We recently had the opportunity to taste the second vintage of the Lodi Native Project. This collaborative project is designed to showcase Lodi’s heritage Zinfandel vineyards by producing single-vineyard wines following a standardized protocol involving minimal intervention in the wine cellar. The idea is to show what the vineyard itself has to offer by taking the winemaker’s individual style out of the wine making process. The first vintage, 2012, was released in March 2014 and we tasted that first vintage as well.
Minimal intervention in this context means native yeast fermentation only, no inoculation for malolactic fermentation, no acidification or de-alcoholization, no color additions, no new oak aging. The Zinfandel vineyards must be located within the Lodi AVA. Old vine plantings, prior to 1962, are preferred as are vineyards farmed according to Lodi RulesTM for Sustainable Winegrowing or Certified Organic (COOF).
The idea for the Lodi Native Project was presented to 20 Lodi winemakers prior to that first vintage. Only six winemakers were brave enough to take up the challenge. Many had serious doubts about the project’s success, given the restrictions in the wine cellar. That first vintage proved to be a success. Those original six winemakers have now released the second vintage and there are no longer any doubts about the project’s success.
We tasted these six 2013 Lodi Native Zinfandels as part of an online tasting promoted by LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) and organized by Charles Communications Associates. We received the wine as tasting samples.
2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel Fields Family Wines — light ruby color with a hint of garnet in the glass. The earthy and ripe blackberry fruit aromas are echoed in the flavors along with tobacco and a bit of peppery spice. Tannins are fine and smooth, the body on the lighter side of medium and the finish is juicy and medium in length. In short, lots of flavor in a lighter-bodied style. Lovely to look at, even better to sip. 13.9% ABV.
The Stampede Vineyard is located in the Clements Hills AVA, on the southeastern boundary of the Lodi AVA. (It is the only 2013 Lodi Native vineyard not planted in the Mokelumne River AVA.) The temperatures tend to be a bit warmer on this side of the Lodi AVA because it’s farther from the cooling breezes of the San Joaquin Delta. The own-rooted vineyard was originally planted in the 1920s with additional plantings in the 1940s. The soil is sandy loam, both Tokay and Kingdon fine sandy loam.
As was common at the time, this vineyard is a “field planting”, with scattered Mourvèdre and Mission vines planted among the Zinfandel. All are harvested and contribute to the complex flavor profile of this wine.
2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel Macchia Wines — dark ruby in the glass with generous ripe, red fruit aromas and sweet wood aromas. Rich, ripe, red fruit flavors combine with peppery spice and earthy flavors. Subtle vegetal flavors in the background are interesting. Tannins are smooth, but this is still a big, extroverted wine. 15.9% ABV.
The Schmiedt Ranch vineyard is an east side Lodi vineyard (that means east of Hwy 99) planted close to the Mokelumne River in the Mokelumne River AVA. The vineyard was planted in 1918 on its own roots in the deep sandy loam. Typically dry farmed, the 8-acre vineyard yields only one ton per acre. The Schmiedt Ranch vineyard is also referred to as the Dairy Vineyard as a nod to the Ranch’s history which included dairy farming.
2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel Maley Brothers — medium ruby in the glass with delicate berry aromas. Blueberry and cherry flavors along with dried alfalfa combine with juicy acidity and smooth tannins. This wine exhibits pure fruit flavors, is quite unique and delicious. 14.5% ABV.
The Wegat Vineyard, named for the original owner, is the oldest vineyard block farmed by Todd Maley whose family have been farming in the Lodi area since 1863. This west side Lodi vineyard was field budded on St. George rootstock in 1958 by Todd’s dad and uncle. The head-trained vines yields about 3 tons per acre.
2013 Lodi Native TruLux Vineyard Zinfandel McCay Cellars — medium ruby in the glass with generous earthy, spicy, leathery dark fruit aromas. Ripe blackberry flavors, peppery spice, berry bramble and earthy flavors are supported by tannins with just a bit of grip. This wine finishes very long with juicy acidity and lingering fruit flavors. 14.5% ABV.
This wine has an extraordinary aroma that will draw you in, almost what some of our wine friends call “tasting optional”, only the aromas make you even more curious to taste this wine. An amazing combination of aromas and flavors.
The TruLux Vineyard is a giant, literally. Some of the head-trained vines stand as tall as six feet. The 30-acre block is planted on St. George rootstock in west side Lodi sandy loam and produces unusual elongated, loose clusters. Not pretty to look at, but certainly makes delicious wine to sip. The vineyard’s west side location means cooling Delta breezes keep the vineyard cool at night, preserving natural acidity in the grapes.
2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel St. Amant Winery — medium ruby in the glass with berry fruit and spicy aromas. Dark berry fruit flavors in the up front are supported by leather and earthy flavors in the background. The tannins are smooth, the wine has juicy acidity and a medium body with a medium-long, flavorful finish. 14.5% ABV.
Marian’s Vineyard is another historic Lodi Zinfandel vineyard. This 8.3-acre vineyard was planted in 1901 and is farmed by Jerry and Bruce Fry, as part of their Mohr-Fry Ranch. The own-rooted vineyard is planted in deep sandy loam and still yields nearly 4 tons per acre in some years.
2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel m2 Wines — medium to dark ruby in the glass with dark fruit, black tea and earthy aromas. Ripe boysenberries, cedar spice, black tea flavors combine with smooth tannins and juicy acidity. The finish is medium in length and juicy. Lots of flavor in a medium-bodied wine. 15% ABV.
The Soucie Vineyard is the western most of the Zinfandel vineyards represented among the 2013 Lodi Native wines. That means it benefits from those cooling Delta breezes in the evenings keeping the nighttime temperatures cool. The vineyard was planted on its own roots, in 1916 and the Lodi Native bottling comes from the oldest block in the vineyard. The vineyard is farmed by fifth-generation Lodi farmer, Kevin Soucie. The soil type is a variation of Devries sandy loam, characteristic of west side Lodi near Interstate 5, which in this vineyard is very fine and powdery and contains quartz.
So there you have it. Six unique wines from six heritage Zinfandel vineyards located within the Lodi AVA. All produced using minimal intervention in the wine cellar and all delicious. The flavors can indeed stand on their own without using commercial yeast to initiate fermentation, without color additions, tannin additions and heavy oak aging. These wines have plenty of flavor, and in a range of alcohol levels.
The Lodi Native Project may have started with doubts on the part of the winemakers as to whether the project would succeed, but that certainly is not the case now. As the winemakers themselves stated… what started as a hope the project would succeed has turned to faith in the process. And as Stuart Spencer added, one of the hidden benefits of the project has been the elevation of the region as a whole. Exciting things are happening in the Lodi wine world!
As with the 2012 vintage, the 2013 Lodi Native Project wines are available for purchase in a six pack for $180. If you are at all curious about how Lodi Zinfandel can be expressed in the bottle, tasting this group of wines is an excellent way to resolve your curiosity. We found these wines to be very food friendly. We enjoyed them with a selection of charcuterie and soft cheeses.
Gather a group of friends together, add some food and let the tasting fun begin. You will have a great time tasting these wines and comparing what you taste with other Lodi Zinfandels you have tasted. I’m certain you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to this group of intrepid winemakers, to LoCA and Charles Communications Associates. We are happy to have been included in this online tasting and to sample these interesting Lodi Zinfandels.