This is another in my series about my recent trip to Lodi, California on a media trip sponsored by the Lodi Winegrape Commission with four other bloggers (Amy of Another Wine Blog, Frank of Drink What YOU Like, Gabe of Gabe’s View, and Julia of Wine Julia) and Mark and Claudia from Snooth.com. For most of the trip we were also joined by Jenny Heitman and Camron King of the Wine Grape Commission. In last week’s piece, we toured a couple of vineyards, including the century old Noma Vineyard.
After visiting the Noma Vineyard, we followed Tim Holdener over to Schmiedt Vineyard, owned by Ross Schmiedt, whose grandfather raised dairy cows and grape vines on the property in the early 20th Century. The current vineyard was planted in 1918 and produces some of the finest fruit in Lodi, and since 2011, the entire vineyard (8 acres) has been farmed for Turley Wine Cellars (yeah, that Turley). As a result, the vineyard is much more meticulously farmed than the adjacent vineyards in order to reduce yields to about two tons an acre (compared to right across the lane that gets 4-5 times that). Turley’s commitment is not insignificant as It takes a good five years to re-train a vineyard from vigorous (as it had been prior to 2011) to groomed and controlled (as requested by Turley). Scrupulously maintaining a vineyard per Turley’s desires is expensive (both in labor and in the reduction of crop), but it results in better fruit and much healthier vines.
Fortunately, our stay at the Schmiedt Vineyard was brief. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool walking around a nearly 100-year old vineyard, taking photos, and talking vineyard management and strategy with a winemaker. But let’s get real: it was nearly 10:00 in the morning and there was no wine to drink, particularly no Turley (I am normally not the type to drink before noon, and certainly not two hours before noon, but we had just had a taste of Tim’s Noma Vineyard Zinfandel at the last stop, and well, once you get that ball rolling at 9:00 a.m….).
Time to move on.
We all hopped back into the van (by this time we had started to call it the “suspect transport vehicle” and headed for yet another historic Lodi vineyard. (OK, at this point, if you have not noticed, you should jot this down: Lodi is packed full of really old vineyards. Why is that important? Well, really old vineyards tend to produce particularly wonderful fruit, which leads to… if you need that blank filled in, you are reading the wrong blog.)
Thus, time to move on.
As we piled back into “the vehicle” Tim Holdener left us, but we were joined by Stuart Spencer of St. Amant Winery (and employee of the Winegrape Commission) as we headed to the Marion Vineyard, owned by Mohr-Fry Ranches. There, we met by Bruce Fry, a fifth generation farmer of the land, and current Vice President of Operations. The family has been farming in the area since 1855 and farming grapes since the 1960’s. Currently, they manage ten different old vine Zinfandel vineyard designates including the Marion Vineyard where we were standing, which was planted in 1901.
Bruce Fry reminded me a lot of my uncles and cousins back in Ohio–dairy farmers all. There was a time that I imagined that I, too, would head down that dirt road (I think I am one of the few people on the planet that really loves the smell of cow manure wafting over a field–in fact, there was a time that I could correctly identify livestock by the odor of its feces–talk about a “valuable” skill at parties….), but once I found out what hard work it was, I decided to get a Ph.D. instead.
Bruce certainly fit my idea of the farmer mold: closely cropped hair, baseball cap pulled tightly down to his ears, leathery neck, and fingers as thick as sausages. Ever since we were introduced and he started talking about farming practices (tons per acre, irrigation, and the like) there was a question that I was dying to ask him. The more I listened to his salt-of-the-earth drawl, I became convinced that he could have easily been one of my cousins and as such, my inhibition to ask my question eroded.
Eventually, as Stuart poured a couple of his St. Amant Marion Vineyard wines, I pounced.
“Do you actually drink wine?”
I am not really sure why I asked the question. I guess I was imagining my grandfather (who never had so much as one beer) and my uncles (who never had so little as one beer—it was always multiple Coors Lites), holding a stem, swirling their wine, saying that it reminded them of honeysuckle and quince.
I was not really sure what response I wanted either: If he shyly lowered his head and muttered something to the extent of “Well, actually, I prefer a cold Miller Lite” I would have some “proof” that farmers share some inherent (perhaps genetic?) attraction to really crappy beer.
Instead he adopted a bit of a wry smile (somewhere between “I didn’t expect that question” and “Boy, are you an idiot”) and casually replied:
I then realized I had two choices: 1. There was still a chance that I could eventually fulfill my hopes of becoming a farmer (let’s face it, if farmers only were allowed to drink awful beer, I would want no part of farming), or 2. I would have to suffer the rest of my life wondering if I had made the right career choice (I always wanted to have thick, sausage like fingers).
For now? I am going with option 1.
Next week: More old vine vineyards with Layne Montgomery of M2 Vineyards (Warning: Potential for some “colorful” language.)