In 1988 South African natives Lester and Linda Schwartz had been living in the Bay Area for just about 10 years when they decided to purchase the, then, untouched property atop the cliffside slopes of the Sonoma Coast. Convinced the land was suitable for grapevines, Lester ordered two dozen dormant rootstocks, planting a test vineyard with 16 varieties, three trellis systems, assorted clones and rootstocks. It took four years, but the couple found the most successful plantings were of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes and spent the next ten years cultivating their 53-acre vineyard, complete with roads, subterranean drainage, and irrigation system. Alongside a small vineyard crew, Lester and Linda created thirty-two blocks of vines, carefully choosing which blocks were most suitable for which clones.
A taste of Fort Ross Vineyards wines means a taste of focused Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a testament to what the cool climate and proximity to the Pacific Ocean does for these grapes. Indeed, among the Fort Ross Vineyards lineup, one can taste single-vineyard and even single-block expressions of either of these two varietals and experience how specific vineyard block orientation affects both the tastes and textures of resulting wines.
Of course one can’t get the full Fort Ross Vineyards experience without tasting a glass of Pinotage. Yes, during the course of building their vineyard acreage, Lester and Linda sourced bud wood from their native South Africa (where Pinotage claims the country’s “heritage grape” title), had it quarantined and tested through UC Davis, and became the first private growers, and eventually commercial producers, of Pinotage.
My introduction to some of the over 100 varieties of wine grown in Lodi began at a Wine Bloggers Conference welcome dinner hosted at Acquiesce Winery, which only produces white wines from Rhône varieites. My second taste was the following morning at an Albarino breakfast (yes, you heard that right) at Bokisch Vineyards with the variety expressing beautiful citrus notes across bottlings from different vineyards and producers. Those who have the perception that Lodi only produces big red wines should take note.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of delightful red wines coming out of the region. During my stay I took a trip to Bechtold Vineyard and tasted the exotic Cinsault variety, which is often characterized as “Pinot Noir meets Zinfandel.” Today, famed wineries Turley Wine Cellars and Bonny Doon are among those sourcing grapes from the Lodi vineyard.
Of course, I tasted plenty of the region’s signature grape, Zinfandel, which is quite quaffable. But the wines that captured my attention were not the usual suspects.
We’ve all heard the saying, “great wine starts in the vineyard,” but what does that look like?
In Lodi, it’s evident in the big old gnarly vines that have been cared for by multiple generations and produce deeply concentrated fruit It’s visible at Bechtold Vineyard, the oldest known Cinsault vineyard in the world planted in 1886, where pheromone disruptors hang on the vines to control mealybugs. It’s demonstrated by the owl boxes posted in Bokisch Vineyards that house the birds that prevent pests from visiting the vines. It’s apparent when Lange Twins vineyards has a plane fly overhead taking pictures in order to provide the vineyard manager with heat maps as an aid in pest detection. Most of all, it’s very clear when hearing firsthand from vineyard managers and winemakers how much care they put into the vines.
If variety is the spice of life, Lodi is one spicy place!
Some wine regions are known for – or limited to – producing just a few varieties of wine grapes. Not in Lodi, California. The region has proven it can grow over 100 different grape varieties — more than any other region in California, including those from old world regions as well as new world clonal creations. Let’s take a look at some of the “more interesting” grapes being grown in Lodi and the vintners who work with them.
I have to admit, I went to Lodi Wine Country knowing very little about the region and its wines. As someone who works in Woodinville Wine Country where Washington State wine is the main commodity, the local wines are what often grace our table. Nevertheless, an ongoing intrigue with wine encourages me to explore other regions. So, when the opportunity arose to visit the California region of Lodi during the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference, I took it.
Today, I’m a big fan of Lodi wines. There are so many diverse and unexpected varieties grown there and the vineyards are pretty special, with most abiding by the strict Lodi Rules for sustainability. And the quality of wine? Remarkable for the price.