The Bechthold Vineyard is 25 acres of Cinsault planted on the west side of Lodi — in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation of the Lodi AVA. This own-rooted vineyard was planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker. Fortunately the soil on the west side of Lodi is particularly sandy (sandy loam to be exact), and too well drained to allow phylloxera a toehold. That good fortune, along with the family’s desire to preserve this part of their farming history has allowed this gem of a vineyard to remain productive at 128 years of age.
For most of its life, the Bechthold Vineyard was thought to be Black Malvoisie, and of very little interest to California winemakers. Mostly the crop was sold to home winemakers elsewhere at a price that barely made farming the vineyard worthwhile. In about 2004 the vineyard was identified by UC Davis as Cinsault and that changed everything. The line of winemakers seeking Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard formed almost immediately. Today as many as 17 wineries share the crop from this grand old vineyard.
Since 2008 Kevin Phillips of Michael David Winery has been responsible for farming Bechthold Vineyard. Recently, Kevin joined Camron King of LoCA (Lodi Winegrape Commission) and Adam Mettler, also from Michael David Winery, for an online discussion and tasting of wine from Bechthold Vineyard. We were invited to join the conversation and provided with the four wines for this special tasting.
Kevin was full of information about the farming practices and harvest preferences of the wineries whose wine we tasted. Bechthold Vineyard is dry-farmed following sustainable and organic practices. He takes very good care of these old vines and always with an eye to keeping the vineyard healthy.
A portion of the vineyard, which lies in close proximity to an irrigation canal, is used for rosé production by a number of wineries. The roots of this ancient vineyard are able to tap into water seepage from the canal which produces fruit distinct from the rest of the vineyard.
You can see this area identified on the lower portion of the vineyard map, as well as the vineyard blocks designated to the lucky few who are making wine from this lovely old Cinsault vineyard. The character of the fruit does vary within the vineyard, and winemakers have staked-out their rows accordingly.
As long as we are on the topic of irrigation, Kevin did admit to flood irrigating Bechthold Vineyard after harvest every year, just once, to make sure the old vines are maintained in the best possible health. Other than that one soaking, no water is applied to the vineyard.
On to the four wines we enjoyed during this tasting.
2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault — bright ruby in the glass with generous bright red fruit aromas. Flavors of tart cherries and ripe raspberries combine with smooth tannins and nice acidity. Lovely bright fruit, not too much oak influence. ABV 14.5%, SRP $25.
This wine is a departure from some of the more lusciously ripe and wood-influenced wines made by Michael David, but this Cinsault is juicy and flavorful. It spends 12 months aging in neutral French oak. Pair it with charcuterie or grilled pork chops.
2013 Turley Wine Cellars Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsault — light ruby in the glass with aromas of tart raspberries. Flavors follow the aromas with tart raspberries plus some minerality and a lingering spiciness. The body is so light and the tannins very delicate. ABV 13%, SRP $17. Turley Wine Cellars uses the above spelling for the vineyard on their label and their winery web site.
Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua prefers to harvest Cinsault from this vineyard early, on August 19 for this 2013 vintage. He uses 100% whole cluster fermentation and only native yeast for primary and malolactic fermentation. What you taste in the glass is just what the vineyard provided.
This wine is delicately elegant and would pair nicely with salads, roasted chicken or even just chilled by itself on a warm afternoon. And in case you were wondering about the $17 price, it is not a typo. It could be magic though.
2012 Estate Crush Bechthold Cinsault — light to medium ruby in the glass with aromas of dark berries. Raspberry and blackberry flavors with hints of earth combine with smooth tannins. Fruit flavors linger along with tannins. ABV 13.8%, SRP $26.
Darker berry flavors characterize this wine, but it still has a relatively light body and smooth tannins. Very nice. Estate Crush is a custom crush facility located in downtown Lodi. Only 100 cases of this 2012 Bechthold Cinsault were produced.
2011 Onesta Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault — darker ruby in the glass with cedar spice and black tea aromas. Flavors of black raspberries along with an amazing pop of cedar combine with smooth tannins and juicy acidity. ABV 14.5%, SRP $29.
370 cases were produced by winemaker Jillian Johnson who chooses to harvest her Cinsault relatively late. This vintage spent only 9 months aging in neutral oak and has spent the most time in the bottle of any in this group of wines. Flavors are developed and nicely integrated. This wine would be delicious with grilled meat.
Cinsault is most often used as a blending grape, to add layers of berry fruit flavors and smooth tannins. It is used for that purpose in the southern Rhone and Languedoc regions in France and by others producing Rhone style wines. In addition to its use in red wine production, Cinsault is a part of many blended rosé wines as well. It plays well with others.
But Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard does nicely on its own too, as these four wines demonstrate. Produced by four winemakers with distinct styles, over three vintages, these wines gave us a good sense of the berry fruit and spice flavors Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard is capable of producing. Happily, flavors from wood aging are well in the background of the flavors produced by the fruit.
The Bechthold Vineyard has so many special qualities. 128 years old. Own-rooted. Dry farmed. Farmed organically and sustainably. All of these things make for an interesting and unique story, but in the end its all about the flavor. Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard delivers on that note as well, no doubt a result of all of those qualities that make its story so interesting.
So, if you are looking for a wine for fall, or for Thanksgiving, or you want to challenge your perception of the kind of wine produced in Lodi, consider Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard. You will likely not be disappointed.
Great tasting, so instructive to taste these wines together. Thank you to LoCA and Charles Communications Associates. Thanks also to Camron, Kevin and Adam. You guys possess a wealth of knowledge about Lodi wine production. Thanks for sharing it with us.