By Rick Riozza

With the new normal in place, we wine columnists are taking the opportunity to ply our trade through virtual tastings with the winemakers.  And it’s as exactly as it sounds: we sample the winery’s proffered wines on this side of the computer, and, the winemaker samples along with us as he or she describes what it all took to make the wine—pretty cool!

Actually, this event I’m writing about was my first “Zoom” encounter. (And staying true to my age, of course I had my problems getting on-board).  Anyway—I was privileged to receive some recent bottlings from Old Farm Vineyards in Lodi California with the opportunity to virtually meet with Dan Panella, Co-owner and Director of Wine Making, and their new star winemaker, Ms. Sierra Zeiter.

Oak Farm Vineyards was started in 2010 by Dan Panella, a third-generation farmer. It sits on a historical property originally purchased in 1860. Dan’s vision was to put the Lodi Appellation on the map; he is focused on quality, not quantity. The vineyards encompass 14 varietals grown over 70 acres. Sierra Zeiter came on-board three years ago as an assistant wine maker and now is the wine maker at the Lodi winery. 


Quoting from my previous article on Lodi wine country, “it’s 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. 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.

So a couple of weeks ago, we wine journalists quickly zoomed-in and got to know Dan and Sierra as they spoke unpretentiously but passionately on their wine making endeavors at Old Farm Vineyards.  They are both driven on the concept of “quality over quantity” as they continue to experiment at every wine making turn with fermentations, yeasts, blends—you name it and they’re on it with the hard work and keeping it fun at the same time.’

And Sierra loves the plantation platform she’s been given, stating, “With 14 different varieties, I get to experiment and learn about all 14 grapes and wines. We do about five experiments each harvest to help better our wines so that the winemaking team can learn.”

Sierra was quick to point out that one of the reasons so many Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese varietals do so well in the Lodi region is because the vineyards are in the same latitudes. 

When asked about the heat of the central valley, she commented that 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.

Although raised in the Lodi region, Sierra was not from a wine producing family.  However, a foodie she was and soon found the similarities in both cooking and the wine making process.  At 15 years old she was smitten to be the best winemaker she could be. To pursue her wine making career, she attended California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo, earning an undergraduate degree in enology. While attending college, she took every fall quarter off to work harvests and gain winemaking experience in regions, not only in Lodi but in Paso Robles and New Zealand as well.

Obviously, working in New Zealand, Sierra commented she gained great insight on the different styles simply in producing a Sauv blanc as the wine making team continue to increase the quality of their white wine these past three years.

And so we begin with a review of the 2019 Old Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.  My concern was that I had just pulled it from the fridge and perhaps it would be too cold to really enjoy all the flavors I could.  But no problems here; even as the wine warms in the Palm Springs weather, it continued to show classic Sauv blanc aromas of freshly cut grass & hay along with lime & citrus.  Crisp citrus flavors continued and merged with juicy tropical notes of guava and passion fruit.  On both sides of the computer, we all found the wine well balanced with a lingering finish.  When the bars open again here in Palm Springs, this wine should be pouring all about.

The next wine we sampled was the 2018 Old Farms Vineyard Albariño.  This is when the Lodi region especially shines: a classic Spanish/Portuguese varietal treating the locals!  Sierra commented that although this grape grows exceedingly well in Lodi, it definitely is a hands-on process to pull through.  Dan Panella finds it to be a “bridge wine” from a Sauv Blanc to a Chardonnay as far as marketing goes.  This Lodi version has fresh notes of green apple and flinty sea-stone, with a bigger mouth feel than its Spanish cousin—with a touch more tropical notes as well.

The 2018 Old Farms Vineyards Rosé, Silvaspoons Vineyards, is a Provence style Grenache Noir rosé with aromas of grapefruit and melon with soft floral notes of jasmine and rose. On the palate the wine is very delicate and bright with flavors followed by a crisp acidity and a smooth finish. Very dry and very delicious!

The last wine we sampled was my sentimental favorite; 2017 Oak Farm Vineyards Barbera.  I’ve always loved a California Barbera; and back in the day, Louis Martini produced a tasty one from the North Coast—where did those vineyards go?  Anyway—tasting Sierra’s version brought back those tasty memories—dark berries, plums, cherry jam with wonderful acidity.  We enjoyed it with a New York steak—a fab pairing!

Please make yourself acquainted with this winery by going on line at www.oakfarmvineyards.comWe will definitely be visiting Oak Farm on our next wine tasting trip!  Cheers!