Recently I was pleasantly surprised by a visit to Lodi, California. Long the source of well-priced, consumer friendly wines, not to mention the boost they give many of our favorite national brands, Lodi continues to work mostly off the center stage of wine in the USA. There are many reasons for this of course, from consumer preferences to the great big marketing machines that try to drive those preferences, but as we free ourselves from what we should be doing and drinking and start adopting a more personal approach to wine, it might be time for you to take a look at the wines of Lodi.
Some of the reasons for this have been covered here: Live From Lodi, the wrap-up article of our great virtual tasting co-hosted by the Lodi Winegrower's Commission's Program Director Stuart Spencer and Macchia Winery owner and winemaker Tim Holdener. All the salient points about Lodi’s wines are covered here, but it’s worth going through them again briefly before discussing the wineries and wines themselves.
Lodi, like much of California, has a warm climate, but surprisingly this northern slice of the Central Valley is not as hot as you might think. Proximity to the San Pablo Bay and the resulting delta breezes keep the region’s high temperatures under control, and bring it cooling relief each evening. This is never going to be a cool climate growing region, but the wines do manage to retain good freshness while attaining full ripeness. There’s no doubt many of the wines are too ripe for some palates, but if you like full-bodied wines there’s a lot to love in Lodi, and if you don’t, you owe it to yourself to try wines like Uvaggio’s Vermentino and Field’s Family Syrah to see that Lodi is able to produce elegant and fresh wines.
Lodi is best known for it’s Old Vine Zinfandel, and to a certain degree for its excellent Petite Sirahs, but the region is undergoing an explosion of innovation that few regions can match. The lack of fame for any particular variety and the regions expansive size, with more acreage under vine than Napa and Sonoma combined, gave growers here a certain leeway to experiment, and experiment they did. In addition to the expected, Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and the aforementioned Zinfandel and Petite Sirah you’ll find a tremendous range of varieties thriving in Lodi. During my brief visit I tried some pretty convincing wines produced with Sangiovese, Barbera, Tempranillo, Grenache, Touriga Nacional, Tanat, Albarino, Torrontes, Muscat, and the aforementioned Vermentino, not to mention ancient vine Cinsault. That’s a lot of fun right here!
Driving around Lodi you can’t help but be amazed by some of the ancient vine head pruned vineyards you see. Most are Zinfandel, but there are some other real gems tucked away here and there. Take for instance the Bechthold Vineyard, where 125 year old vines of Cinsault are thriving. People travel the world to discover vineyards like this one, and here it is in California’s backyard. This really is an amazing vineyard, but you don’t have to take my word for that. Just try one of the many wines produced with Bechthold fruit, like those produced by Turley, Miner’s Leap or Bonny Doon, just to mention a few familiar names. I was fortunate to try several of these wines amongst the vines while I was in Lodi, not the ideal tasting set-up, perched on the tailgate of a pickup truck, but very Lodi and a really exciting opportunity to learn more about the character and nature of the vinous treasures. If you can find them, the 2010 Michael David and 2011 Jillian Onesta bottlings were the standouts for me.
Terroir is a much bandied about term in wine circles, and many tend to forget that terroir does not only refer to transparent mineral wines, it also refers to rich and powerful wines that reflect their unique growing conditions. Like it or not the wines of Lodi have that sense of place; not all of them of course, but it is coming. Lodi may be an old grape growing and wine producing region, but that history had been focused on producing large volumes of easy drinking wine, something Lodi does very well and something that should not be dismissed.
The wine world tends to be dismissive of wines that don’t force the consumer to do more than just drink the damn stuff. We want to be challenged to learn and discover, but most consumers just want to drink and enjoy their wines. There is a great need for this style of wine, for some it serves as a gateway to the exciting complexity that wine can offer, though for others it just makes their life a little more enjoyable, and ultimately that is wine’s role in life.
Yes, there are many other layers to the wine onion, and they are fun to peel back and can offer a lifetime of learning and enjoyment, but this too can be found in Lodi. There’s a lot going on here folks, and while producers are figuring these things out, the fine market in Lodi is young, and they are only at the beginning of their journey. It’ll be fun to watch how things develop and evolve. Fun to return to Lodi to catch up with producers, and taste new releases, and discover the folks who are taking the steps to help move the entire region forward, even by baby steps.
And one last thing, Lodi was not a bad place to spend a few days. Wine & Roses is a delightful resort, there are some delicious dining options around town, and the people couldn’t be friendlier. With a real Norman Rockwell feel to the place, Lodi is one place I look forward to revisiting.The following wineries are listed in order of my visits with them.