Whenever I head for Lodi I think first of its considerable country charm. The long, straight country lanes passing by tilled fields sowed with grape vines remind me of John Denver’s Country Roads song. The frequently placed signposts stacked high with all the winery pointers they can hold seemingly pointing in every degree of the compass, and the well-kept farmers residences along the roads all strongly proclaim country. I have been told that when I see a tractor working a plot, the person on it is likely to be the land owner.
The attendance at the 2018 ZinFest was the largest turnout I have seen for this fest. On the appointed day, May 20, the weather was perfect along the peaceful Mokelumne River at Lodi Lake, the site of ZinFest, and the offerings of the festival were considerable. If you want it, the Fest likely has it! The “Up in Smoke” ZinFest BBQ Experience by chef Chad Rosenthal offered three 45-minute demonstrations of grilling summer fare. Another food event, the ZinFest Cooking School, paired regional celebrity chefs with local winemakers who presented hourly demonstrations of recipes suitable for home preparation complimented by matching wines. Yet another educational opportunity, the ZinFest Wine School, gave hourly presentations on topics ranging from blind tasting to the differences in Zinfandel sourced from grapes in Lodi’s various locales. For musical distractions there were rambling performers, live bands, and the ZinFest Music Lounge. Shoppers enjoyed wares from artisan merchants and the ZinFest Merchandise Store. All that and not even mentioning what we all came for, the wines, over 200 of them were poured by the vintners!
Lodi continues to demonstrate that it is a progressive, adaptive winegrowing community. It is noteworthy that Lodi has made a significant commitment to sustainable winegrowing and to their own appellation by implementing standards called the Lodi Rules. Why did Lodi implement these rules? Of course, because they wanted to. The growers decided these guidelines were important for Lodi’s future due to the reason that they help ensure the production of quality table wine. And very importantly, the rules vastly raise the probability that such production will remain sustainable. Ultimately, these rules give Lodi credibility and authenticity. Not to mention that these rules can and do assist other wine areas in the same manner.
Certification under Lodi Rules is rigorous, voluntary, and third-party audited. The Lodi Rules consist of two main constituents. First, winegrowers are encouraged to adopt more than 120 sustainability practices, which are known as “Standards”. The pesticide risk model is the second main constituent of Lodi Rules. PEAS (Pesticide Environmental Assessment System) is a risk model used to quantify the impact to the environment and to people of all pesticides employed in a vineyard. Lodi Rules appears to have value and purpose with greater than 45,000 acres of wine grape “Certified Green” throughout California, and 24,000 of those acres lying within the Lodi AVA.
More than 80 wineries call Lodi home, and the area with quality table wine grapes planted in Lodi lies in range of 100,000 acres. Although Lodi calls itself the Zinfandel capital of the world, the number of different grape varieties used in wine production in Lodi exceeds expectations with over 100 varietals in local growers’ vineyards. At least presently Lodi is especially known for its use of its Spanish varieties, but diversity grows.
Growers plant an assortment of grape varietals for various reasons. Some say they simply enjoy trying something new. Others mention the compatibility of their grapes with the Lodi climate, which has been described as being similar to Mediterranean. The Lodi winegrowers wanted and needed to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Essentially, they decided to attack the undefended hill. There are some very successful companies that have used that strategy. Wine made from grapes that are a novelty to the US market fit Lodi’s requirements just fine. Importantly, many domestic wine consumers happen to have interest in such wines.
Just to mention a few of the grapes in Lodi’s vineyards other than Zinfandel are Albariño, Verdejo, Graciano, Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, Torrontes, Touriga Nacional, Nero d’Avola, Viognier, Marsanne, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot; Chardonnay, Charbono, and Dornfelder. That’s a few, although there are many more. A few of the countries of origin of these grapes include Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Germany.
I always enjoy the car trip between Napa and Lodi, much of it on State Route 12, mainly a two-lane road with some divisions and passing lanes. Have your sun-shades on, especially traveling in morning and late afternoon, it’s bright and the sun is in front. Crossing the bridge at Rio Vista, my half-way point, is pleasingly bracing due to the frigid air flowing down the path of the Sacramento River Delta waterway especially just before dusk. That bridge brings to mind the misadventure of Humphrey, a humpback whale who had gone nearly 60 miles astray from the Pacific Ocean, passing through in 1985.
The numerous wind turbines just west of Rio Vista paint a surreal picture on the landscape. The wind in this area is particularly intense, hence the reason for their placement. Surprisingly almost 50% efficient at converting wind into electricity, the turbines substantiate the benefits inherent in employing diverse natural resources. Hydrocarbon fuels can yield greater capacity than wind turbines but are less efficient and, discounting “green” hydrocarbons, are non-renewable.
