Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lodi Rules: Sustainable Certified, Straight-Up Delicious Wines

I’ve praised Lodi in the past for being “a big tent freak show of awesomeness” because there are so many different and obscure varieties, gnarly old vines and a real spirit of experimentation among Lodi winemakers. This historic region located near Sacramento was long a producer of bulk wines, mostly Zinfandel. But that’s an old story. The new Lodi is a thrilling place for the wine-lover to explore.

Lodi has gotten lots of attention lately (including Wine Enthusiast’s Region of the Year in 2015), and I think a lot of this stems from the efforts of the the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the region’s trade group. Representing more than 750 growers, this group has been preaching the gospel of Lodi wine for about a quarter century, but they’ve really stepped it up in recent years.

Lodi boasts varied soils that can help dozens of grape varieties flourish, a Mediterranean-like climate with wide diurnal temperature swings, and a host of experienced growers and winemakers who take the grapes seriously. For consumers, this means a wide array of styles, blends, varietal wines, and a lot of them are less expensive than wines of comparable quality from other California regions.

Old vines are treasures, and Lodi has plenty of these vineyard gems, but their existence isn’t guaranteed. Growers face financial and development pressure to rip out old vines, or replant with new and more productive vines. Also, gnarly old vines require more labor-intensive hand harvesting. It’s more expense for less wine, but the finished wines can be fabulous.

Lodi is also on the cutting edge of environmentally-friendly farming and winemaking certification. I recently attended an on-line tasting (with Aaron Shinn of Round Valley Ranches, winemaker Chad Joseph and Stuart Spencer of the Lodi Winegrape Commission) focused on breaking down the Lodi Rules Sustainable Winegrowing Program. This is an extensive certification process that takes into account all sorts of different aspects of viticulture: pest control, soil, water, business practices. Based on 101 different measurable standards, the goal is to reduce pesticide risk to humans, animals and ecosystems. Since 2005, the program has certified about 24,000 acres in Lodi, and almost 13,000 acres in other areas of California. Some winemakers offer financial incentives to their growers to get certified, making it a little bit easier to get the vineyards up to snuff. According to the LWC, those incentives have exceeded $7 million since 2010.  

Below are my notes on the four wines I tasted.

SRP: $20
Light straw color. Aromas of white peaches and limes mix with honeysuckle, nettle and oregano. Crisp and clean on the palate but plenty of texture and bright acidity. Crunchy limes mix with juicy white peaches and guava nectar. Notes of sea salt, cut flowers, and I get refreshing minerals on the back end. This is serious Lodi Sauvignon Blanc. All stainless steel, 13% alcohol. (89 points)

2015 Bokisch Vineyards Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard - California, Central Valley, Clements Hills
SRP: $18
Light gold color. Bursting aromatic display of white and yellow flowers, lemons, limes, white peaches, along with honeysuckle, chamomile tea and some sliced cucumber. Brisk acidity meets a moderately creamy mouthfeel on a medium-bodied wine, it’s all balanced quite nicely. Juicy white peaches and tangy lemon blend well with notes of dandelion, white tea, honeysuckle and sea salt. Lively, refreshing, showing solid complexity but goes down so easily. All stainless steel, 12.5% alcohol.  (90 points)

2014 Michael Klouda Zinfandel Broken Vine - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $26
Light purple color. Interesting nose, because I get a mix of bright strawberry and raspberry with darker notes of prune and roasted plums, backed up with some spicy herbs and red flowers. Full-bodied but not thick at 14%, this wine shows moderate tannins and acidity. Juicy raspberry mixes with sweet black cherry, the fruit is pure and fresh and backed up with notes of incense sticks, clove, light roast coffee and red licorice. Packed with deliciousness but this stays fresh and vibrant as well. Aged 16 months in used oak. (90 points)

2014 Michael-David Vineyards Cabernet Franc Inkblot - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $35
Extracted purple color. Rich, dark, saucy aromas of black currant, blueberry, mulling spices, sweet coffee and black pepper glaze. Massive on the palate (15.4% alcohol) this has sweet, chewy tannins and low acidity. It’s extracted and rich and too heavy for my palate, but the fruit is delicious (plum cake, blueberry jam, sweet black cherries) and I get notes of coffee, vanilla and anise. I see how this would be a huge hit with a lot of wine drinkers, but it doesn’t seem balanced to me. I would never peg this as Cab Franc in a blind tasting. I probably would’ve guessed The Prisoner. Maybe this needs time, or maybe I will never wrap my palate around it. (Note: By day 2, this was a lot more interesting, so time is the key, I think.) This wine includes some Petite Sirah and is aged 21 months in French oak. (85 points)

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