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
September 16, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

Lodi’s 2011 zin roars in


At Michael~David, Barry Gnekow (consulting winemaker) and Adam Mettler (GM/winemaker) look over incoming Zinfandel from Ben and Madelyn Kolber's vineyard

Up until last week, Tim Holdener (winemaker/proprietor of Macchia Wines) tells us, there were some fears that “yields might be down as much as 50%.”  But now that he has gotten in his fastest ripening vineyards this past week – including the dry farmed Leland Noma’s and “Oblivious” next door, yielding as little as half-a-ton per acre, as well as Dave Devine’s drip-irrigated vineyard in the Clements Hills AVA – Holdener has adjusted his expectation to “about 20% less.”

Adds Holdener, “we expected a less than average year,  when we saw all the shot berries that resulted from the spring rains that came through when the vines were setting their crop.  We also expected harvest to come a little later than normal because of the cooler weather during most of the summer – temperatures in the 80°s, nights in the 50°s, and the lack of 100° degree days.  But because crop levels were down, and the vines didn’t have as much work to do insofar as ripening fruit, picking has been pretty much on time.


Macchia's Tim Holder (left) with Leland Noma, following the usual slim pickings from Noma's dry farmed zin planting on the east side of Lodi, off Victor/Hwy. 12

“The good news,” Holdener tells us, “is that the cooler weather is giving us nice, bright acids, resulting in more balanced wines.  Grapes are coming in at an amazing 26° Brix, soaking up in the winery around 28°, and pH right around 3.5.  As long as this weather holds up – and it looks like it will – the signs are pointing to another high quality year for us.  Our second year in the row of experiencing the type of  growing conditions associated more with the cooler appellations along the coast.  If this is ‘global warning,’ I’m liking it – makes it easier to make great Zinfandel!”

For Kyle Lerner of Harney Lane, the end of last week (September 8-10) was one of frenzied activity, as both his Primitivo (forming the backbone of the Harney Lane Lodi Zinfandel) and Zinfandel from his family’s 107 year old Lizzy James Vineyard suddenly shot up from 25° to over 26° Brix in seemingly a matter of hours, during the 90+ degree days.  “What made it difficult,” says Lerner, “was the shortage of pickers” – a concern expressed by other wineries, mindful of the late fruit season (pears, peaches, etc.) up north, which has occupied the usual pool of field workers.  “What’s made it worse is reports of INS rounding up and hauling people away – I heard as many as 40 at a time.  Perfect timing… just when we need them the most.”


Harney Lane's Kyle Lerner reading his fermenting Primitivo

But Lerner got his Primitivo and Zinfandel in okay, as has Michael~David Winery, where over the past week they’ve been processing over 120 tons a day (as opposed to the 10, 20 tons taken in by smaller producers like McCay and Macchia).  Next week they expect the red wine grape harvest to heat up to 200 tons per day.

While looking over the crushing of Zinfandel from Ben and Madelyn Kolber’s vineyard, located on the west side of the Mokelumne River AVA (the heart of Lodi zin country), Michael~David GM/winemaker Adam Mettler told us, “quality should be good, even though we’re not getting quite the hang time as we did last year.  There’s generally been a good ratio of high acidity, even when there’s higher pH, and most of what we’re looking at is around 25°, 26° Brix, soaking up over 28°, although we do have a couple tanks over 30°.


Michael~David's Adam Mettler & shot berried zin

“We’re looking at a lot more shatter than usual in the Zinfandel,” adds Mettler, referring to the good percentage of undeveloped grapes in many of the incoming bins, “and so tonnage is definitely down.  We have one vineyard out there that usually gives us 6 tons an acre – it’s giving us closer to, like, 1.9.  And because of the crop load, ripening is coming on faster. “ Yet Mettler remains confident about the overall quality of what he’s seeing, saying “this year we’re trying to do the same as we do every year – just trying not to screw things up.”

Further glimpses into the drama of the 2011 Lodi Zinfandel harvest thus far:


7 AM in Truluck's Vineyard, picked by McCay Cellars


McCay Cellars' Michael McCay, riding with his take of zin from his Truluck's Vineyard, on the west side of Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA


Shot of zin cluster in Truluck's, rife with shatter, which was left hanging on the vine...


Undesirable clusters that were somehow picked at Truluck's were immediately tossed out McCay's sorters


Keith Watts, who farms Truluck's, did a walk-through, directing McCay towards the better rows


While dimpled, this Truluck's cluster is chock full of the flavor that make's it "Truluck's": intense, jammy, pepper/black tea spiced raspberry!


Crew manager Alex Lopez (right) doing the meticulous field sorting for McCay in Truluck's Vineyard


Alex Lopez talking to the Truluck's crew about picking more to Michael McCay's exacting standards


Truluck's Vineyard harvest


Rare pause for Truluck's picker


Winning team: Michael McCay & grower Keith Watts


You read it here first: these trays of Truluck's zin will be winning awards two, three years from now


The train passing by McCay's Trainwreck Vineyard, picked this past week


The zins picked for McCay from the 69 year old vines in Trainwreck were looking mighty good -- minimal rot, shot berries and dessication


Bob Lauchland farms Trainwreck with his brother Richard


One of Leland Noma's extremely low yielding, tiny clustered, dry farmed 109 year old, own rooted zin vines, growing in super-sandy soil


Back breaking job of picking Noma's lower lying ancient vines


Leland Noma grows one of Macchia's most fabled zins


Zinfandel dumped into crusher at Michael~David Winery


Half ton bins of zin stacked four-high at Michael~David


Zinfandel clusters pushed into the crusher, where skins are broken and stems are separated out


Michael~David's fearsome foursome: Adam Mettler; Derek Devries (production/winemaker); Barry Gnekow; Kevin Phillips (VP/operations)


Faces in the field: Truluck's Vineyard pickers


2011's ultimate star: the smaller clustered/berried Zinfandels, which should produce a more intense, spicier, denser wine



Lodi Wine Visitor Center
2545 West Turner Road Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Daily 10:00am-5:00pm

Lodi Winegrape Commission
2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm

Have a question? Complete our contact form.