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
January 13, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

Lodi reaps more Chronicle gold than ever


Vic Mettler and his Gold medal winning 2008 Vicarmont Merlot

Earlier this month, 66 highly discriminating wine professionals and distinguished members of the wine media met to judge a staggering 5,050 wines as part of the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Although this is an annual judging of American wines, the vast majority of the Chronicle’s entries each year come from California, each vying to “out-competition” the other.

Individual wines made from Lodi grown grapes earned

  • 2 Best of Class distinctions (the absolute highest rated wines of their categories, notwithstanding price),
  • 2 Double Gold medals (meaning, the entire group of judges, with no naysayers, voted to award a gold medal)
  • 19 Gold medals
  • 60 Silver medals
  • 50 Bronze medals

… for a staggering total of 133 wines, grown in Lodi soil, achieving some sort of distinction.


The hits just keep on coming for Liz & Markus Bokisch

The cool thing about this?  In these type of events, judges are tasting “double-blind”:  they know what category or types of wines they are tasting, but never the identity (i.e. brand or producer) of the wines upon which they are passing their judgments.  Therefore, any previously attached prejudices are negated:  Lodi grown wines are judged anonymously right alongside the best wines of Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Santa Barbara, New Mexico, or places like Oregon’s Rogue Valley and New York’s Finger Lakes — and may the best wines “win!”

Here at, we’d have to say that the 2011 results represent another giant step authenticating the indisputable quality of Lodi wines and, hopefully, the region’s growing reputation as an ultra-premium wine region (as opposed to that of a “mass production” wine region, producing what old-timers still call “jug” wines, even if few wines are sold in jugs these days).


Double Gold winners: Susan & Rip Ripken

Another amazing development:  a number of Lodi’s medal winners represent first-time releases from spanking new Delta region wineries:  like McCay Cellars, Fields Family Wines, Sorelle Winery, and St. Jorge Winery.  For instance, you would almost expect Michael~David Winery, who’s been cleaning up at competitions like the Chronicle’s for nearly ten years, to hit a jackpot like the 2011 Best of Class garnered by their 2009 Incognito White).

Bokisch Vineyards notched a Best of Class for its 2008 Terra Alta Vineyard Garnacha, and a Gold for its 2008 Tempranillo; but hey, Lodi’s famed Iberian grape specialist has been doing this for several years running now.  So has Macchia Wines, with Golds for two of their Zinfandels, a Gold for their Petite Sirah, Silver medals for four more of their Zinfandels, plus a Bronze for their Barbera.  For these outstanding Lodi wineries, the hits just keep on coming!

But a Double Gold for a freshman winery like McCay Cellars and their Truluck’s Zinfandel (see our recent review on McCay’s Truluck Ways)?  Is it the unerring skill of winemaker/proprietor Michael McCay, or the crazy-sneaky quality of the old vine planting (a mix of 40 and 80 year old head trained vines) sitting there along a dusty road south of Hwy. 12 behind Van Ruiten’s winery?  Mr. McCay would modestly credit the vineyard, and we would immodestly credit the winemaker for having good enough sense, and talent, to leave well enough alone and let the vineyard speak for itself.  If you get a chance to drop by Lodi Wine Cellars downtown on Pine St., make sure to give Lodi’s “Mr. Chronicle” his well deserved pat on the back!

As for Ripken Vineyards & Winery’s triumphant Double Gold performance for their soon-to-be-released 2008 Petite Sirah:  “we almost were a no-show at this year’s competition,” admits winemaker, Susan Ripken, daughter of one of Lodi’s most respected growers, proprietor Richard “Rip” Ripken.  Evidently what happened was that Susan had delivered the Ripken entries to the wrong address in Cloverdale; and as soon as she found out, on the very last day that wines could be submitted, and just before she was to hop a plane for her vacation in Hawai`i (she’s back, sporting an Islander’s tan), she raced out of Lodi down Hwy. 12 and up 101 to retrieve her bottles and get them to the right place, just as they were lining them up for the judges.  Rip’s comment on the Double Gold?  “We’ll take it… but now that Susan’s back, Nancy and I are leaving for the Caribbean.”


Some tasting notes on some of our big winners:

Best of Class (White Rhône/Other White Varietals and Blends)2009 Michael~David, Lodi Incognito White ($18) – This dry white wine is a tribute to both Michael~David’s extensive grape sourcing and the deft blending touch of winemaker Adam Mettler and his staff.  You really can’t call it a pure Rhône style blend, as it utilizes decidedly non-Rhône-ish grapes like Chardonnay (19%), Malvasia Bianca (9%), Sauvignon Blanc (4%) and Symphony (3%) to enrich and enliven the true white Rhône grapes – Viognier (58%) and Roussanne (7%) – but who cares?  The major appeal is its exotic, fragrant fruit profile – suggesting honeysuckle, apricot, gardenia and a shake of white peppery spice – which is embedded in a slightly fleshy, full body, finishing with crisp, peppery sensations.  Phillips Farms’ Café & Bakery serves the white Incognito for breakfast and lunch everyday — and why not?  Life’s too short to not enjoy Lodi’s award winning wines anytime, anyplace!

