Tuesday, August 30, 2016

An Insiders Look at the Wine Bloggers Conference

Disclosure: In exchange for a reduced rate to the Wine Bloggers Conference, attendees are required to write at least three blog posts about the conference either before, during or after.

Me all up in the vines somewhere in Lodi

The Wine Bloggers Conference is one of the highlights of my year. This is only my second year attending, but the arsenal of information I absorb and the contacts, scratch that, FRIENDS I make have been wonderful. It truly feels like a community, and not just some sort of networking mixer with your colleagues. We are all real life people who aren’t afraid to show our vulnerabilities and our insecurities (whether online or offline), albeit while dropping some serious wine knowledge!

Theresa, myself, and Melanie, the Wine House aka WSET Diploma gals, from LA

Whether you are a wine blogger or not, the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC from here on out) presented a trove of information. The content shared was valuable to me as a wine blogger, but could also be valuable to entrepreneurs, women in business, or someone working in another aspect of the wine world. Perhaps the best part of the conference is getting to know the host region in depth. Had I not attended the Lodi pre-conference excursion, I might not have gotten such an informative and immersive experience. Having attended the excursion, I feel like I got a very thorough and well-rounded view of Lodi. And I was pleased with what I discovered. This trip succeeded in shifting my beliefs about the Lodi viticultural region. Hands down.

Zinfandel field tasting

If you’re not a wine blogger, you might be wondering why you should read this post. I’d say check it out to get an inside look as to what we “wine people” do when we get together.  I find that a lot of people are very interested in the "world" of wine. The general public thinks that if a group of wine people (be it: somms, winemakers, bloggers, etc) get together, all we do is drink wine. I can attest that does happen...a lot. But there is so much more than what meets the glass.

I hope you enjoy my recap of the Wine Bloggers Conference highlights.

Wednesday August 10

On Tuesday the 9th in the late afternoon, I received an eblast from Coruce Vineyards in the Antelope Valley, asking for harvest help. First of all, I have no idea how I got on their email list. My dad has a vacation home in the Antelope Valley, but aside from that, I have no other connection to the area. The harvest was to begin at 6am the next morning (Wednesday August 10) and I needed to be in Lodi by about 2:30pm for the start of my pre-conference excursion. It would be an ambitious undertaking to leave my house in Los Angeles at 5am, arrive at Corluce at 6am, harvest until 8am, and then drive to Lodi with an (approx) 2pm arrival. But I decided to go for the gold and try to make it happen. After all, I have never spent any (meaningful) time in a vineyard, let alone harvesting the vines, and I felt that this type of real-world experience with the vines would be invaluable. You can only read so much about vertical shoot positioning in a book.  Sometime you’ve got to throw the textbook out and see what’s going on around you.

I arrived at Coruce Vineyard just after dawn and was greeted by Bruce, the proprietor. Bruce was dressed comfortably, had his long grey hair tied back, and wore a hard to miss headlamp. He greeted me warmly and put me to work. The vineyard manager suited me up with gloves and garden shears and off I went to harvest Symphony grapes in the early morning sunlight. I was working alongside a couple friends of theirs as well as the professional harvesting team. The harvesting team put us to shame. They’d fill their bins in a few minutes flat, while I was still trying to hold back the leaves/foliage in order to even get close to the clusters. BUT we were harvesting grapes that would soon become wine, we were tending to the beautiful vineyard, we were living the dream! The distinction became quite apparent to me: I am someone like me who loves wine and romanticizes the industry, and these harvest workers depend on that same industry to pay for the roof over their head and to feed/clothe their family. Bruce and his wife were very kind to me.  After the harvest I enjoyed some coffee and they sent me home with 3 of their bottlings!

