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
July 29, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Lodi's 2021 Tour of Albariño is open to all without pre-registration

Celebrate the Spanish-Portuguese Grape Tailor-Made for Lodi

In honor of International Albariño Day (officially, August 2), eight Lodi wineries will open their doors to celebrate their seventh annual Lodi Tour of Albariño on Saturday August 7th and Sunday August 8, 2021. 

Open to the public, this 2-day celebration requires no tickets or reservations, and Albariño lovers will be free to visit participating wineries at their own leisurely pace throughout the weekend. The bonus is that each of the participating wineries will be offering special tastings exclusive to this weekend's celebration, along with special food pairings and discounts... 

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Randy Caparoso
July 27, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

How varietal character and terroir became generational bones of contention

Marty Winters and Alex Pitts, co-owner/winemakers of Maître de Chai Wines, have been applying a radically different (leaner, less fruity and oaky) approach to old vine Lodi Zinfandel, reflecting a generational shift in quality standards.

An indictment of varietal character

Among all the quality factors by which American wines have been evaluated, the most onerous, and increasingly dubious, is the conception of "varietal character."

Varietal character is the term used to describe sensory qualities associated with a particular grape identified on the label of a bottling. For instance, the varietal character of a Cabernet Sauvignon is often considered to be a red wine that exudes aromas of blackcurrant, dark berries, some degree of herbaceousness, and a full body and generous tannin. The varietal expectation of a Zinfandel is that of a very berry-like red wine, medium to full in body/tannin and zesty in flavor...

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Randy Caparoso
July 21, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Grapevines adopting July's reproductive strategy (i.e., veraison)

Transition to 2021 veraison colors in Lodi's Wegat Vineyard (Zinfandel planted in 1958).

It's that time of year again, here in mid-July. Red wine grapes are in the midst of exchanging their green skin colors for coats of red, blue, purple, black, and all the shades in between. This stage of a wine grape's development is called veraison, from the French word véraison (simply meaning "change of color").

Veraison is also a signal that a grapevine is half-way through the process of yielding fully ripened grapes. Once red wine grapes turn color, they are usually picked within the next 40 to 50 days...

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Randy Caparoso
July 15, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Beating the heat with fresh, new California style coolers

Have ingredients, make wine coolers.

It's getting hot, and I don't have to tell you — it's hotter than usual. Mother Nature is telling us something. I'm not just talking about what we can do as citizens of the world, each of us doing our part to alleviate the extreme repercussions of climate change. But also what we can do as wine lovers to bring relief to ourselves, friends and family.

Number one, drink wine over ice cubes. We need to cool our body temperatures while hydrating ourselves. Alcoholic beverages, admittedly, have a way of removing rather than adding fluids to our bodies, but more than half of the wine drinking world came up with a solution to this perpectual predicament long ago: Drink icy wines with fruit juices. In other words, the drink many of us might have thought we said aloha to long ago — wine coolers...

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Randy Caparoso
July 13, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Guantonios Wood Fired is revolutionizing the way we look at Lodi wines

Guantonios Chef Nick Guantone with his signature Ezzo Pepperoni Pizza

First thing to know about Guantonios Wood Fired is that they are more than a little (60-seat), family-owned, wood oven pizza restaurant. The Lodi locals who have already been enjoying their offerings since since opening during the pandemic in the spring of last year have also come to know these three things...

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Randy Caparoso
July 6, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Oak barrels, part 4 — Step by step visual of how barrels are coopered

At Tonnellerie Ô in Benicia, California, raised barrels are moved from fire to fire to execute the bending of oak staves into the classic shape of a Bordeaux style barrique.

Continued from Oak barrels, part 3 — French and American silviculture and oak seasoning

The cooper's ancient art

That "necessity is the mother of invention" was an adage that probably predated even Plato (born at around 425 BC), who wrote that down for posterity. So did wine barrels — in terms of predating Plato. Kazillions of wine lovers today would agree that if there was ever a great, great invention that goes back further than recorded history, it's probably the oak barrel: a timeless, elegantly composed piece of craftsmanship essential to the quality of so many of the world's greatest wines, not to mention whiskies, brandies and fortified wines...

