro Theatre during much of the last century; and purchased and brought to Lodi by the music loving Bob Harzell in 1987. Neither is this historic instrument there just for looks: it is fastidiously tuned, and on Harmony Wynelands Web site you’ll find a Calendar of continuous dates when you can experience its voluminous sounds, with showings of classic silent movies.
Given the rare, and meditative, quality of the wines you’ll also taste, you may even discover something within yourself when you finally pay that visit!