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.
Lodi wines in the news in 2014
As we come to the end of another year in Lodi wine country, let's look back at some of the highlights of 2014 gleaned through widely read wine publications and blog sites.
Just a small percentage of American wine lovers subscribe to Decanter, a publication in the U.K. that bills itself "The World's Best Wine Magazine." There's a lot to be said for this, though, because the English are arguably the most sophisticated wine lovers in the world. Universally respected organizations such as the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as the Institute of Masters of Wine were founded in England. Many of the world's most popular wine writers – such as Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, and Michael Broadbent – are English.
And so it is something that the lead story in Decanter's special "California 2014" issue was entitled (drum roll, please…) Next Stop, Lodi, composed by Master Sommelier Matt Stamp. The story line, as it often is for outside publications, was that Lodi was "once seen as a backwater purely for value wines." Decanter's exciting news: "Lodi's treasure trove of old vines coupled with exciting winemakers is throwing up some exciting and complex bottlings."
For the rest of the story, you can find a PDF of Decanter's story online at Next Stop, Lodi. This past year Mr. Stamp also had a similar, more detailed piece, entitled Lodi, Looking Forward, posted on the Guild of Sommeliers Web site.
The theme of Lodi wine country being newly “discovered,” or qualifying as “the next big thing,” was also echoed in a 2014 story called 5 Reasons Why Lodi, California Is the Next Napa Valley, composed by Details Magazine “Food + Drinks” correspondent Anthony Giglio. From a pure perspective of terroir (or “sense of place”), we may may not see any reason why any region – be it Lodi, Sonoma County, Santa Barbara, Walla Walla Valley or Finger Lakes – would want to be like another region, such as Napa Valley.
The best Napa Valley wines, after all, are grown in Napa Valley; just as the best Lodi wines come from Lodi, and the best Walla Walla Valley wines come only from Walla Walla Valley. Every significant wine region is special for its own reasons; not because it is comparable to another region.
Mr. Giglio, however, makes a point apparent to “any student of California winemaking history, where an area starts out making bulk or cooperative winemaking, and then suddenly wakes up and says, Enough… Let’s do it better!” Finding parallels in the recent history of wine regions like Sonoma and Santa Barbara, Giglio’s “5 reasons” why Lodi is an appellation to be reckoned with:
- Lodi is “Zin Central”
- Lodi winemakers “are Progressive”
- Lodi is “Way Ahead of the Organic Pack” (in reference to Lodi’s industry-groundbreaking Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing)
- Lodi’s “Weather Is Perfect”
- Lodi wines have “Amazing Prices”
… and we couldn’t agree more (thank you, Mr. Giglio)!
Also in the news this past year was the naming of Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard as the California State Fair “2014 Vineyard of the Year” by a jury of wine professionals, as reported in the Lodi News-Sentinel story, Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard named best in California. Originally planted in 1886 and owned by the same family ever since, the ancient Cinsaut vines in Bechthold Vineyard are now meticulously hand-tended by Phillips Farms (the agricultural arm of Michael David Winery).
Upon learning of this honor, Bechthold family member Greg Burns (who owns the Jessie’s Grove Winery estate, next door to Bechthold Vineyard) was quoted by Lodi News-Sentinel to say, "For a vineyard in our appellation to get the opportunity to be considered, and named, is a tribute to the entire Lodi appellation… The fact that this is the oldest vineyard in the Valley is also a tribute to Lodi."
But of all the things happening in Lodi wine country this past year, the most widely covered development has been the debut of the Lodi Native project: the release of six 2012 Lodi grown Zinfandels from six heritage vineyards (defined as at least 50 years of age); made by six of Lodi’s most respected wine producers, utilizing native yeast fermentation and other strict protocols emphasizing the sensory qualities derived from vineyards rather than brand or winemaker styles, or the “varietal character” of the Zinfandel grape itself.
The goal of the Lodi Native winemakers, in other words, has been to draw attention to the fact that there are unique vineyards in Lodi producing distinctive wines from the Zinfandel grape – vineyards and wines worthy of as much attention as Zinfandel vineyards in any other region of California.
The press has been all over it Among the many pieces written on the Lodi Native project, along with some quotes:
- Laurie Daniels of San Jose Mercury News on The Lodi Native Wine Project: “The results were eye-opening. The Lodi Native wines have ample fruit, but they’re also elegant, savory and aromatic, with a complexity and even a delicacy that’s downright rare in most commercial zinfandels. And they show what’s possible in Lodi…”
- W. Blake Gray of wine-searcher.com on Lodi Winemakers Strip Back Their Zinfandel: “If Zinfandel was treated with more like Pinot Noir, how different would it taste? In Lodi, a group of winemakers are finding out…”
- Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews on The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project: “… Lodi commonly gets underestimated by wine media who take the region to produce only overripe mass market wines… Together the collection offers crystalline insight into the character of Lodi's Mokelumne River appellation giving pure expression to the vineyards. Separately they each carry the juiciness of wines to drink with food, and the medium to medium-light body that allows them to work on their own…”
- Fred Swan CS of norcalwine.com on Lodi Zinfandel Goes Native: “The Lodi Native project has achieved its primary goal in the very first vintage. The wines very clearly show the differences between some of Lodi's most-prized heritage vineyards. And, despite a commitment to sacrificing ideal balance and maximum deliciousness to achieve that aim, the resulting wines are very, very good. They show that, when taken from fine, lovingly-farmed vineyards and made with care, Zinfandel needn't be sweet, thick in the mouth or dressed in new barrels to captivate. Bravo!”
- Nancy Brazil CSW of pullthatcork.com on A Zinfandel Project Reflective of the Vineyard: “These elegant, flavorful wines with restrained use of oak and great acidity should have the potential to age well and perhaps gain complexity with time… Not only is Native Lodi a demonstration of some of the area's most aged and unique vineyards, it is a demonstration of the power of cooperation and comradery among this group of Lodi winemakers. It's so refreshing to see in a competitive commercial market…”
Thirsty for some good ol’ Lodi Zinfandel? We hope you enjoy some during the rest of your 2014 holidays!