Why the “R” Grenache, voted “Best Red Wine in Lodi,” may be among California’s finest
This past June the judges at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition voted on 2013’s “Best Red Wine in Lodi”: the 2012 Jeff Runquist “R” Alta Mesa-Lodi Grenache ($20), sourced from Ron Silva’s Silvaspoons Vineyards.
Has Grenache “arrived?”
First, let’s look at exactly what it is about the Grenache produced by the Amador County based Jeff Runquist Wines that had the State Fair judges so enthralled: vivid violet-red color; gushy, high toned, strawberry coulis-like fragrance with smidgens of hazelnut-like wood complexities seeping out from the seams; and sharply defined, silky-fine texturing, giving the wine’s plump red berryishness a soft yet notably snappy, lip smacking, bright and lively feel.
Grenache is a grape with as long a history in Lodi and the rest of California as any other variety of Vitis vinifera originating in France; only, for years it has been cultivated, just as in Southern France, primarily as a blending grape with other varieties (such as Syrah and Mourvèdre), or as the base wine for dry or off-dry styles of rosé – more often than not sold in “jugs,” rather than in premium priced packagings.
Comparing the grape’s contemporary prospects to that of Syrah, the better known black skinned grape of Southern French, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this past March that “Grenache has the goods to succeed where Syrah couldn’t…. its profile is as welcoming as Syrah’s is mysterious – packed with generous strawberry flavors and spice, its edges soft (but not mushy), its demeanor as sunny and welcoming as its native terrain.”
Lodi’s own Michael McCay (of McCay Cellars) has recently described Grenache as, potentially, “Lodi’s version of Pinot Noir.” When well made into a red wine, Grenache is certainly soft, silky and red fruited like Pinot Noir; albeit without quite reaching the glorious heights of layering and silkiness as the best Pinot Noirs. Insofar as complexity, a good red Grenache also has black or white pepper spice qualities to go along with its meaty, if straightforward, texturing.
So which is it? Can Grenache attain heights hitherto unassociated with the varietal, or are we just grasping at straws for the next-best-thing?
We say, the proof is always in the bottle – in this case, Jeff Runquist’s 2012 Grenache. This, in fact, was Mr. Runquist’s fifth vintage working with Mr. Silva’s Lodi grown Grenache, and stars happened to be in alignment. Says Silva, “2012 was a good year. Weather during harvest allowed us to hang the fruit a little longer without raisining, which otherwise increases alcohol. We thinned to one cluster per shoot; but because Grenache grows in such large clusters – as much as a foot long, weighing up to 2, even 3 pounds apiece – it’s not like we are dealing with low yields (Silva’s 2.3 acres of planted Grenache usually carry just over 5 tons per acre).
“But I’d say the success of Jeff’s 2012 has more to do with a lot of hard work finally paying off. He’s getting better at it as a winemaker. We’ve been getting better with a more aggressive program of composting in recent years, resulting in better balanced canopies and healthier looking vines. The vines (Silva’s Grenache was planted in 1999) are also reaching a peak of maturity. Plus there was a little of that thing called ‘blind luck.’”
Healthy canopies, mind you, is not to be underestimated as the difference-maker: in prior vintages Silva has freely admitted that the meager gravelly clay soils of Lodi’s Alta Mesa AVA plus virulent October conditions have, at times, caused his vine leaves to shrivel up and shut down: putting a kibosh on photosynthesis – the key to keeping each individual berry’s sugar and flavor producing factory going – before grapes were reaching optimal ripeness.
Mr. Runquist also volunteers, “Our rendition of Grenache hasn’t come easy, or with our first attempt. It took time to find our stride with the grape. We now take a middle-of-the-road approach, producing a soft summer-time style of Grenache – light and fruity and easy to enjoy either by itself on a warm afternoon or with light Mediterranean cuisine.”
To capture the vintage’s brightness, Runquist chose to rush his 2012 to bottle this past April, after just seven months in small oak barrels – mostly “neutral” (i.e. previously used) French, American and “other” oak types. Adds Runquist, “The vintage turned out a bit more substantial than previous editions – rich red fruits and plum, delivered with a rich and satisfying texture, and as always, the tannins are supple and integrated.”
Whatever the case may be, in 2012 Silva and Runquist teamed up to produce not just a great tasting Grenache, but also something fine enough to please the most discriminating wine lovers!