There are times in life that events occur that you had no way of anticipating. I have not conducted any extensive research, but it seems as though roughly half of said events are not necessarily good. There was the time that I was interrogated by a KGB agent in Budapest, or the tense 5 minutes or so when I had the business end of a Kalashnikov pressed firmly against my forehead as two border patrol officers in Ljubljana argued my fate, and of course when I was caught as a sixth-grade crossing guard letting the air out of tires in the bike rack.
There are other times, of course, when the ball seems to bounce your way: I was once called into the Yankees clubhouse at Camden Yards by the then manager of the team, attending a party at the home of Robin Wright Penn (very nice) and Sean Penn (rather odd) while I was living in Marin, and Deanna Miller agreed to go with me to the eighth grade dance.
Since adulthood (one could certainly argue that I do not act like an adult, but that is irrelevant to this article), however, these memorable moments tend to be fewer, farther between, and less impactful. Since starting this blog, though, I have certainly had more than my fair share of unanticipated positive interactions: getting to know many winemakers and growers in Dry Creek Valley, the three Wine Bloggers Conferences that I have attended, and the media trip to Lodi back in June.
During my four days in Lodi we learned, ate, and drank wine all over the appellation, but if I had to pick one event that stood out, it was certainly our tasting of the 2013 Lodi Native Old Vine Zinfandels at Macchia Wines.
Lodi has been growing grapes for well over a century, but given that many of those grapes have historically gone into bulk wine, the appellation has lacked identity. The idea behind the Lodi Native project is rather straight-forward: to highlight some of the appellation’s historic vineyards–some of which were planted in the late 1800’s–and demonstrate that the varied terroir in Lodi can have significant effects on Zinfandel. To achieve that end, the winemakers in the project agreed to follow precisely the same protocol: native yeast (non-innoculated) fermentations (both primary and malo-lactic), no acidification or addition of water, no new oak, no filtering or fining, and the vineyards used must follow the Lodi Rules on sustainable agriculture and (preferably) had been planted before 1962.
The plan was presented to 20 winegrowers and only six agreed to participate. Of those six, four joined us for the tasting and discussion.
After a brief discussion of the program, Randy Caparoso, noted wine writer/judge/sommelier/all-around great guy (and Lodi resident), led us through the six wines.
2013 Maley Brothers Zinfandel Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard: Planted in 1958, not far from Soucie Vineyard. Bright and fragrant. Violet and red berries. Randy described this as a voluptuous woman (I always get a chuckle out of the personification of a consumable product–it makes little sense to me, but I am a bit of a dork). Violet really comes through on the palate. Silky and lush. Very nice. A bit hot on the finish but this gets a whoa (but only one since we were just getting started). 91-93 Points.
2013 Fields Family Wines Zinfandel Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard: Ryan Sherman, the wine maker, presented the wine. Ryan noted he was happier with the 2013 than he was with the first go around, the 2012. The vineyard, owned by Jeff and John Perlegos was first planted in the 1920’s along the Mokelumne River in the Clements Hills sub AVA. Most of the fruit goes into Bedrock Wine’s “Old Vine” Zinfandel. More cinnamon and black cherry but bright and lively. On the palate this is wonderful. Great acid and balance with fruit predominant. 92-94 Points.
2013 McCay Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard: These vines, planted in the 1940’s are more vertically head trained and climb up to six feet tall. Randy stated that the vineyard is “farmed by benign neglect by two brothers who don’t always see eye to eye.” Mike is a big fan of native yeast fermentations so the Lodi Native project was not a huge leap for him. Spicy and brown sugar with cherry in the background. Rounder perhaps but the brown sugar and spicieness certainly come through. Another stellar wine. 92-94 Points.
2013 St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard: Stuart Spencer (winemaker and owner) said that the Native project was the first time they ever did native fermentation so he spent more time thinking about the ton of grapes used for this wine than he did for the other 100 tons processed by the winery. Lodi is often divided into halves to describe the differences in the wines, but Stuart claims this wine has a bit of both: not as earthy as West side wines tend to be but also has some of the florality of the East side wines. Fruit and earth on palate with blueberry coming through on a long finish. Whoa. And another. Whoa. 93-95 Points.
2013 Macchia Zinfandel Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch: Tim Holdener (owner and winemaker) claimed that this wine comes from “one of the more prestigious neighborhoods in Lodi”–the Schmiedt Vineyard, planted in 1918. All the fruit that Tim got from the vineyard went into this project–no commercial version was produced (although he would have loved to have been able to). Turley (yeah, that Turley) gets most of the fruit from the immaculately maintained vineyard, and many of their vineyard practices are now being adopted by other growers in Lodi. Very sandy soil and the wine is much perfumed and flowery. Smaller berries and higher acid. 91-93 Points.
2013 M2 Vintners Zinfandel Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard: Layne Montgomery (owner and winemaker) has worked with Kevin Soucie (a fifth-generation farmer of the vineyard–planted in 1916) for years on this far West side vineyard. Like many vineyards in the region, Soucie vines are own-rooted since, as Layne stated, “when you grow Zin in Lodi there is nothing really to stop the roots” as the sandy soils keep out phylloxera. The wine has a more earthier style than the others with dark red berries with mushroom notes. Brambly and fruity. 90-92 Points.
The wines are available for purchase, but only in six-packs, for $180 from the Lodi wine and Visitor Center. All the wines were clearly Outstanding–and my style of Zin: not overpowering, but letting the fruit and the earth speak without heavy oak or high alcohol (since they were using native fermentations, the grapes were picked earlier to keep the sugar levels down). Why more people don’t make Zins like this is beside me.
I have been to countless wine tastings but this was certainly among the most memorable. I had no idea before the first glass was poured that the tasting would rank up there with that visit to the Yankees clubhouse (but don’t kid yourself–it was still not in “Deanna Miller at the eighth grade dance” territory).