My Tasting Notes
90, Verdejo, Bokisch, Clay Station Vineyard, Lodi, 2016
Part of this 164-case effort by Bokisch was permitted to remain on the skins for four hours before going to press and fermentation in an effort to enhance complexity. Aging took place in stainless steel drums, with portions in new French oak and Acacia barrels. This mid-weight pale Verdejo, typically produced in Rueda, Spain, yields aromas of white spring flowers, fresh sliced honeydew melon, and fennel. Smooth and gentle on the palate while not accenting excessive acidity, this delicious 2016 delivers fresh white peach with a hint of golden raisins. About $20.
89, Viognier, Berghold, Lodi, 2015
A big one, yielding gorgeous aromas of peach, stone fruit, melon, and fennel. Viscous, rich, and intense, the acid level is high nicely balancing the robustness, and making a food-friendly wine too. This pale gold Viognier from Berghold in east Lodi was aged in stainless steel. About $24.
90, Viognier, Peirano Estate Vineyards, Lodi, 2016
In 1879 a grape grower from Genoa, Italy named Giacomo Peirano immigrated to California with visions of the Gold Ruch in mind. Fortunately for us, he later apparently decided there was more gold in grapes, bringing Zinfandel cuttings from his family’s vineyard in Italy to plant on 300 acres of land he purchased in Lodi. This estate grown, very light-gold Viognier opens with aromas of stone fruit, mineral tones of wet gravel, and honey with hints of anise, tangerine, and fresh sliced peaches on the palate. Aged in 4% new French oak barrels, the notable structure and elevated acid level contrasts perfectly with the rich fruit. With its weight, size, and intensity it could almost be termed muscular. Demonstrates quite notable character including fine length punctuated by pleasant bitters. About $16.
Drava winemaker and co-proprietor, Hey Steve, is that Drava Pinot Gris in the glass?
95, Cabernet Franc, Drava, Lodi, 2014
Drava’s extraordinary 2014 Cabernet Franc offers enticing expressive fruit, great elegance, and a sublime character while unveiling notes of boysenberry, black-cherry, and a hint of peony. Deft, buoyant, and light in touch this wine nevertheless delivers great impact. Although this 82-case production weighs in at 15.2% alcohol, I have never seen a “hot” character in Drava’s wines. Transparent ruby with purple highlights, features great purity of fruit with a respectable level of tension, prodigious expression, and a lightly tangy finish. Amazingly subtle and delicate with a very fine touch. About $26.
88, Cabernet Sauvignon, Klinker-Brick, Lodi, 2014
Harvested October 12, 2014 from near the Mokelumne River, this medium-light-ruby-purple 2014 spent 16 months in French oak and offers aromas of red plums, tree bark, and forest floor. Smoothly textured with mouth-coating medium to mild tannins with notable flavor content, the wine delivers inviting dark red fruit to the palate. Although the Cabernet Sauvignon character is a bit elusive, this is a very enjoyable wine. About $19.
89, Garnacha, Bokisch, Lodi, 2015
Pale-pastel red-purple is this 280-case production of Bokisch 2015 Garnacha. Showcases red-bramble berries, cranberries, and a note of roasted peanuts. Balanced, bright, and refreshing with a lengthy finish. About $25.
91, Zinfandel, Drava, Lodi, 2014
This 146-case effort by Drava was harvested quite late at 28.3 Brix, hence the16.5% alcohol level, which does not flaunt itself. Medium-light-purple in color, this Zin delivers aromas of jammy-sweet, red and black fruit. Quite subtle in character, but plenty of complexity with great expressiveness, on the palate Drava’s Zin displays raspberries and strawberries with a smooth texture. About $26.
90, Zinfandel, Bokisch, Süess Vineyard, Lodi, 2015
Bokisch’s 168-case production sources from the 105-year-old vines of the Süess Vineyard in the Clements Hills Appellation. Planted on Tokay fine sandy loam, this Zinfandel was harvested on August 24, 2015 with one percent Petite Verdot in the mix. Tipping the scales at 15.6% alcohol, after fermentation the wine rested 18 months in new and neutral French oak, with another eight months in bottle. This dark red Zin offers animated aromas of game, tree bark, forest floor, a tinge of mint, and displays red-bramble berries with a hint of earth on the palate. Intense in content, the not inconsiderable tannins provide structure and will subside with a little more bottle age. About $29.
87, Zinfandel, Klinker-Brick, Old Vine, Lodi, 2015
Klinker-Brick’s 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel sources from 16 separate vineyard blocks averaging 86 years of age. The aroma of this transparent red Zin is quiet with just a hint of spice, but the palate is flooded with intense red bramble-berries, strawberries, and a hint of earth. Provides nice balance and length. About $19.