Symphony grapes ready for harvest at Coruce Vineyards

Harvest lasted a couple of hours, and from there I was on the road towards Lodi. I arrived at our host hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Lodi.  Not quite a quaint wine country B&B, but a comfortable hotel regardless. The turnaround time was quick, and within a few minutes I was checked-in, showered, and on our shuttle to begin the excursion. The group was small, no more than 20 bloggers, and Randy Caparoso of the Lodi Wine Commission was our “tour” guide. Randy has enough personality for about 5 people combined and has more information than the Encyclopedia Britannica. He has a wealth of knowledge about Lodi and grape growing in general and he’s got personality for days! The first half of our excursion included a few visits to vineyards in the area. We were able to check-out some old (and even ancient) Zinfandel vines, see different kinds of training/pruning systems (i.e. VSP, double-cordon, and head training), and do field tasting of some grapes just about ready for harvest. We had firsthand discussions with vineyard managers and some of the farmers on these sites. It was also interesting to talk to winemakers while in the vineyards. They do not own these vineyards, but purchase the fruit from them. I had conversations with them about the push/pull relationship between the growers and the winemakers. The winemaker is the client of the grower and therefore has the power to make the decision for when to pick. Though sometimes the grower may have a different opinion of when that should be. I found that push/pull makes for a dynamic partnership to say the least.

Randy Caparoso of the Lodi Winegrape Commission

While in the field, we also got to see how a refractometer is used (so bummed I forgot to take a picture!). According to Wines & Vines, a refractometer is an optical instrument that measures the density of water-soluble materials, i.e., the proportion dissolved in the water as a ratio. It measures the refractive index, which is the speed at which light passes through a liquid: The denser the liquid, the slower the light will travel through it, and the higher the reading will be on the refractometer. The unit may include refractive index (RI), but it is surely calibrated in a more useful scale, such as Brix, specific gravity, Baumé or other scales in some countries**. In the case of the refractometer we were using, it was calibrated in a Brix scale to measure sugar concentration.

After spending time in the vineyards, we retreated to Harney Lane Winery where we met some of the Lerner and Mettler family members who told us about their families generations of growing grapes and making wine in Lodi. As Randy says, you can’t trip in this town without running into a Mettler! That evening we were treated to a delightful dinner at Harney Lane. We had a lovely family style, farm-to-table meal paired with the Harney Lane current releases. It was a welcomed respite from the long, hot afternoon in the vineyards. The pre-excursion group had an early night, as we had a 5:30am call time the next day for harvest.

Kyle Lerner telling us the history at Harney Lane
Harney Lane wines paired with a farm-to-table dinner

Oh, but before we went to bed, we rode on a mechanical harvester at sunset. Pretty damn cool if I don’t say so myself!

My view from atop the mechanical harvester at Harney Lane Winery

Thursday August 11

Sunrise harvest in Lodi

Thursday morning began bright and early with a 5:30am shuttle pick-up. Our first stop was the Michael David Winery (one of the larger operations in Lodi) for a Viognier harvest at sunrise. Having harvested the morning prior, I felt like an old pro! Well, only sort of. Us bloggers were still moving as slow as molasses compared to the actual vineyard workers. We were also busy “capturing the moment” by taking selfies with the vines, video documenting the experience, and scribbling notes in our iphones or notebooks. After the harvest and a vineyard visit or two, we settled down for a great lunch under a big oak tree at Bokisch Vineyards. Markus Bokisch’s family comes from Spain. He grows Spanish varietals and a family friend visiting from Spain prepared a traditional Catalan meal of: gazpacho, watermelon/feta salad, and Catalan toast with fresh tomato spread and various cured meats and cheeses. What a treat! By the mid-afternoon our Lodi pre-conference excursion was winding down and I spent a couple hours resting before the official Conference Opening Night Reception. Though I will say that I felt as if I had attended a full conference by the time the opening reception rolled around! We had been all over Lodi, harvesting grapes, getting to know the vines, the people, and the wines. I was seriously exhausted at this point yet so excited to get the actual conference started!

Vineyard lunch at Bokisch Vineyards under the big oak tree

The opening reception was in the front yard of the private home at Mohr-Fry Ranch, which is so very Lodi. The people are some of the most genuine and hospitable people I have met. It was a lovely and relaxing evening. Great weather, sunset, live music, lovely food, and a casual pouring of some key Lodi wines.

The true Lodi spirit at the Mohr-Fry Ranch opening reception

Friday August 12

On Friday I got to participate in the white/rose Live Wine Blogging, which I can only describe as speed dating for wines. The bloggers are placed at banquet rounds with wine glasses and spit buckets. The session is an hour long and each table will see 12 winemakers/wines who have 5 minutes each to pour their wines, talk about them, and answer questions. It is a bit of a whirlwind, and I am not sure if I love it or hate it. But it is a good time!