Double Gold2008 Ripken, Lodi Petite Sirah ($20) – How in the world can a little-winery-that-could (none of Ripken’s wines are produced in larger than 300 case lots) conquer the “world” of Petite Sirah?  To understand this, you have to look at the San Francisco Chronicle judges:  by and large, they are a sophisticated bunch, not easily swayed by red wines that are over-the-top in ripe fruitiness, alcohol, oak or tannin.  They look for balance, focus and composure, and Ripken’s Petite Sirah has all that, in spades:  starting with a concentrated nose of black tea, blueberry, a sexy pomegranate-ness and some smoky edges; and on the palate, these flavors gel into an intense yet compact, medium-full whole, the varietal blueberry fruit qualities tucked in tight as a drum.  Diehard Petite Sirah lovers will also be pleased to know that the vivid, jet black/purplish color typical of the grape is also in here.  The winery will probably release the ’08 in a couple of months – get it while you can!


What Bokisch wine did *not* walk away with an award?

Double Gold2008 Bokisch, Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills-Lodi Garnacha ($18) – Garnacha is the Spanish word for Grenache, but true to his Catalan descent, winemaker/proprietor Markus Bokisch cultivates Spanish clones of this grape, otherwise known for its ubiquitous presence in the sea of Southern French vineyards, from the Bay of Biscay to the Italian Riviera.  We can see why the Chronicle judges went ga-ga for this Garnacha:  its beautifully concentrated, fraise-like, almost Pinot Noir-ish strawberry fruit perfume is tinged with peppery, autumnal spice and judicious smoke of oak.  The body is just medium in weight and moderate in tannin, coming across as very fine, restrained, and zippy in the center, with the shiny, smoky red berry flavors finishing with a good, tobacco-ish chewiness.  Attention, longtime Bokisch shoppers:  this may be Markus and Liz’s best Garnacha yet!

Gold: 2008 Vicarmont, Locust Tree Vineyard Lodi Merlot ($16) – When is the last time you’ve had a truly fine, focused, elegant Merlot?  Wonder if you knew that winemaker/proprietors Vic and Carrie Mettler – with the help of their consulting winemaker extraordinaire, Heather Pyle (also of The Lucas Winery, and a former longtime winemaker for Opus One and Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley) – have been producing a Merlot of your dreams right here in Lodi since 2005?  Typical of Lodi growers, only about 2% of the Merlot and Zinfandel meticulously grown by Vic and his father, Jerry Mettler, in their 40 acre vineyard actually goes into Vicarmont wines; after the Mettlers cherry-pick off the choice rows each year, they send the other 98% of their crop to a very large winery.  The result:  this remarkably poised, luxuriously textured, medium-full bodied red wine plumped up with pillows of black cherry fruit qualities, unblemished by excesses of oak or overreaching tannin.  A Gretchen Mol draped in black satin, lace, and an oversized bowl of Jell-Oh!).

Gold2009 Macchia, Oblivious Lodi Zinfandel ($24) – We’re singling out this Zinfandel out of Macchia’s full complement of award winning wines because it tends to be the blackest, most concentrated, and rarest of winemaker/proprietor Tim Holdener’s single vineyard cuvées.  It’s all about the terroir:  each year, crafted from the tiniest berries and clusters culled from a ridiculously low yielding (usually around half a ton per acre), dry farmed vineyard, located on one of the sandiest sites on the east side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, off Victor Rd.  Definitely a connoisseur’s Lodi zin:  steeped in black chocolaty, almost syrupy thick, raspberryish fruit and a full scaled tannin structure that is nonetheless seamlessly knit and velvety textured.  Non ultra plus.

Oh, but there’s more, much more… other Lodi grown award winners at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition:


Double Gold

2009 Quinta Cruz, Silvaspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa-Lodi Verdelho


2009 Bokisch, Clements Hills-Lodi Albariño

2008 Bokisch, Lodi Tempranillo

2008 Brazin, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Downhill, Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Torrontes

2009 Fields Family, Lodi Big Red

2009 Gnarly Head, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Harlow Ridge, Lodi Chardonnay

2008 Klinker Brick, Mokelumne River-Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Macchia, Voluptuous Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Macchia, Rebellius Lodi Petite Sirah

2008 Montoya, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Peirano Estate, Lodi Chardonnay

2009 Peirano Estate, Lodi Petite Sirah

2008 Plungerhead, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Sorelle, Lodi Sangiovese

2008 Van Ruiten Family, Lodi Petite Sirah


First-time producers, first-time multi-award winners: St. Jorge's Vern & Jenise Vierra


2008 337, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Bargetto, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Barsetti, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Benson Ferry, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Cameron Hughes, Lot 191 Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Deep Purple, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Michael~David, Earthquake Lodi Zinfandel

