Lodi Friday: Into the Vineyards Part 2

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.

Across the lane from Schmiedt: overgrown and seemingly unkempt.

Across the lane from Schmiedt: overgrown and seemingly unkempt.

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.

Nearly 100-year old vines in the Schmiedt Vineyard, groomed and ready for business.

Nearly 100-year old vines in the Schmiedt Vineyard, groomed and ready for business.

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 vineyardsWhy 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.)

While not the exact van (I was forbidden to take its picture), it is really, really close.

While not the exact van (I was forbidden to take its picture), it is really, really close.

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 Fry of Mohr-Fry.

Bruce Fry of Mohr-Fry Ranches.

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?”

For a lover of aged Zins, this was heaven: a 2003 and a 2012 St. Amant Marion Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel (poured on pick-up truck’s tailgate).

For a lover of aged Zins, this was heaven: a 2003 and a 2012 St. Amant Marion Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel (poured on pick-up truck’s tailgate), both of which were fabulous.

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.)


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Lodi, Wine, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Lodi Friday: Into the Vineyards Part 2

  1. Great post…and a great skill set I didn’t know about you. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dwdirwin says:

    So does your unique skill include the ability to sniff out bullshit as well? 😉


  3. My dad grew up on a dairy and always enjoyed the smell. I inherited much from him, but never understood his affinity for the smell of a dairy. And Jeff, I can assure you Bruce drinks plenty of wine.


    • Stuart, thanks so much for stopping by! Those wines we had were certainly a treat–I am going to seek you out my next trip with my credit card primed! Reading about your dad, he sounds like a man that had plenty of stories to tell–I wish I could have met him. As for Bruce–he seems like a guy with whom I could easily pull a few corks–although he would likely find me an insufferable bore (as might have your father).


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