That afternoon I hopped on a bus for one of the wine-country excursions, which is always a highlight. We first made a vineyard stop to harvest some grapes, which we then took to the Lucas Winery. There we met with Heather, the winemaker, who showed us a small-scale pressing of these grapes. We also used a device that tested the Brix level. At Lucas Winery we got to know the Lucas family. Heather is married to David Lucas, the namesake of the winery. Mitra, his daughter, was our tour guide for the evening. I can say that our group of 10 bloggers had a fantastic time at Lucas Winery. The family was so welcoming and proud to share with us their history in Lodi. We also enjoyed a lovely feast prepared by Doug Seed of “A Moveable Feast”. He prepared a meal that we paired with Lucas, Fielders, McCay Cellars, and McKenzie wines. The meal culminated with an exquisite Elk chop that was to die for. My first time eating Elk and I loved it!

David Lucas harvesting in the vineyard

Press at Lucas Winery
Starters (L to R): Insalate Caprese, Crabcake, Vichyssoise with Quail Egg, and Smoked Trout
Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Salad
Grilled Elk Chop with Zinfandel Reduction, Exotic Mushrooms, and Leek Acorn Pudding

I figured I’d go to bed after the excursion dropped us off at the hotel, but I saved enough energy to visit a hospitality suite put on by Wine Australia. My new friend, Catherine (aka PursuingPinot) joined me and we headed to downtown Lodi to a charming area. The old Craftsman style home they rented for the conference was adorable! It was a perfect setting to enjoy light bites and some Aussie wines. Thank you to Allison of Please the Palate and Emily from Wine Australia for their hospitality! I also enjoyed meeting Fred Swan who walked us through a tasting of the whites and a few of the reds.

Saturday August 13

On Saturday morning our host bribed us with sparkling wine and scones. It seemed to do the trick, as the session was packed! This session was about Wine Sampling and how to dance the delicate dance of requesting wine samples. Our moderator was Marissa Indelicato of Fox Run Vineyards and the panel included representation from a couple of different wineries as well as a couple different bloggers. Newsflash to my readers: I’m not blogging just to get free wine. Sure, that is a perk that I enjoy from time to time, but it is only a sliver of a reason why I do what I do. The session covered both how a blogger should go about requesting samples that they are interested in and how the wineries/producers go about selecting bloggers/press to review their wines. My biggest takeaway from this session was the advice to create a Media Kit. This is a one pager that talks about who I am, what my blog is about, my blog/social media stats, and a listing of any other writing I have done besides the blog. I have set a goal to create my media kit by the end of September!

The dinner on Saturday (hosted by Lodi Wine) was the highlight of my day. I picked a stellar group of people to sit with including: Bottles and Bites, Jim aka JvB Uncorked, Michelle aka Rockin Red Blog, Martin aka Enofylz, Anatoli aka Talk-a-Vino, and Robin aka Wine Stained Lens. Each table was hosted by a different winery/winemaker, and by the grace of god I selected the Fields Family Wines table! We were a lively bunch; my tablemate Jim even brought some of his own personal bottles to share! The dinner was very well coordinated and the Southern style fare from South Restaurant in Sacramento did a great job catering the meal.

Brisket and Pork Tenderloin courtesy of South Restaurant

After dinner came the announcement of our 2017 conference location. This will be the 10th year for the Wine Bloggers Conference. The first conference was held in Santa Rosa, and that is where we are going back to for the 10th anniversary! I have made a few trips to the Santa Rosa area in Sonoma and I am DELIGHTED to go back for the conference next year. I’ll be registering for WBC17 in September!

Sunday August 14

The last day of the conference was a short one. Content only ran until noon, but I attended a power-packed session in the morning. The session was hosted by the husband and wife team, Vindulge and was entitled “Increase Your Audience and Engagement”. I don’t think I have one bad thing to say about this session. This session was PACKED with hard, fast, tangible takeaways. This is exactly the type of content I had been seeking all weekend. Major props to Vindulge for putting together this well thought out and well laid out session. After the conference was over, I checked out of the hotel, got into comfy clothes and made the drive back down to Los Angeles.

