Over the last several months, I wrote quite a bit about my media trip out to Lodi, California (including a list of potential Man-Crushes). The trip was great on a number of levels, but it was also a bit surreal. It was my first media trip and I had no idea what to expect, so I approached it like I do most aspects of my life: I wanted to have fun.
That was accomplished. I made some new friends (I think) and reaffirmed some older friendships (I think). I also learned a lot more about Lodi wine and some of the people there.
A few months later, I was out visiting my in-laws in Antioch, California, which is not exactly anyone’s idea of a Northern California “hot-spot” unless you are talking about the summer temperatures, which regularly vault above 100ºF. No, I would argue that Antioch’s most redeeming features are best viewed in the rear view mirror.
Thus, on this latest trip out, I convinced my wife that I should hop into a car and drive 45 minutes to the East and go back to Lodi, even though I had just been there a few weeks prior.
Well, I learned a valuable lesson several years ago.
As many of you know, I have been a European Bicycle Tour Guide off and on for a couple of decades. Back when I started, the company was rather small and I led all of the French trips: Burgundy, the Loire Valley, the Ile de France (the area around Paris), Champagne, and the Jura/Switzerland.
The company grew and added trips: Bordeaux, the Dordogne, Alsace, and the Cévennes. As each new trip came “online” I made it clear that I would like to lead the new trip.
Nope. I was to stick with the trips I had been doing.
I might have begged.
I might have even been a little passive aggressive.
I might have been a little ticked off.
Or maybe a lot.
Instead, I was told I was going back to the Loire. Or to Burgundy. Or even off to Chartres.
I know, the crosses that we have to bear.
Why was I upset? Why did I want to lead the new trips? Well, that is fairly simple: I had never been to Bordeaux, or the Dordogne, or the Cévennes (I did study in Alsace, however). I viewed the regions where I had led trips already as familiar, mundane, old. I wanted new and exciting.
The problem was that it would take time and money to train me on the new routes, and it would take time and money to train new guides on the “old” routes, “my” routes. So it made more sense to train the new guides on the new routes and keep the “old” guide on the “old” routes. Or something like that.
So, off to the Loire I went.
After a few more trips over those familiar roads (I think I have led both trips in the Loire and Burgundy over a dozen times each), I eventually realized that it was not the roads, it was not the monuments, it was not even the vineyards that were the salient elements of the trip.
It was the people.
It was a restaurant owner in Tours, the hotelier in Nuits St. Georges, and the bratwurst vendor on a street corner in Zermatt, Switzerland (a huge bratwurst, a hunk of bread, and a generous squirt of spicy mustard: 5€–the best deal in town). Clients on the trips would come and go, but it was the people in the cities, villages, restaurants, bars, and even train stations that I met that defined the region for me.
Eventually, I secretly eschewed the opportunity to take on new trips–I relished meeting up with my old “friends” (I also feared having to learn the new routes, given my lack of directional acuity). I came to love my trips to Chinon, to Dijon, and (perhaps above all) to Reims.
Back in this country, unwittingly I followed much the same pattern when I started visiting wine regions–I wanted to visit as many wineries as possible, to check them off of some sort of bucket list: Been there. Done that.
At nearly the same time that I started this blog, I realized that there was much more to wine regions than the multitude of tasting rooms, the trophy wines that I had to try.
There were the people.
Since I have been writing this blog, I have met a ton of great people: Donald and Catherine Goodkin in Dry Creek Valley, Byron Kosuge in Santa Rosa, Carl Giavanti up in the Willamette Valley (the list is endless). To a person, they have shown me that any wine region, any great wine, is merely a representation of the people behind it.
Despite the fact that my in-laws live a mere 45 minutes away (and my wife and I have been together for 15 years), last fall was the first time that I had visited the Lodi appellation. I only went to a few wineries that day (my impatient father-in-law was with me, after all), but one, Fields Family Wines, really stood out.
Then, when I was out in Lodi on the media trip, I met Ryan Sherman (the winemaker at Fields) during the Lodi Native Program tasting. At the time, he was quiet, reserved, even shy. Perhaps that was due to the other convivial characters there (no one would ever accuse either Layne Montgomery, Stuart Spencer, or Tim Holdener of being wall-flowers), but Ryan certainly took a back seat, spending most of his time on his cell phone, periodically raising his head when a pertinent question was asked, only to be interrupted by one of his seemingly more loquacious colleagues.
Thus, a few months later when I was back in Lodi, and I organized a meeting with Ryan, I was anticipating an arduous task—getting a rather reticent man to chat a bit. Well, I doubt I have ever been further off in reading another person.
Ryan is a salesperson—he is not shy to talk. At all.
That is not meant as a criticism in any way, for while I really do not like to talk about myself all that much, I do enjoy listening to other people as long as they have something interesting to say.
And Ryan has plenty of interesting stories to tell.
Ryan, who grew up in Lodi, met his partner, Russ Fields, in 2004 through Ryan’s day job (he is a full-time realtor), and soon thereafter they were making wine together as garagistes (the name comes from a group of winemakers in Bordeaux who made small batches of wine, often operating out of a garage). After a few vintages, Ryan realized that he not only enjoyed making wine, but that he was also quite good at it, which led to their partnership in the winery.
We spent a bit of time talking about Ryan’s previous life (he had rapidly ascended the sales ladder in big Pharma), a little more time about kids and family, and quite a bit about wine and Ryan’s approach to wine making. We tasted a new project of his from the barrel: Zin Nouveau, using carbonic maceration (a whole grape fermentation in a carbon dioxide rich environment, most commonly used to produce Beaujolais Nouveau).
We only tasted through a few wines that day, and I took very few notes, for I knew that I this was a place to which I would return. Not just for the wines (which are fantastic), but more so for the opportunity to meet up with an “old” friend.
2013 Fields Family Shiraz Postage Stamp Vineyard: Retail $42. Cuttings by nettler own rooted Thought it was a Davis test plot. 36 vines by 5 rows. Makes about 65 cases. Whoa. Bright and cheery with eucalyptus. Whoa. This is fabulous. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Fields Family Old Vine Zinfandel Sherman Family Vineyard: Retail $26. A bit closed on the nose initially (Ryan opened the bottle as we talked), But I quickly realized that this was my style of Zin-fruity, yes, but in a reserved way with multiple layers and plenty of complexity. Wonderful bing cherry and earth. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.