If you are at all familiar with what is happening in the Lodi wine world, you have probably heard of Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. If you are a fan of German and Austrian wine varieties, then you most certainly know that Mokelumne Glen Vineyards is home to plantings of Kerner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Bacchus, Dornfelder and Blaufränkisch, to name just a few. In addition, there is the “German Collection”, a block of over 30 German and Austrian varieties.
Bob and Mary Lou Koth, along with their daughter and son Ann-Marie and Brett, have been building this unique collection of vines since the 1990s. And although the family is no longer making wine commercially, many other forward-thinking winemakers have discovered this oasis of unusual plantings.
Increasing demand from winemakers for their grapes has prompted the Koths to plant additional Blaufränkisch, Gewürztraminer and Dornfelder. The last of the Zinfandel has been removed (except for a few vines near the house) and more Kerner will go in soon.
Bob just smiles modestly and shakes his head, somewhat in disbelief, when asked about the current demand for his grapes. Disbelief, at least in part I think, that it has taken this long for others to discover what he has known for years – that these varieties make delicious wine.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Koths invited these intrepid winemakers to meet and share their 2014 Mokelumne Glen Vineyards wines. We were happy to be invited to the gathering, along with others interested in the Lodi wine scene. We convened under the shade of several ancient oak trees, with a view of the vineyards beyond.
Two of the winemakers are local to Lodi, all others have cellars in the Bay Area, Napa Valley or Sonoma County. Each winemaker introduced their wine and told us a bit about their winemaking process. All are joined by a curiosity for and appreciation of these varieties as well as a winemaking style using minimal intervention in the cellar.
Markus Niggli :: Markus Wine Co.
To Markus Niggli, winemaker at Borra Vineyards in Lodi and Markus Wine Co., these varieties reflect the flavor of the wines he enjoyed in Europe and his native Switzerland. They are completely familiar to him and so it was a natural fit for him to begin making wine for Borra Vineyards from these German and Austrian varieties.
The only question was whether or not his customers would buy the wine. Markus used modern artful labels to attract wine drinkers to these unfamiliar varieties. He began several years ago making white blends of Kerner, Riesling and Rieslaner as well as a Gewürztraminer under the Borra Vineyards label.
With the 2013 vintage, Markus and Borra Vineyards began a subventure called Markus Wine Co. These are the wines Markus brought to share with the group.
2014 Markus Wine Co. Nativo — predominantly Kerner with a bit of Riesling and Bacchus. Fermentation with native yeast took place in all stainless steel. This wine is light with plenty of melon flavors, minerality and bright acidity. Aromas waft from the glass as it is poured.
2014 Markus Wine Co. Nuvola — 100% Gewürztraminer made in the same manner as the Nativo. This wine is bone dry, which Markus feels makes it much more interesting than a sweeter version. Ripe melon flavors combine with interesting baking spice flavors and once again, brilliant acidity.
We tasted both of these wines in April when they were released. We both thought these wines exhibited more complexity in both aroma and flavor on this second tasting.
2014 Markus Wine Co. Nimmo—Kerner predominates in this blend which is 100% oak aged. 60% new oak adds spice and woodsy aromas and flavors which predominate at this point. Fruit flavors are in the background.
We have tasted two vintages of this wine and have found it to be most interesting. With time in the bottle, the wood flavors integrate into the wine to create a complex food-friendly wine. The flavors are completely unexpected and delicious.
This Kerner, Riesling and Gewürztraminer blend is indeed a special wine. Markus was inspired to make this wine after tasting a Kerner aged in oak while in Switzerland. He loved the wine so much, he decided if ever given the opportunity to make some he would.
The Nimmo was bottled just 10 days prior to our tasting it, and is scheduled for release in July or August.
The artistic labels may be what originally attracted some wine drinkers to these wines, but I’m certain it’s the flavors in the bottle that have kept wine lovers coming back. At this point, Markus told us, these unusual varieties have been well accepted by the public. If you haven’t tasted them, you should. Consult the Borra website for tasting room details.
Matthew Rorick :: Forlorn Hope
Another Rare Creature. That’s the statement at the top of every label on Matthew’s Forlorn Hope wines. It describes the wine he makes from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards as well.
Matthew’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyards bottling comes from the German Collection, that block of German and Austrian varieties numbering over 30. Four clones of Riesling are included in the count.
All of the varieties are harvested at the same time. Fermentation in neutral oak takes place without inoculation, and the wine did go through malolactic fermentation. Bottling takes place without filtering. Once again, fairly hands-off winemaking with no additions.
2014 Forlorn Hope Gemischter Satz — pale yellow in the glass with amazing spicy aromas. I was at a loss as to how to describe this wine, except to say that the flavors are completely unfamiliar – and delicious. The wine has nice acidity, nice weight in the mouth, mineral flavors and an almost cedar spiciness with an extremely long finish.
In talking briefly with Matthew, I learned that these unfamiliar flavors are exactly what he is hoping to showcase with this wine. It is intended to be a reflection of the site and this unique blend of varieties, and indeed as he put it, “a celebration of the Koth’s collection.” And so it is.
2013 was Matthew’s first vintage from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards grapes. You can read that story on the Forlorn Hope blog.