I am still deep in WBC follow up. Thanking those who presented wonderful sessions and shared time with me and the other bloggers. Following up with new friends I made and starting our online friendships (this is the fun part!).  I’m also following up on the notes I took in the various sessions. Most importantly on my agenda in September is to create a media kit and to write a vision statement for my blog. I also plan on starting to utilize social media management (perhaps HootSuite?) to help maximize the time I spend online. I want my focus to be on my content, so I’m all about being able to save as much time as possible for that.

Do you have a wine blog? Or a blog in general? If so, tell me about it here. I'd love to support my readers who blog as well!

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Monday, August 22, 2016

From Lodi, With Love

Hutchins Square entrance to the Wine Bloggers Conference

As happened last year, I am suffering from the post-WBC blues. A week ago I returned from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California. This was my second conference and the people I met and the connections I made were just as strong as last year at the Finger Lakes, NY conference. I had such a good experience at the conference last year and really ended up loving the region, the people, and the wines. So much so that I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the same experience in Lodi. I can attest that I did! The people are JUST as nice, and the wines, let me tell you about the wines!

Onsite Zinfandel tasting

When I tell people that I went up to Lodi for the Wine Bloggers Conference they get a funny look on their face (a smirk and a slightly upturned nose) and go “oh….Lodi”. The perception about Lodi is that it is too hot to make good wines, the only wines coming out of there are big jammy Zins, and that it’s only for big, commercial Central Valley operations. I can say with overwhelming conviction that is NOT the case. Are there bad wines made out of Lodi. Yes. Are there big jammy Zins made out of Lodi. Yes. Are there huge commercial/industrial operations in Lodi. Yes. But there are also dozens of other grape growers and winemakers who put out a fantastic, artisanal product that will blow your socks off.

Markus Bokisch, owner and Jenny, winemaker at Bokisch Vineyards

I cannot even begin to tell you how incredible the people of Lodi are. Just about everywhere we went, we felt like we were being welcomed into people’s homes. And sometimes we were! The people we met were warm, welcoming, and proud. The people of Lodi are very proud of what they are doing. They know they are making good, honest, regional wine and have no qualms telling you about it. Lodi is an agricultural town. The gowers are TRUE farmers, and many come from a long line of farmers. One grape grower we met was a 7th generation farmer in Lodi. We met MANY people who are 3rd and 4th generation….it was a running theme. These people have been working the land for well over 100 years.

Sunrise Harvest with Kevin Phillips of Michael David Winery

I can go on and on about the people of Lodi, but what you’re really thinking is “can the wines back it up?”. And the answer is yes. There are over 100 varietals grown in Lodi, more than in any other AVA in California. And speaking of, Lodi is the largest AVA in California, with over 100,000 acres under vine. Aside from tasting some great Zinfandels, I also enjoyed Albarinos, Picpouls, Syrah, Grenache, Verdejo, Tempranillo, etc. They also make some amazing dry roses that were a perfect accompaniment to the hot! hot! hot! mid-afternoon vineyard walks.

The setting for a winemaker dinner at Lucas Winery

As you can see, I was overwhelmingly satisfied with my exploration of Lodi, their wine, and their people. And I am not the only one. It is not a mistake the Wine Enthusiast named Lodi “Wine Region of the Year” for 2015. See article HERE. Being a wine blogger, I believe it is my duty to sing the unsung praises of the good people making honest wine around the world. Napa doesn’t need any help and there are plenty of vanity labels (Moet anyone?) who get touted the world round. That’s all great and it works for some, but I want to explore the rocks unturned. I want to talk to the people making wine like their grandpa used to make in their cellar. I want to drink the interesting wines that are indicative of a region and of a terroir, not the wines that taste like a big fat marketing budget went into the bottle. I want the wine to be about the juice. And I want to enjoy these wines with good, tenacious, and passionate people. I can say, without a doubt, that is what I experienced in Lodi, California.

Participating in a sunrise harvest of Verdejo grapes at Michael David Winery

Have you been to Lodi?  If so, tell me about it in the comments section below! Did you have the same awesome experience I did?

