By Rick Riozza
In the past, we’ve surely discussed some of the wines and wineries in and around the wine country of the Sierra Foothills, the Sacramento Delta, and Lodi. Recently our family made it up to northern California wine country for our last harvest visit of the year. On our way back south, we encountered some car trouble and had to interrupt our journey. And just where do you think we ended up?—you guess it: Lodi
Lodi has been on the California wine map since the days of the Gold Rush, and, is home to some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the world. Located in the north of California’s famed Central Valley, it settles in the fertile area that produces citrus, stone fruit, tomatoes, cotton, rice, nuts, and grapes for our entire nation. The grapes grown towards the south of the San Joaquin Valley generally produce raisins and table grapes—the vines in and around Lodi can produce some world class wine!
So why is there a pejorative tone and air taken by those who mention Lodi in song or sight? Actually, the atmosphere and feel of the place is quite bucolic and the lay of the rivers, vineyards and hillsides can remind one of going back in time to grandma’s place.
Between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lodi Wine Country, is a region emerging as one of California’s most exciting wine destinations. No wine producer or wine enthusiast is feeling “stuck” in these parts anymore. Over the past decade, 4th- and 5th-generation winegrowers dedicated to the diverse soils and vines have brought creative winemaking and cutting-edge technology to the region, slinging Lodi into the spotlight.
Most people think that this flat valley area of California is too hot to produce good wine. But the Sacramento Delta has a very different character and style to the rest of the valley. The influence of the nearby San Francisco Bay provides cool “delta breezes” to the region with a reliable, natural air conditioning throughout the growing season; and, Lodi lies on higher hillside land in rich mineral soils washed down from the Sierras—these factors add to the fine quality of the wine.
So as you can see, this is a classic Mediterranean climate featuring warm days and cool evenings, allowing Lodi winegrowers to consistently craft a diverse set of delicious full-flavored varietal wines that display a refreshing natural acidity.
We made the most of our accidental stop-over and raced over to Jessie’s Grove Vineyards and Winery. This place has been on my mental radar for so long because it is home to some ancient Zinfandel vines. The Ranch and Estate was founded in 1868, with the first Zin planting in1888. Throughout the years, the ranch and farm have endured The Great Depression, prohibition, and the risky conditions unique to the time and history there.
We could have enjoyed tasting their famed ancient Zin and delicious Ports at their tasting room in old downtown Lodi, but we opted for the rustic tasting room/barn area at the nearby ranch that is surrounded by their vineyards and farm animals that make for a great full-sensory wine tasting scene.
It’s not every day that we get to enjoy wine produced from really old vines. Thus, savoring the Jessie’s Grove 2011 Westwind Old Vine Zinfandel, selling for less than $40 a bottle, was the treat and highlight of our unintended excursion.
Lacking the usual “dustiness” for which Lodi Zins are sometimes known, this wine is instead loaded with dark fruit and subtle spice. This wine is lush and expressive with complex layers of flavor. It’s both history and artistry in a glass: The deep purple red wine delivers lush aromas and flavors of black fruit, cherry cola, and sweet earth, with strawberry, raspberry, dark baking spice, berry bramble, white pepper and a touch of a rosemary undertone.
Mouthwateringly delicious, the finish is well structured, with a lovely grip from velvety tannins and a touch of subtle smokiness remaining on the edge of the tongue. This wine pairs wonderfully with your craft grilled burger or a sun-dried tomato pesto mozzarella pizza.
One of the amazing wine facts for this area, is the diversity of grape varietals that are now being grown. Lodi is predominately a red winegrowing region, with approximately two-thirds of the acreage dedicated to red varieties. However, there are now over 100 varieties, white and red, now in the vineyards and in production.
The climate here seems ideal for so many European varietals: Spanish, such as Albariño, Verdejo, Graciano, Tempranillo, and Garnacha are just a few of the interesting Spanish varieties grown in Lodi soils; Portuguese, such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, Souzão, Verdelho, and Tricadeira; as well as a great showing of German such as Kerner, Bacchus, Riesling, Dornfelder, Gewürztraminer, and Zweigelt; Italian, such as Barbera, Sangiovese, Aglianco, and Vermentino; and of course the Southern Rhone, such as Syrah, Cinsault, Viognier, and Tannat. Who would have thunk all these grapes can do so well in this Lodi area! Oh Lord!
Two very popular wineries in town are Bokisch Vineyards, who have recently paved the way with their tasty Cal-Spanish varietal wines; and, the big, brawny and powerful wine company Michael David Winery, which doesn’t fool around with wimpy wines but produce some of the biggest and flavorful vino that I’m sure you’ve heard of such as: 7 Deadly Zins, Freakshow Cab, Earthquake Zin, Cab & Petite Sirah. Hey—more power to you! Cheers!
Rick is your “somm-about-town” entertaining at restaurant venues, wine tastings & events. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org