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Randy Caparoso
July 2, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Oak barrels, part 3 — French and American silviculture and oak seasoning

Harney Lane Winery owner Kyle Lerner with fermenting Zinfandel, about to be racked into French or American oak barrels.

Continued from Oak barrels, part 2 — historical usage up until modern times

Winemaker machinations

Winemakers are walking, talking examples of the old adage, that winemaking is both a science and an art. Oak barrels tend to bring out the artistic side of winemakers.

Take McCay Cellars owner/grower/winemaker Mike McCay, who has achieved some notoriety for his 100% native yeast fermented Zinfandel, plus a battery of other Lodi-grown varietal reds. These are distinctive wines which tend to have organic (in the sense of natural or authentic) aromas, sometimes peculiar but more often compelling — qualities simply not found in more conventionally produced wines. Therefore, according to Mr. McCay, "we use strictly French oak, generally with medium toast. We get structural tannins in our native fermented reds, but it's not something you want to attack with more aggressive barrels, like what you get in American oak — you can squash the brightness and layers in the wine..."

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Randy Caparoso
June 29, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Oak barrels, part 2 — historical usage up until modern times

Lodi's The Lucas Winery co-owner/winemaker Heather Pyle Lucas, who utilizes strictly French grown oak for aging and barrel fermentation.

Oak barrel protocols at Lodi's first artisanal winery

In 1978, after working for Robert Mondavi Winery for 16 years, David Lucas established Lodi's second small, independent winery, and the region's first to focus exclusively on wines crafted in a traditional French style. Which meant usage of strictly French oak barrels.

Mr. Lucas' first bottling was a 1978 Zinfandel grown entirely on his own winery estate, which he began calling ZinStar Vineyard (first planted in 1933) a few years later. Explains Lucas: "I picked the grapes at a lower Brix (i.e., sugar reading) because I never wanted to make a high alcohol wine, and from the beginning I aged my Zinfandel in French oak — not because I was trying to make a Bordeaux or Burgundy style wine, but because I wanted to make the best Zinfandel I could..."

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Randy Caparoso
June 25, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

Oak barrels, part 1 — origin and usage

The ancient art of barrel coopering, practiced at Tonnellerie Ô cooperage in Benicia, California.

Slow and patient barrel-aging (vs. shortcuts)

This is an article about oak barrels. When and where the notion of aging wine in artfully bent staves of oak first started, and how it's done — or not really done — today.

What do we mean by "not really done"? Most of the world's finest wines are still aged in oak barrels. It's a centuries-long tradition. Many of the finest wines are also fermented in oak barrels, which is known to achieve even more harmonious sensory qualities associated with use of oak barrels. Generally speaking, both red and white wines can be improved by oak aging because the porous nature of a barrel allows for oxygenation, as well as a little evaporation and concentration, of wines during the course of several months or often over a year, and even as a result of more than two or three years of being kept in a barrel... 

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Randy Caparoso
June 18, 2021 | Randy Caparoso

How women and German settlers civilized the rum-guzzling 1800s town called Lodi

German themed Lodi Grape Festival — reflecting the predominant heritage of Lodi's population — held in the 1930s under the historical Lodi Arch. Lodi Historical Society.

The era of saloons and gamblers

In 1874 the 450 or so citizens of a little town called Mokelumne — nestled in the lush watershed area of California's Mokelumne River, just east of the marshy Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta — decided they needed a name change. So they came up with "Lodi." 

A short and sweet, pronounceable name probably wasn't the only thing that was needed. At that time, the community was being drawn up in unpaved roads, bogged down by sticky mud during the winter rains, and engulfed in nostril-clinging dust when stirred up by the Delta breezes during the desert-dry summer months. One local historian has called late 1800s Lodi "an unruly child... sometimes referred to as a 'rum-guzzling' town with young boys on the road to hell" (Christman, Our Time to Shine)...

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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

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