Next week I'll share lots more from my trip to Lodi.  Vineyard walks, winery tours, winemaker dinners, and all kinds of good stuff!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wine Blogger Conference : Here I Come!

A little over a year ago I decided to embark on the 2-year WSET Diploma journey. Classes started in July of 2015 and I have never turned back. I also made the bold decision to start a wine blog. Writing for the public takes some balls. What do you have to say? Can you make it interesting? Do other people give a shit?  If you can answer these questions affirmatively, then hey, write away.

Within one month I started the Diploma course, launched a blog, and attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Finger Lakes, NY.   I can wholeheartedly say that WBC15 was one of the most exhilarating and exciting experiences I've ever had. It was an incredibly packed schedule filled with panels, discussions, tastings, networking, etc. Sounds boring and uninspiring as hell, right? But this... THIS was an experience. Everyone was PASSIONATE about wine and about what they had to say about wine. I was brushing elbows with stay at home moms who started their blog for fun, professional bloggers who work in the wine industry, and Masters of Wine (MW).  I left the conference inspired and energetic.  It was there that I realized I had a voice and that I wanted to use it. My blog was (and still is) a work in progress. Sometimes I struggle with: what do I want to convey here? Who is my audience? Etc.

As we speak, I am driving up to Lodi for my second Wine Bloggers Conference and I couldn’t be more excited. It is going to be a whirlwind and a half! Fun things on the agenda include: a sunrise harvest(!), an interview of a fellow blogger (Amanda Barnes of Around the World in 80 Harvests), and an interview for a fellow blogger (Heather Lipp of 10K Bottles).  Movin’ on up!

Below is the full itinerary for the sessions I am attending. 

The SOMMspirations blog will be dark during WBC16 and another week or so after as I gather my thoughts, notes, sanity(!), etc.

The Wednesday and early Thoursday activities are part of a pre-excursion I signed up for.  The trip is in Lodi as well and the theme is: Experimental Wines & Old Vines.

Wednesday August 10

3:45pm Vineyard walk and tasting of Rhone white grape varieties and Rose with Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards proprietor/winemaker Susan Tipton

5pm Lizzy James Vineyard walk with Harney Lane Winery owner/winegrower Kyle Lerner and winemaker Chad Joseph

5:30pm Tasting of Harney Lane Winery wines followed by Lodi wine country dinner

Thursday August 11

6:15am Sunrise grape picking and field sorting (location TBD)

7:15am Farm laborers’ breakfast beneath the vines

8:30am Mokelumne Glen Vineyard walk and field tasting of German/Austrian varietals with the Koth family (owner/winegrowers) and Markus Niggli, winemaker, Markus Wine Co

10am Bokisch Ranches’ Las Cerezas Vineyard; Introduction to Spanish grape growing with Bokisch Ranches’ owner/winegrower Markus Bokisch

11am Terra Alta Vineyard walk and tasting of Bokisch Vineyards’ Spanish varietals with owner/winegrower Markus Bokisch and winemaker Elyse Perry

Noon Lunch under the giant oak in Terra Alta Vineyard

1:15pm Abba Vineyard walk and field tasting of Grenache/Syrah with owner/winegrower Phil Abba and winegrower/winemaker Michael McCay, McCay Cellars

2:15pm Rous Vineyard walk and shaded tasting of ancient vine Zinfandel with owner/winegrower Craig Rous and multi-winemaker/vineyard Zinfandel tasting with Ironstone Vineyards’ Steve Millier, Macchia Wines’ Tim Holdener, and Mike McCay of McCay Cellars

6pm Interview with Heather Lipp of the 10K Bottles blog

6pm-8:30pm Registration and Lodi Opening Reception at Mohr Fry Ranch featuring a casual walk-around tasting of a careful selection of Lodi’s premium vineyard-designate wines. Live music by Snap Jackson & The Knock on Wood Players and dinner from Paul’s Rustic Oven Pizza.