2006 Michael~David, Earthquake Lodi Syrah

2008 Michael~David, Earthquake Lodi Petite Sirah

2008 Fenestra, Lodi Tempranillo

2008 Fenestra, Lodi Graciano

2008 Fenestra, Tourvanillo Lodi Red (Porguguese/Bordeaux blend)

2004 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Port (Portuguese blend)

2009 Fields Family, Il Ladro Lodi Red (Sangiovese/Zinfandel)

2009 Fields Family, Lodi Syrah

2009 Harlow Ridge, Lodi Pinot Grigio

2009 Harlow Ridge, Lodi Pinot Noir

2009 Harney Lane, Lodi Chardonnay

2008 Harney Lane, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Harney Lane, Lodi Tempranillo

2009 Housely’s Century Oak, River Ranch Lodi Chardonnay

2007 Itsazin, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Jeff Runquist R, River Oaks Ranch Red

2007 Judd’s Hill, Lodi Petite Sirah

2008 LangeTwins Estate, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 LangeTwins Estate, Midnight Reserve Lodi Red (Bordaux blend)

2008 Leccino, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Loma Prieta, Amarosa Vineyard Lodi Petite Sirah

2006 Lucchesi, Lodi Tempranillo

2008 Michael~David, Lust Lodi Zinfandel

2008 m2, Artist Series Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Macchia, Outrageous Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Macchia, Luxurous Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Macchia, Serious Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Macchia, Amorous Lodi Sangiovese

2006 Maggio, Lodi Petite Sirah

2007 McCay, Lodi Petite Sirah

2007 McCay, Paisley Lodi Red

2009 Michael~David, Incognito Lodi Red

2008 Mikami, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Peirano Estate, Lodi Dry Rosé

2009 Peirano Estate, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Peirano Estate, Lodi Tempranillo

2008 Pennywise, Lodi Petite Sirah

2007 Michael~David, Rapture Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Redwood Creek, Lodi Zinfandel

NV Regio, Lodi Dark Red

2008 Ripken, El Matador Lodi Tempranillo

2008 Salisbury, Wyneland Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Soquel, 109 Year Old Scheiner Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Soquel, 91 Year Old Schmierer Vineyard Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 St. Jorge, Lodi Verdelho

2009 St. Jorge, Sobremesa Lodi White (dessert wine)

2007 Stanza, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Valhalla, Mohr-Fry Ranch Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Van Ruiten Family, Lodi Chardonnay

2009 Van Ruiten Family, Lodi Pinot Grigio

2008 Van Ruiten Family, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Villaraine, Lodi Viognier

2009 Zynthesis, Lodi Zinfandel


Wines sourced from Ron Silva's Silvaspoons Vineyard won all kinds of awards, for multiple wineries


2008 181, Lodi Merlot

NV Barefood, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Malbec

2007 Fenestra, Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Touriga Nacional

2009 Fields Family, Sherman Family Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Forever, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Harlow Ridge, Lodi Petite Sirah

2009 Harlow Ridge, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Harney Lane, Lizzy James Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

2007 Harney Lane, Lodi Petite Sirah

2008 Housley’s Century Oak, Inezs Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

2007 JK, Lodi La Riata Red

2009 Judd’s Hill, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Klinker Brick, Farrah Lodi Syrah

2008 LangeTwins, Lodi Sauvignon Blanc

2007 LangeTwins, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Loma Preita, Amarosa Vineyard Lodi Red

2008 m2, Soucie Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Macchia, Delicious Lodi Barbera

2008 Maggio, Lodi Zinfandel

2007 Maley Brothers, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Mettler Family, Epicenter Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Mettler Family Estate, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 MV, Lodi Sauvignon Blanc

2008 OZV, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Peirano Estate, The Other Lodi White

2009 Peirano Estate, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Peirano Estate, Lodi Malbec

2009 Plungerhead, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Rail 2 Rail, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Ravenswood, Lodi Zinfandel

2008 Ripken, Lodi Pinot Noir

2008 Scotto Family, Lodi Malbec

2009 Michael~David, Lodi Seven Heavenly Chards

2009 Sorelle, Manna Vineyards, Lodi Primitivo

2008 St. Jorge, Giorgi Ranch Lodi Zinfandel

2008 St. Jorge, Giorgi Ranch Lodi Tempranillo

2008 St. Sophia, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 Stama, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Stanza, Lodi Chardonnay

2007 Stray Dog, Lodi Zinfandel

2009 The Dancing Fox, Fire Dance Lodi White

2008 The Dancing Fox, Lodi Tempranillo

NV The Dancing Fox, Cherry Blossom Cherry Wine

2006 Ursa, Silvaspoons Vineyard Lodi Tannat

2008 Van Ruiten Family, Lodi Cabernet-Shiraz

2008 Wildfire, Lodi Chardonnay

2008 Wildfire, Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Wyneland Estate, Mohr-Fry Ranches Lodi Alicante Bouschet

Other notables:

2008 LangeTwins, Clarksburg Chardonnay

2010 Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, California Moscato


The Dancing Fox's Gregg Lewis took home a medal for his "Cherry Blossom" Cherry Wine



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