Michael Klouda’s Stem Theory magnifies the wild side of Cabernet grapes
If you dig super-rare wines no one else knows about, lend us your ears: the 2011 Michael Klouda Lodi Stem Theory ($26) is a worthy follow-up to winemaker/owner Michael Klouda’s debut wine from last Spring, the 2010 Michael Klouda Broken Vine Lodi Zinfandel. A couple of things going for Stem Theory:
1. Mr. Klouda handcrafted 100 cases of it (doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a big jump from Broken Vine‘s measly production of 25 cases, which some zin lovers can consume all by themselves within a month).
2. Stem Theory is a velvety smooth yet sturdy blend of Lodi grown Cabernet Franc (70%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%) and Petit Verdot (5%); crackling with pungent notes of cedar, eucalyptus and mint leaves, underscoring flowing flavor sensations of raspberry and sweetly roasted red peppers, pushed through a moderately weighted palate feel brightened by zesty acidity and modest, tight grained tannins.
What did Mr. Klouda have in mind when calling his second vintage of wine “stem theory?” The back label tells us: “An addition of grape stems into the fermentation process gives this wine a style unique from other wines in the region.” That it is, since the vast majority of vintners avoid adding stems back into fermentors precisely because they don’t want the taste – a slightly green sensation of, well, wiry stems – that Klouda was looking for.
Says Klouda, “I personally enjoy the green taste in grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which come mostly from the pyrazine components naturally found in the grapes.” For the record, pyrazines (or methoxypyrazines) are compounds that can be detected by the average person in dosages as small as 9 parts per trillion: this is what gives the “bellpeppery” taste found in bellpeppers, and the green-herby taste very common in white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Conscious of the fact that, in the warm Mediterranean climate of Lodi, Cabernet varieties tend to produce soft, sometimes wimpy wines, Klouda destemmed the grapes going into his Stem Theory, then turned around and added about 15% of the detached stems back into the fermenting wine. The idea, or “theory,” was to see if the wine could pick up more tannin structure from the stems, and also to see if the phenolic compounds derived from stems could bring out the “wild side” — those pesky pyrazines that most winegrowers also try to avoid — in the two Cabernet grapes.
Did the theory work out? Well, the only thing that really matters is that Stem Theory is a downright delicious drinking red wine – lots of velvet, plus equal doses of chutzpah – which is a feat in itself, especially considering the fact that Mr. Klouda has been here in Lodi for barely four years. He originally came directly from his hometown of Burton, Ohio, suitcase and guitar in hand, to work as a viticultural assistant for Michael-David Winery – which is still his day-job (he also plays an eclectic style of guitar in occasional gigs at night). Today, at the tender age of 26, Klouda has three vintages of his own wine under his belt (there are barrels of 2012 Zinfandel currently in the making): so you could say that the Stem Theory is working out might fine, thank you.
In fact, according to Klouda, the experience of pruning a Northeastern Ohio vineyard planted to Cabernet Franc was what first attracted him to the grape. Stem Theory’s Cabernet Franc was sourced from Ron Silva’s highly lauded Silvaspoons Vineyards, carved into the shallow, gravelly clay loam of Lodi’s Alta Mesa AVA; and the Cabernet Sauvignon came from a vineyard farmed by Pat Hale on the western side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA.
Silva recalls picking the 2011 Cabernet Franc grapes for Klouda, telling us: “Michael likes his sugars a little lower than other winemakers, so we picked his tiny lot of Cabernet Franc a little earlier than the bulk of it, which went to Michael-David Winery. Because of the stingy soil, Cabernet Franc grapes in Alta Mesa grow in little tiny clusters, no bigger than the palm of your hand.” Klouda aged his Stem Theory in four French oak barrels (50% new), which soaked up very nicely into the texture and honest, herby-berry taste of the wine (avoiding an obviously “oaked” character). He basically did his job as a winemaker, which is not messing too much with the supple, lip smacking flavors already inherent in the grapes.
If you’re intrigued by this rare, exotically tuned red, you can contact Mr. Klouda directly through his MK Wines online store. It is also slated to be offered at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center as well as at Wine & Roses Hotel’s Towne House Restaurant, here in Lodi. Fair warning, though: don’t take your time about looking into Stem Theory, because those 100 cases will go fast!