We celebrated Earth Day this year by participating in a online tasting of wine and cheese— naturally. The Earth Day tasting featured four wines produced in accordance with Lodi RulesTM for Sustainable Winegrowing and provided a great opportunity to learn about Lodi RulesTM .
Lodi RulesTM is the first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program in California. That’s a mouthful. The effort started in 1991 when the Lodi Winegrape Commission was established. Informal meetings of growers resulted in integrated pest management practices in the vineyards — that is efforts to control vineyard pests using their natural predators. Ideas as simple as introducing owl nesting boxes in the vineyards to draw owls into the vineyards and thereby control the numbers of grapevine root-munching gophers. Those early efforts also became the basis for the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program.
In 2005 the original set of standards were published and endorsed by Protected HarvestTM , a non-profit organization that certifies sustainable farming standards. That same year 1455 acres were certified by six Lodi farming families. It was the first such certification for the use of sustainable farming practices to grow wine grapes in California.
The first wines using the Lodi RulesTM Certified Green seal were bottled with the 2007 vintage. In 2013 the Lodi RulesTM standards underwent significant revision resulting in the current comprehensive approach to farming that includes the goals of improving water and air quality, soil health and employee training and safety initiatives.
According to Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery and Program Manager at Lodi Winegrape Commission, as Lodi RulesTM celebrates its 10th anniversary, over 100 growers have certified 30,000 acres in California (21,000 acres are located within the Lodi AVA). It requires a significant commitment in terms of time and financial resources to earn Lodi RulesTM certification. Hats off to those viticulturists who have done so.
The Earth Day wine tasting was hosted by LoCA and each wine was paired with a cheese selected by Cindy Della Monica, cheesemonger and owner of Cheese Central in Downtown Lodi. We were invited to join the live video tasting, led by Stuart and Cindy, and received the wine and cheese as tasting samples.
2014 Acquiesce Picopul Blanc — light yellow in the glass, but with delicate floral and melon aromas. Flavors of summer melons combine with a dusty minerality and citrus pith for great complexity and a clean, fresh finish. Delicate background flavors of white flowers contribute to the bouquet of flavors. ABV 12.5%. $24.
Acquiesce Winery owner and winemaker Susan Tipton has only 100 vines of Picpoul Blanc planted in her vineyard. Her original plan was to use the Picpoul as a blending grape. That quickly changed once she tasted the finished wine; it was simply too delicious not to be bottled as a varietal wine.
With the exception of a Grenache rosé, Susan makes exclusively white wines. She recently had 6.5 acres of Zinfandel removed to make way for additional Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir.
Also coming in the spring of 2016, Susan will be planting two varieties new not only to California, but the US — Clairette Blanc and Bourboulenc. There is much more to look forward to from this adventurous winemaker!
You will need to look carefully on the back label to see the Lodi RulesTM Certified Green seal; the artful bottle and label designs make it a challenge to include the seal on the label.
Cypress Grove Midnight Moon — ivory in color and with a very firm texture, this mild goat cheese is tangy with nutty with hints of herbs. The rind on this cheese is waxed, so peel it off before you eat the cheese.
The combination of Acquiesce Picopul Blanc and the Midnight Moon cheese really popped, concentrating the flavors of both. The melon flavors in the wine developed nicely as did the nutty quality of the cheese.
2014 Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc — nearly colorless in the glass with delicate tropical fruit aromas and flavors that finish with lingering citrus and a hint of dried hay. This wine is flavorful, light and crisp. Perfect for a warm afternoon. ABV 13.55%. $19.
The Sauvignon Blanc for this wine comes from the Mohr Fry Ranch located within Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The ranch is farmed by Jerry Fry and his son Bruce, fourth and fifth-generation Lodi farmers who were among the first farmers to earn Lodi RulesTM certification for their vineyards.
Oak Farm Vineyards has an interesting history of its own. The ranch was originally purchased by William DeVries in 1860. He was known for his love of trees, and the property is home to many beautiful old oak trees, in addition to the grand home he built in 1876.