Friday August 12

9am Opening, Welcome, and Keynote Speaker, Andrea Robinson

9:55am History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi

11am The Truth About Viticulture. Learn from a panel of experts how every little detail is important to successful grape growing, from weather to planting the right grape variety to harvesting at the proper time

11:55am Lunch and Expo

1:45pm Wine Discovery Session: Zinfandel Blending Workshop (Mike Dashe of Dashe Cellars and Brendon Eliason of Periscope Cellars)

3pm Live Wine Blogging (White & Rose). This is the pre-eminent event at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Winemakers will each have five minutes to pour their wine, present their story, and answer questions from a table of bloggers.  Bloggers will analyze and describe their impressions live via social media or their blogs.

4pm-8:30pm Excursions into Lodi Wine Country. Each excursion will include winery and vineyard visits, tastings, and dinner.

Saturday August 13

9:15am Wine Samples. Learn from both wineries and bloggers the intricate (but sometimes clumsy) dance that involves wineries sending samples to wine bloggers.

10:30am Making Google Love Your Blog. What does Google need to find your blog in 2016?

1pm Wine Discovery Session: Au Natural Alsace (Organic and Biodynamic Wines presented by Wines of Alsace)

2:15pm Panel of Wine Blog Award Winners

3:15pm Live Wine Blogging: Red

4:30pm From Passion to Pro: Getting Paid to Write About Wine. Learn some tricks of the trade, ways to make the jump from personal blogging to paid writing, and stories of the trials and successes of being a wine journalist.

5:30pm Wines of the World. Featuring Wines of Alsace from France and wines from the Consorzio Italia diVini & Sapori from Italy.

7pm Dinner, hosted by Lodi Wine. Dinner by South, Sacramento’s hotspot for contemporary Southern cuisine. This year’s WBC Dinner With Lodi Wine will feature a diverse selection of premium wines from 16 of Lodi’s top winery brands. Winemakers and owners of each winery will play sommelier to two dinner tables each, sharing their wines, their story, and – without doubt – their passion for good times.

9pm Wine Blog Awards Presentation

9:30pm Announcement of 2017 Location and Date

Sunday August 14

9:30am Increase Your Audience and Engagement. From social media groups to television producers, freelancing to working with other media sites, find ways to promote your blog and increase your community engagement.

10:45am Blogger Reports. Hear five-minute reports from your fellow bloggers that describe what they are doing as bloggers in the wine world.

Readers, please let me know if there is anything specific you'd like me to report back about: a particular session, pictures from the excursions into wine country, etc.  Let me know in the comments below and I will do my best to share with you all!

Disclosure: In exchange for a reduced rate to the Wine Bloggers Conference, attendees are required to write at least three blog posts about the conference either before, during or after.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lodi Native (Part 2)

As a reminder, Lodi Native is a winemaking project where the goal is to make minimalist (aka low-intervention) terroir driven Zinfandels in the Lodi and Mokelumne River sub-AVAs. Layne Montgomery a Lodi Native winemaker also with M2 Wines gives a wonderful description of why Lodi Native exists: To prove to skeptics and the ill-informed that Lodi vineyards can, and do, produce world-class wines, to show that “old” vineyards can be productive and profitable, and to prove that the romance and sentimentality can be a “highest and best use” of land, labor, equipment, etc.  In summation, to bring attention to Lodi as a great wine-growing region as a whole, and to show that Lodi is a region of merit and deserves respect.

Enough talk about Lodi Native, lets dig into these wines! The first vintage of Lodi Native was 2012. The current vintage is 2013 and this is what I tasted, in this order (lowest alcohol to highest):

Stampede Vineyard, 13.9% ABV, Winemaker, Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)

Marian’s Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Winemaker, Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)

TruLux Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Winemaker, Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)

Wegat Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Winemaker, Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)

Soucie Vineyard, 15% ABV, Winemaker, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines)

Schmiedt Ranch, 15.9% ABV, Winemaker, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)

I was very surprised by the light color of the first couple of wines. When I think of Zinfandel, especially Zins from a warmer climate, I think of deep, dark extractive reds. Honestly I think of $8-$10 fruit bombs on the grocery store shelves. When I first started drinking wine over a decade ago, I was VERY much into this style of wine. The deeper and fruitier, the better. I have since grown to appreciate more individuality in wines. I enjoy the outliers and the wines that taste “different”. In fact, when presented with a wine choice (be it at a wine shop or at a restaurant), I always strive to enjoy something new. Whether it’s trying a grape I’ve never had, or wine from a region I’ve never tasted. See a post HERE where I discuss this topic.

