Going Native in Lodi
Wine: Lodi Native
Region: Lodi AVA, California
Price: $180 for the six-bottle collection
Single vineyard wines have been around at least since the Cistercian monks of Burgundy began delineating plots based on specific attributes expressed in the wine. The first recorded was Clos de Vougeot in 1336, though the Benedictines had already been cultivating vineyards in the region for roughly 400 years. We're talking serious history in the variety-soil-climate game. And because they were monks who vowed to abstain from independent ownership of material goods and coitus, I like to think the vineyard designations were based completely on careful examination in botany and oenology, never a marketing ploy.
Today, winegrowers the world over are are applying the variety-soil-climate approach to their much younger regions with fascinating results. German winegrowers, especially in the Mosel, have worked this angle for years, in part as pushback to the tangled bureaucratic web of German wine laws. As I learned from my interview with André Tamers shared on Pig&Vine earlier this year, there's a movement in Spain, specifically Rioja, to highlight the region's attributes through single vineyard designations. The Lodi Native project takes a similar approach with the goal of celebrating Lodi's unique vinous expressions.
It would be naive to say there isn't an economic factor for the "Lodi Six" or the Germans or Rioja's little guys who've otherwise been elbowed out by regional parameters that favor the wealthy. But there's enough genuine passion for place tied to this project to make it interesting and relevant. Six winemakers in one of California's most underrated and bastardized regions are making one vineyard-designated zinfandel each that's turning heads even among wine snobs, present company included.
After the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi last week, I attended a post-conference excursion with the dudes behind the Lodi Natives, led by writer and sommelier at-large Randy Caparoso. Randy works with the Lodi Wine Commission, which was a major sponsor of the conference. Clad in Hawaiian shirt, a nod to his own heritage, Randy toured us through several of the vineyards sourced for the 2013 vintage with humor and broad knowledge for the region. He's been a huge fan of the project since its inception.
not john fogerty's Lodi
Lodi's winemakers don't consider themselves "stuck." The tightly-knit community is proud of their multi-generations of farmers and grape growers and shared high school alma maters. How many of us can say our kids are going to the same school our parents did? I mean your kids, of course. I don't have any.
This alone is quite special in the wine world. Couple that with sandy loam soils and 40 degree diurnal temperatures and you've got a recipe for quality wine from super old vines, many of them planted on their own rootstock. When the phylloxera louse devastated California's vineyards in the mid-1800s, Lodi escaped damage because the root-attacking aphid can't survive in sand. It destroyed much of France's vineyards as well, and the fix was to graft vinifera vines onto resistant rootstock native to North America. There are few places in the world where you can find a vitis vinifera with its natural roots in the ground. In any case, these vines continued to produce right through prohibition, supplying many good Americans with home winemaking kits for medicinal use; wink, wink.
Lodi is flat and dusty and low. I think the highest we got was roughly 50 feet elevation, which is a hike up from my home in swampy New Orleans, but by winegrowing standards, it's practically under ground. While many of us probably think zinfandel when we think of Lodi, the region is actually home to over 100 different varieties, including several Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German grapes. In recent years, growers have collectively raised farming standards through improved sustainability practices.
The lodi native project
The Lodi Native wines are made within an agreed upon list of rules, including native fermentation without cultured yeast inoculation for primary fermentation or malolactic conversion; no new oak, staves or chips; no acidification or de-acidification; no Mega Purple, other concentrates or tannin additives; no alcohol adjustments, either through water addition or de-alcoholizing methods; no fining or filtering; and they must be made with 100% zinfandel from a single contiguous vineyard within the Lodi AVA. Many of these practices are antithetical to established California commercial winemaking, and for some of the winemakers in the group, a real stretch from their "day job" winemaking routine.
After the vineyard tromping we went to the Macchia winery and tasted through the 2013 wines, the project's 2nd vintage. Each winemaker spoke about their respective vineyard, which can change from vintage to vintage. Tasting notes are below. If you're interested in trying these for yourself, you can order them through the LoCa website. Across the board, these wines are higher in acid with reserved fruit notes and dry finish. Yay team!
Made by Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers, grown by Todd Maley
Bright ruby, wild berry fruit, juicy, friendly, soft
Made by Stuart Spencer of St. Amant Winery, grown by Jerry and Bruce Fry of Mohr Fry Ranches
Loads of black and plum fruit, one of the bigger wines in the bunch
Made by Michael J. McCay of McCay Cellars, grown by Keith Watts on unusually tall 6-foot head trained vines
Garnet hue with floral notes, black fruit, good acid, good length, hints of earth and sage
Made by Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines, grown by John and Jeff Perlegos
Pale ruby color with elegant, bright fruit, black cherry, soft velvety tannins with good acidity
Made by Layne Montgomery of m2 Wines, grown by Kevin Soucie
Much richer on the nose and palate than the previous four, darker fruit, more present tannins, 100 year old vines
Made by Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines, grown by the Schmiedt family, planted 1918
Richer still, juicy fruit-forward with a wee bit of heat on the nose and finish, decent acid, bigger body