Exploring Zinfandel: Lodi

Discovering the secret of Lodi’s great Zins.

 


Last week I began my summer time look at Zinfandel by focusing on Mendocino and lake counties, two regions that have limited presence in the Zin lovers mind. Today I'm taking a different tact and focusing instead on lodi, a veritable Zin lovers paradise.

Why you ask?

Well simply put it's a region that not only has a great climate for Zinfandel, with warm days and cool nights, not to mention lots of drying breezes, but it's also not been a secret that Lodi is a great place to grow grapes,and in particular Zinfandel grapes. That means plenty of old vine vineyards. Like tons of them. Like stand in some places and that's all you'll see. It's one of the secrets to Lodi's incredible successes with Zinfandel.
The other secrets aren't really secrets. The weather, hot as I mentioned with the cooling Delta breezes flowing in like clockwork every evening. All that helps to preserve the acidity and freshness in grapes that have been basking in the sun all day. Lodi is also easy to farm. they probably don't want me to mention that, visions of mechanical harvests in their minds, but that's not really an issue. First of all because mechanical harvesting is not the boogeyman some would us believe it is. Sure I'd prefer conscientious manual harvesting, but the truth is mechanical harvesting gets more fruit in, more quickly, and often overnight while it is remains cool that is typically the case with manual harvesting. And it gets the fruit into the winery quicker as well, reducing the time it has to oxidize before fermenting or sitting for a cold soak.
 
But you know what? That really doesn't matter much with the wines I'm talking about because the wines I'm talking about are mostly from gnarly old head pruned vines. You're not going to get a mechanical harvester through those vines. gentle hands and a good eye are in high demand when the fruit from these vines needs to be brought in. And what stunning fruit it can be. Hundred year old vines have something special about them. Their deep roots and naturally low yields seem to be able to endure to vagaries of the growing season much more smoothly than younger vines. They tend to produce more balanced wines as well, often a bit lower in fruit and alcohol but with more nuance and detail on the palate.
 
Not all Lodi Zinfandel is lime this of course, not even all old vine Zin from lodi, because Lodi does in fact have terroir. We like to think that terror is reserved from old slopes and craggy vineyards but even here in Lodi terroir is on grand display. Consider if you will the style difference that one finds in Eastside Lodi versus Westside Lodi wines. The east side has a lower water table, and sits further from the Delta breezes. Berry size tends to be smaller and the concentration of fruit in those berries particularly intense.
 
The Westside on the other hand produces bigger, plumper berries, and wines that tend to be spicier and with dark fruit coming from the richer, loamy soils that slowly replace some of the sandier soils as one moves from east to west through the appellation. It’s in those sandy soils can upset the apple cart of the Lodi wine hierarchy. Arguably the stars of the vineyards in Lodi, as far as I know, are the old vine Carignane in the Bechtold vineyard, and the own rooted, old vine Zinfandel in the Kirschenmann vineyard. Since today we're talking about Zin, today we're talking about Kirschenmann.
 
Now owned by Teagan Passalacqua, best known as Turley's winemaker, Kirschenmann is not only a source of stunning, elegant, red fruited Zinfandel, but it's also a bit of a rule breaker, laying as it does on the east side of Lodi. The wines here should be big and dense, and many are, but here we have a vineyard that produces silken textured wines. It not only breaks the rules for Lodi's east-west identity, but it crushes the preconceptions we might have as to what a Lodi Zin should be like.
 
That is the beauty of Lodi. There are the classic big, powerful Zins still produced here, but they vary from east to west. And then there are producers skillfully teasing out a more elegant expression of Zin from old vine vineyards. And finally, there are those fortunate enough to be working with what are some of the vinous jewels of California's vinous heritage. I've said it before, but it warrants saying again. Zinfandel is California's greatest grape variety. It produces wines with real terroir, even as the warmth of California cooks out the terroir of so many other varieties. It's a fantastic lens through which to view the variety of Lodi's vineyards and if you're into Zin, you really do have to take a look at what's happening here. Prices remain fair, vineyards are stunningly well maintained, and the region as a whole is waking up and realizing what glorious raw materials they have to work with.

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Top Lodi Zinfandel Tasted 4/14

1.
Turley Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandel (2012)
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2.
Carlisle Zinfandel Kirschenmann Vineyard (2012)
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3.
Harney Lane Zinfandel Lodi Old Vine Lizzy James Vineyard (2011)
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4.
Mettler Family Vineyards Zinfandel Old Vine Epicenter (2011)
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5.
Jeremy Wine Co Old Vine Zinfandel (2012)
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6.
St. Amant Zinfandel Marian's Vineyard (2012)
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7.
St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Lodi Old Vines Mohr-Fry Ranch Vineyard (2012)
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8.
Harney Lane Zinfandel Lodi (2011)
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9.
Fields Family Wines Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel (2011)
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Comments

  • Where is the Maley Brothers Zinfandel, part of the 6 Lodi Natives pack? That is my favorite of the bunch.

    Jun 05, 2014 at 1:12 PM


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