With wine “brands”, the goal is to maintain brand continuity. Consumers want to know that when they pick up a bottle of X wine (insert popular wine brand that can be found for about $8 at every grocery store and big box retailer), they want to know that it’s going to taste as they expect it to taste. There needs to be a consistency in that wine bottle after bottle. What about vintage variation? Climatic shifts? Michael McCay of McCay Cellars says his goal “is to make a wine with a sense of presence that expresses the character and trueness of the vineyard.” And with that comes all the variances that the earth gives us. It’s a beautiful thing and keeps things interesting...at least in my glass.  And now for my tasting notes:

Stampede Vineyard, 13.9% ABV, Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)
This was the lightest of the bunch. Lots of bright red fruit on the nose and palate. I really enjoyed the food-friendly acidity. It took me to Italy and made me crave a simple pizza with crushed San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

Marian’s Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)

This wine was delightful. It struck me as the most balanced of the bunch with not one aroma/flavor standing out. I didn’t feel that that this wine was trying to show me anything more than the pure fruit it came from. Beautiful in its simplicity.

TruLux Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)
My notes say “an absolutely pleasing palate. Nice Acid. Give me food.” Word.

Wegat Vineyard, 14.5% ABV, Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)
Really lovely red fruit on this wine with a nice, clean medium finish.

Soucie Vineyard, 15% ABV, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines)
Red and black fruit. Pepper and a slight taste of cocoa on the palate. This wine has the most complex palate of the three.

Schmiedt Ranch, 15.9% ABV, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)
This is a lovely wine with very well integrated flavors. It calls for red meat and/or grilled foods.

Chad Joseph in the Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard

Overall, I am surprised at the wide array of styles presented here, which was exactly what the Lodi Native project set out to do.  The wines have differing levels of complexity, which made this exercise be quite an interesting comparison. I can report that Lodi Native does debunk the myth that Lodi is only capable of producing big, jammy Zins. Randy Caparoso, founder of the Lodi Native project wanted to draw attention to the fact that “special terroir related distinctions on a sensory level do exist among these growths the same way that they exist in top vineyards in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany, etc.”  He also wanted to prove that Lodi is a place with special vineyards, not just a big sea of vines with zero identity.

I feel that the fruit/terroir shine with these wines. The overall thread that ran through these wines is balance. As Lodi Native strived to convey, that was the work of nature, and not necessarily the work of the winemakers. Caparoso states that heritage/old-vine vineyards are in danger of being pulled out in most every wine region in the world. Old vines tend to have lower yields and low yield vines make very little economic sense. Similarly, they require more manual labor than newer vineyards for pruning, maintaining, and harvesting. Just about every one of the Lodi Native winemakers mentioned to me the pressure to use old vine vineyards for other uses (i.e. newer vines, different varietals, office buildings, warehouses, or urban sprawl).

What’s up next for Lodi Native?  The project is growing. Bob Colarossi of Estate Crush just joined. In fact, they are up to 12 winemakers participating. This project is not for everyone. Randy told me that the Lodi Native winemakers spend more time on these wines (which represent 2-3% of their production) than on any of their other wines. This project is helping them grow as winemakers and giving them knowledge that they can take to their other wines. Stuart Spencer of St. Amant told me that he is utilizing some of the Lodi Native principles (native yeast, no additives, and not using new oak) with his other winemaking projects. Tim Holdener, of Macchia Wines admits that he was the biggest “opponent” of the Lodi Native protocols. He felt the project would limit his winemaking abilities. Tim reminds me that “we had to truly trust that these vineyards would be able to stand on their own. And it worked!” Tim now uses at least a portion of these protocols in most of his winemaking.

I’d like to give a shout out to other fellow bloggers who have written pieces on Lodi Native. It’s always interesting and enlightening to get different perspectives…..that’s what keeps things interesting, right? So please have a look and help to support the wine blogging community!

Makers Table

The Drunken Cyclist


Hawk Wakawaka

According to Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards, Lodi Native was born out of an idea that wine producers could collaborate to show the true identity, terroir, of Lodi. In my humble opinion they are succeeding.

