I was in town for the Lodi Vineyard & Wine Economics symposium, and decided that I would spend some time getting to know the wines of Lodi. The region has a bit of a bad reputation, known to produce excessive amounts of grapes (namely Zinfandel and Cabernet) that ultimately end up in “bulk” wine. At various other tasting events, I’d had the opportunity to taste a handful of smaller producers from the region who are focused in on creating a new reputation for Lodi—one of infinite variety, producing, yes, sometimes Zinfandel, but more often lately “other,” lesser-known varieties that seem to thrive in Lodi’s climate and soil.
So I came to town early on that day, a Wednesday. Unfortunately many wineries and tasting rooms were closed, saving their hours for weekend tour-goers. But thank goodness McCay Cellars was open (and staffing a very friendly hostess, I might add). I’d heard glowing things about their wines and, well, all of them were true. I came away with two wines—both Grenaches. I’d never considered Lodi a Rhone-style region. But, as I said, these small, often family-run wineries, are putting new grapes to the test and, thus, Lodi on the (legit) wine map.
I was excited to see this wine come in my delivery from NakedWines.com. Not regularly exposed to Spanish or Portuguese wines, my main experience with Verdelho has been with those from California. And I have to say Lodi is the up-and-coming region to watch when it comes to these (as of now) “lesser known” grape varieties. So, when I learned the grapes were harvested from Lodi, and the winemaker cut her teeth on Napa wines — great experience plus great fruit has to equal phenomenal wine, right?
My first trip to Lodi was, unfortunately for a business trip. So I didn’t see too much besides the inside of a conference room. But I did make time to explore the humble downtown area — luckily because several folks recommended I try McCay Cellars. While many wineries are closed mid-week, which is when I found myself wandering around town, McCay was very much open and staffed with the kindest hostess willing to play along and entertain this wine nerd. She provided me with comparative vineyard and vintage tastings, barrel samples, and a few “off menu” items. But what I walked away with — what I had to walk away with was this Grenache from Lodi’s Abba Vineyard.
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.
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.