Usually when you ask someone about wine in California they think about Napa. However, we have many more areas of the state with their own style and varieties. One area that should not be overlooked is the Lodi appellation in the Central Valley. The Lodi AVA was designated in 1986 and now has seven sub appellations, each with their own terroir and wine making styles. There are approximately 80 wineries in the area and 100,000 acres of wine grapes.
Grapes have been grown in the Lodi area since 1850 when Captain Weber, the founder of Stockton, planted the first vineyard. Two years later a gold miner from Massachusetts, George West, got some cuttings from Weber and started his vineyard just south of Lodi. West expanded his vineyards through the next few years and in 1858 he started the first commercial winery in California. The industry grew from there with both wine grapes and table grapes. Later prohibition did not hit the Lodi area as bad as Napa and other areas because they were able to still grow grapes and shipped them back east as “table grapes”. Of course nobody knows how much of that may have turned into wine at its destination.
Soils in the different AVAs range from gravel to clay to alluvial and loam. All are at fairly low altitudes, under 600 feet, but the climate differs depending on the proximity of the vineyards to the rivers in the delta and the foothills to the East. Being a hot Mediterranean climate many of the red wines are big, bold and juicy and sometimes even jammy. The whites tend to have more fruit and sometimes less acid than the same varietals grown in the cooler areas of the state. This makes a great contrast and they go well with big summertime flavors of BBQ and grilling that we so often do here.
Usually Zinfandel is the first grape you think of when discussing Lodi but many of the vintners have been experimenting with other varietals for years. Some work out very well and some not so well but seeing the evolution of the wines is quite interesting. There are French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese varietals and more. Just about any wine grape you can think of, they have tried in Lodi to determine what works best. Over sixty varietals are commercially grown. An afternoon of visiting Lodi wineries can truly be an international event.
Not to say Zinfandel isn’t a big part of Lodi, however. Zinfandel is where Lodi made its name and is one of the predominant grapes grown today. Some of the vines still producing Zinfandel go back to the 1880s. As much Zinfandel as you find grown in this area, you get a wide range of styles too. Just about anyone should find a Zin they like once they have visited several different wineries. That is part of the fun with Lodi wineries, seeing and tasting the different styles and varietals.
Recently we participated along with bloggers from around the country in an online tasting of six Lodi wines. This was a live video and tweet session with Camron King, the Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant Winery and the Commission’s Program Manager. We tasted six wines, one white and five reds. The white was a Vermentino and the reds were Zinfandel, Syrah, Tempranillo and Graciano/Tempranillo blend. All the grapes are grown in the Lodi appellation.
The 2011 Uvaggio Lodi Vermentino (12.5% alc. ) was the first wine we tasted. I have only had a Vermentino once or twice so it was interesting to try another.The Uvaggio had a citrus (grapefruit) and floral nose. The body was light and crisp, good acid, grapefruit, citrus like flavor and a long finish. This was a pleasant wine to drink and will be added to our summer sipping list.
Our first red wine was the 2010 Kidder Family Winery Duet (14.9% alc.) from the Clements Hills AVA. It had a dark ruby color. Great nose, one you just want to keep smelling, spicy dark fruit and vanilla. There were mellow spicy dark fruit (dark cherry) and vanilla flavors with light smooth tannins. A little heat initially but with subsequent sips it disappears. This is the Kidder Family Winery second commercial vintage.
Next we tasted the 2010 d’art Hand Crafted Wines Zinfandel (15.5% alc., 300 cases made) with the vineyards located in the Mokelumne sub appellation (15.5% alc). Dark ruby, ripe dark fruit nose with vanilla. A little too ripe for my taste but if you like plenty of ripe fruit you should like this wine. A pleasant medium body, smooth light tannins and the alcohol does not show in flavor. If you choose this wine for Thanksgiving pair it with the dark meat and dressing.
During this online tasting Camron and Spencer were tasting the wines with us. They kept up a running commentary about each winery and the appellation the grapes came from. They educated us on the soil types and the influence of the rivers and the history of the region. They discussed the Lodi Sustainability Rules and how they are applied. They also answered questions we asked via the twitter feed. If you do a Twitter search of #LodiLive you can see our comments and questions.
We moved on to the 2010 Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel (14.7 alc.). The grapes are from the Sherman Family Vineyards in the Mokelumne AVA and only 175 cases were made. The wine had a restrained nose but spicy Zinfandel flavors and was not overly oaked. There was medium dark fruit with a little heat. A lighter wine than the 2010 d’art, a little more elegant. The 2010 d’art grabs your attention while this one sneaks up on you. We all thought this was a very nice wine and Wine Enthusiast rated 91 pts.
Our fifth wine was the m2 Wines Tormenta Tempranillo (14.5 alc.) The nose on this wine was closed to me but Nancy got caramel. There were more significant tannins and ripe, upfront fruit flavors with plenty of vanilla from the oak. The grapes are from the Kirschenman vineyard in the Lodi AVA.
We finished with a 2010 Klinker Brink Farrah Syrah (14.9% alc.) Very dark ruby color with a nose of fruit and vanilla. The flavors were very ripe dark fruit with moderate tannins. This was George’s favorite, he described it as a warm weather Syrah, good balance of fruit and spicy wood.
Disclaimer: The wines were provided as tasting samples.