Marian's Vineyard, Zinfandel, Planted in 1901

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Lodi Native

Old Vine Zin, Wegat Vineyard, Credit: Randy Caparoso

Next week I will head up to my second Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC16) in Lodi, California. Last years conference was a whirlwind. I had started my blog and WSET Diploma classes not a month earlier. There was A LOT going on at one time, but I can say that my time at WBC15 in Finger Lakes, NY was eye-opening and inspiring!

Ok, back to Lodi! In 2015 Wine Enthusiast named Lodi the “Wine Region of the Year”. See article HERE. The goal of this annual award is to “recognize not only excellence in wine quality, but also innovation and excitement coupled with the courage to take risks and the skill to succeed”. What an honor for Lodi! I’m chomping at the bit to get up there in a few days and explore!

Now, let’s get ready for the Wine Bloggers Conference by exploring a unique project called Lodi Native. The goal of Lodi Native is to make minimalist (aka low-intervention) terroir driven Zinfandels in the Lodi and Mokelumne River sub-AVAs. Bottom line: to make simple, clean wines with a focus on the fruit that the earth provides.

So...how do you make low-intervention wines? 

Well, you start with some rules. Ground rules for the Lodi Native winemakers include (these are simplified a bit than the full list, which can be found HERE):

1.  Native yeast fermentation (native fermentations start spontaneously by ambient yeasts and can produce a wine with a wider range of flavors and characteristics; this is in contrast to inoculated fermentations that are initiated by the winemakers which can produce more stable and predictable wines)

2.  No malo (malolactic fermentation is a when harsh malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid, adding flavor and complexity to the wine)

3.  No acid adjustment (in warmer climates wines can be acidified because the acid levels in warm-climate grapes can be a bit low; acidification is considered a “correction” for grapes that were picked too ripe)

4.  No new oak (new oak can impart flavors such as vanilla, coconut, and spice. Neutral oak or stainless steel tanks impart little to no additional “flavors”)

5.  Pre-1962 Old Vines are preferred (the industry consensus is that older vines make better wines)

6.  No de-alcoholizing (in warmer climates the alcohol levels in a wine can reach higher levels than in cooler climates)

7.  No tannin additions (commercial tannins are made by extracting tannins from wood and then adding them to wine. This is in contrast to naturally occurring tannins that can be found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes)

8.  No filtering/fining (filtering and fining can be done for aesthetic purposes to ensure the wine does not end up hazy or cloudy)

Who came up with this Lodi Native idea?
One man: Randy Caparoso. Randy is a full-time wine journalist who blogs HERE and who also consults with restaurants. He is an Editor-at-Large for the SOMM Journal and blogs for LodiWine.com. In Randy’s own words, the objective was to highlight heritage vineyards. According to him, it is the vineyards themselves that are the real “natives”.

Randy Caparoso

What is Lodi Wine about?
Grapes have been growing in Lodi since the 1850s with old-vine Zinfandel as king. Lodi used to be known predominantly for selling grapes to winemakers in other regions, including: Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Valley. When consumers would see “Lodi” on the label, they would perceive the wine to be a big jammy fruit bomb. Consequently, Lodi (and the Central Valley) came to be know as a place where industrial wines are made: wines with a lot of intervention and tinkering. Within the last 10-15 years, Lodi has started to be known as a “destination” for wine. There are over 70 small boutique wineries in Lodi. Many of them are family-owned and have been making wine for generations. The vineyards have warm and welcoming tasting rooms onsite and tourism overall to Lodi has increased. This has incentivized the winegrowers to hold onto more of their grapes to be made into wine under their own label.

This blog post is just an amuse bouche...we are not delving into the wines just yet. In my next post I will share the wines with you and introduce you to the 6 winemakers who made this Lodi Native project come to life.

Winemakers (from left): Layne Montgomery; Stuart Spencer; Ryan Sherman; Michael McCay; Tim Holdener; Chad Joseph

Layne Montgomery of M2 Wines
Stuart Spencer of St. Amant Winery
Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines
Michael McCay of McCay Cellars
Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines
Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards

Where do you get these wines?
These wines are available exclusively as a 6-pack from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Each 6-pack retails for $180.