A beautiful old redwood barn graces the property, standing proudly beside the new wine production and wine tasting facility built by the Panella family, current owners and caretakers. If you’ve not visited the property, you should. The wines, which are elegantly crafted by winemaker Chad Joseph, are delicious and the setting among the vines is beautiful and peaceful.
Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog Grande — white and crumbly in texture with a vegetable-ash rind and layer, this tart, flavorful cheese is also a bit herbaceous and citrusy. The flavors are very complex and long lasting. This cheese just melts in your mouth. The rind is edible and delicious.
I think of Humbolt Fog as birthday cake cheese, because that’s what a wedge of this cheese reminds me of. The vegetable ash “icing” and “filling” create a layer cake look that reminds me of a slice of birthday cake.
When paired with the wine, once again the flavors of the wine just pop. Tropical fruit flavors in the wine are elaborated and herbaceous notes in the cheese develop. Really delicious.
2013 St. Amant Barbera — translucent ruby in the glass with generous aromas and flavors of blackberries, tobacco and earth. A bit of cherry fruit flavor adds complexity along with well-integrated tannins in this medium-bodied wine with a fairly long finish. This wine manages to be very flavorful without being too ripe. ABV 14.5%. $18.
This wine receives just a bit of oak aging, ten months in 20% new American oak, to produce an extremely food-friendly wine. Stuart told us among his favorite food pairings is Bagna Cauda. Now there’s a pairing worth exploring.
The Spencer family “saved” this vineyard from being used entirely to produce Gallo Hearty Burgundy. They were convinced in 1998 by winegrower Ted Levantini to at least make a few barrels to see how it came out. Well, according to St. Amant Winery, “The 2013 marks our 16th vintage from this 42-year-old vineyard NE of Lodi.” I guess you could say the Spencers are happy with the result (as are their customers).
Fiscalini Farms San Joaquin Gold — a firm yellow cheese with a mild nuttiness and toasty flavors. I love the crunchy texture of the protein crystals this cheese. As this cow’s milk cheese warms, the flavors really develop.
The pairing of St. Amant Barbera and the San Joaquin Gold is spot on. The fruity flavors of the Barbera and the nutty flavors of the San Joaquin Gold compliment each other nicely. The grip of the cheese stands up to the nicely-integrated tannins in the Barbera.
2012 Michael David Winery Inkblot Tannat — inky-dark ruby with violet edges in the glass. Generous aromas of coconut, toast and ripe dark fruit aromas are followed by very ripe dark fruit flavors and grippy tannins. This wine is a bit sweet and a bit hot on the finish which is long lasting. ABV 15.3%. $35.
There is nothing light weight about this 100% Tannat, starting with the heft of the bottle. I think lifting the bottle could count as weight training! This is a bold, ripe wine that will be enjoyed by those looking for a big wine with lots of texture. This wine needs food to stand up to the bold flavors and ample, grippy tannins. But that’s why you drink Tannat, right — for the tannins?
We were asked during the BrandLive tasting what we saw on the Inkblot label. Well, I see two sea horses clinking their mugs of Tannat together with the wine splashing up out of the mugs. It is a very clever label design. What do you see?
Central Coast Creamery Seascape — very firm white cheese with delicate herbal, earthy and minerally flavors. This cheese is produced from a combination of cow’s and goat’s milk, giving it mild but complex flavors. Don’t eat the rind.
Cindy told us she struggled with this wine and cheese pairing because of the bold flavors of the Tannat. The wine is so full flavored and so tannic that it overpowers the cheese. To my taste, this Tannat needs a grilled Tri-Tip with a spicy dry rub. Save the cheese pairing for one of the other wines in the group.
Thanks to LoCA for sponsoring the wine and cheese tasting and for providing the tasting samples. Charles Communications Associates organized the Brandlive tasting, and did a great job as always. Stuart and Cindy provided an hour of engaging conversation highlighting the variety of interesting and delicious wines being produced in Lodi as well as all of the cheese details.
Cindy’s cheese shop, Cheese Central, is located in Downtown Lodi among the other shops and tasting rooms along N. School Street. She stocks between 80 and 100 cheeses and will assist you in choosing the perfect cheese for you – by tasting them, of course. This is a perfect time of year for a walking tour of Downtown Lodi.