Cameron Frey :: Sidebar Wine Cellar
Sidebar Cellars is a new project of Ramey Wine Cellars, the well-regarded Healdsburg winery making Napa Valley Cabernet along with Sonoma County Chardonnay and Syrah. Sidebar will produce more lower-priced wines from varieties not made under the Ramey label. The target wine drinker is youthful and adventuresome.
Though the 2014 vintage represents the inaugural launch of the Sidebar label, Cameron Frey, vice president of winemaking for Ramey Wine Cellars, has enjoyed 23 harvests in his winemaking career and joined Ramey in 2002. He described this new project as loads of fun and welcomed the opportunity to work with the Koths. Cameron has known Brett since their school days together.
2014 Sidebar Mokelumne River Kerner — pale yellow in the glass with delicate, Riesling-like diesel aromas that are mirrored in the flavor along with slight melon flavors, minerality and brilliant acidity providing a clean finish.
The goal was to harvest the Kerner early, at about 22º Brix to preserve natural acidity, and the fruit was perfect according to Cameron. They used natural yeast fermentation in stainless steel drums, without malolactic fermentation and only light fining and filtration. With bottling in February and release several months later, the inaugural production of 98 cases has dwindled to only 15 cases remaining. They seem to have found their adventuresome wine drinkers.
Jason Holman :: Holman Cellars
Jason was happy to discover the Koth’s planting of German varieties to quench his thirst for and fascination with German white wines. He is very pleased with this first bottling of Bacchus, having produced 46 cases from one ton of grapes, and hopes to secure more tonnage in the future.
Jason calls this wine a “somm stumper” for its unique flavor profile and rarity. It is a variety most wine consumers have never heard of, and even if they have can rarely identify – even some somms apparently.
2014 Uncharted Bacchus — medium yellow in the glass with lots of minerally flavors, and a bit of stone fruit combined with a citrusy acidity and citrus pith in the finish. This wine has an unexpected bit of texture as well.
The Bacchus was harvested at 22.5 ºBrix. The grapes were left on the skins for 3 to 4 days and fermentation with native yeast took place in stainless steel but did not go through malolactic fermentation. The wine was bottled in February.
Daniel Fishman :: Hatton Daniels Wine Cellar
Another “hands off” winery with the goal of producing great wine with no additions except for sulfur to prevent oxidation in the bottle. Hatton Daniels harvests grapes and make wine from a variety of vineyard sites and their production includes Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and a Rousanne/Marsanne blend.
2014 Hatton Daniels MGV Blaufränkisch — deep ruby color in the glass with bright fruit aromas and flavors backed up by subtle vegetal notes and nice acidity. Moderately grippy tannins and a medium body make for an interesting red wine that is delicious on its own, and would be easy to pair with food. ABV is about 12%.
The grapes were destemmed prior to fermentation, which was accomplished with only native yeast. The fermentation was “gentle” with only one pump over. Once again, the fruit was handed very minimally in the cellar to produce a wine that lets the flavor of the variety and vineyard shine through.
Emily Vergil and Drew Huffine :: Trail Marker Wine Co
From the Trail Marker Wine Co website:
“Trail Marker Wine Company is a husband & wife winemaking team focused on making outstanding wines that reflect the place they are grown and the care of age-old, traditional winemaking practices that go into every lot, from grape to bottle.”
2014 Trail Marker Zweigelt — brilliant ruby in the glass with opulent berry aromas followed by bright, ripe berry flavors, nice acidity and moderate tannins. This wine has plenty of flavor and is practically weightless in the mouth, which is a combination (along with nice tannin structure) I find irresistible in a red wine.
Once again, this is a red wine I could easily sip on its own on a warm summer afternoon, then bring with me to the dinner table. I would love this wine with grilled chicken and a pasta salad.
Emily and Drew also make a Blaufränkisch from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, and it too is available on their website.
Layne Montgomery :: m2 Wines
Layne is a Lodi winemaker not afraid to step outside his comfort zone, and this sweet wine certainly is a contrast to the Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Cabernet that comprise the m2 wine production. Montgomery is one of the winemakers brave enough to participate in the Lodi Native Project, which has now released a second successful vintage.
Layne told us that 2014 was the first year he had the time, and the space in his winery, to make a wine from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. I got the impression he has been itching to get in on the fun. This sweet wine is a blend of Rieslaner, Weissburgunder (don’t call it Pinot Blanc at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards!) and Riesling. The grapes were picked in late October, some at as much as 42 ºBrix.
All lots were fermented (whole cluster) separately. The Rieslaner was barrel fermented in French oak, and the rest in “blue barrels”. Acidification was necessary to balance the residual sugar in the blended wine (about 90 g/L), though by the tone in Layne’s voice it sounded like he hated to have to make the addition. Stay tuned for the release date and name of the wine.
The Take Aways
We were impressed by the aromas, complex flavors and brilliant acidity in these wines, and all with modest ABV. These are wines that are easy to enjoy on their own and will pair well with a variety of food.
Thanks to these adventurous winemakers for taking a chance on these lesser-know grape varieties and producing wonderful wines that educate our palates. Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel (this is Lodi, after all) are all delicious, and enjoying these classic varieties is a wonderful way to learn about wine and develop your palate. But, be curious in your wine tasting, try something new whenever you have the opportunity. Chances are you will like it, you might even love it.
We are happy to see the foresight, hard work and perseverance the Koth family has put into their vineyard pay off with such delicious result. We are also very happy to be included in this interesting tasting. Thank you.