A few months back I was contacted by Randy Caparoso of the Lodi Wine Commission and asked to share my Lodi Wine “ah-ha” moment. That moment began in July 2015, when I was sent my first samples of Lodi wines. The wines I received was the second vintage of the Lodi Native project. At that point Rockin Red Blog was only three months old. It was that tasting that began my love affair with Lodi wines.
Since that day I have written many articles and shared many Lodi wines with you. I have told you about the diversity of wines in Lodi, including French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Austrian varieties. I have told you many times Lodi is more than Zinfandel. However, Lodi is also Zinfandel. In fact, with more than 125 different grape varieties growing in Lodi, 40% of California’s Zinfandel production is in Lodi. Lodi Zinfandel is California Zinfandel.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this means Lodi Zinfandel is one size fits all. No way! In fact, Lodi produces so many expressions of Zinfandel that a group of Zin producers come together each year for a project they call Lodi Native.
Lodi Native™ is a collaborative project by six winegrowers of like mind, living and working in the Lodi American Viticultural Area – particularly Lodi’s historic Mokelumne River sub-AVA. Their mission: to turn the spotlight on the region’s heritage plantings – many of them dating back to the late 1800s – through sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking practices, beginning with native yeast fermentation and use of no new oak. The focus is on Zinfandel, but on the taste of vineyards rather than varietal character or brand.
There are two key aspect to the Lodi Native mission:
- To demonstrate that distinctly identifiable vineyards exist in the Lodi AVA
- To encourage preservation and appreciation of old vine plantings – well as of Lodi’s long tradition of grower/custodians – by focusing more attention on vineyard sites, vis-à-vis real and tangible sensory expressions in each bottling.
- To build professional camaraderie, a culture of information sharing and new challenges for Lodi’s Zinfandel specialists
Lodi Native Commitment:
- That anything worth doing should entail fairly strict protocols in order to be meaninful
- That no protocol should run contrary to the project’s primary purpose, which is to highlight terroir, and Lodi’s heritage Zinfandel plantings and growers.
- That each participating producer faithfully applies “best effort,” while being willing to sacrifice personal or brand style in order to achieve the project’s mission.
The winemaking protocol in Lodi Native project is extensive. To give you an idea here are a few highlights: each wine must be 100% Zinfandel from a single contiguous vineyard withing the Lodi AVA, the use of “old vines” (35 – over 100 years old), native yeast fermentation only, no new oak, no filtering or fining, preferred vineyards are certified Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing or California Certified Organic Farmers.
Lodi Native utilizes 6 distinct vineyard sites for this project. Here is some brief info on each vineyard and the Lodi Native Zinfandel produced there.
Wegat Vineyard: Quintessential “west side” Lodi vineyard; 21 acres, head trained vines; fine sandy loam, low yields, produces lush wines with boysenberry/blueberry characteriscs.
2014 Lodi Zinfandel Wegat Vineayrd Mokelumne River Lodi USA: Grower Todd Maley; winemaker Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers; medium+ ruby; medium aromas of fresh picked blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, black raspberries, spice, savory herbs, black pepper, dried tobacco, trailing vanilla; smooth mouth-feel, fruit in front of the palate, transitions to black pepper, an abundance of spice, and dusty barn mid-rear palate; youthful medium+ tannins that are well-integrated, medium+ acidity, lively on the palate, finesse, long spicy finish
Soucie Vineyard: The m2 Lodi Native Zinfandel is sourced from the oldest bloc of Soucie Vineyards, planted in 1916. Vines are own-rooted and head trained in extremely fine silt. This unique soil combined with the cool breezes from the San Joaquin River Delta result in lush, earthy, terroir-driven Zinfandel.
2014 Lodi Zinfandel Soucie Vineyard Mokelumne River Lodi USA: Grower Kevin Soucie; winemaker Lane Montgomery of m2 Wines; medium- ruby; medium+ aromas of cherries, pomegranate, cranberry, currants, baking spice, dried red flowers, minerality, dried savory herbs; feels light and lively on the palate, red berries follow through with soft spice, pronounced tannins and acidity yet wine has nice lift off the palate, well made with nice structure, long finish.
Maley’s Lucas Road Vineyard: Planted by the Maley family in the 1970’s. It is located in the center of the Mokelumne River’s west side, the vines are head trained and grow in deep sandy loam, exuding qualities of black pepper, violets, and blueberry, it is known to be round and gentle on the palate.
2014 Lodi Zinfandel Maley’s Lucas Road Vineyard Mokelumne River Lodi USA: Grower Todd Maley; winemaker Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines; medium ruby; medium aromas of baking spice notes erupting from the glass, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, violets, black pepper, tobacco, forest floor; silky mouth-feel, soft and elegant notes of fruit and spice wrap the palate; full-body, medium+ tannins and acidity with a long, tart red fruit finish.
Marian’s Vineyard: A revered 8.3 acre own rooted vineyard; originally planted in 1901, located at Mohr-Fry Ranch and farmed by father and son Jerry and Bruce Fry. This vineyard is known for its deep sandy loam, well drained, and yields bold, concentrated fruits. The entirety of the fruit from Marian’s Vineyard goes to St. Amant Winery.
2014 Lodi Zinfandel Marian’s Vineyard Mokelumne River Lodi USA: Growers Jeff and Bruce Fry; winemaker Stuart Spencer of St Amant Winery; medium bright ruby; medium aromas of baked blackberries, black cherries, plums, and currants, with baking spice, dried roses and savory herbs, dusty earth, black licorice, and minerality; wraps the palate in crushed velvet, lots of red fruit an spice throughout the palate, medium+ tannins and acidity, zesty, long spicy and black pepper finish.
Lot 13 Vineyard: Planted in 1915, Lot 13 is a McCay Family Vineyard. The soil is deep, loamy sand; the vines are head trained and own-rooted. The vineyard produces Zinfandels that are feminine, fruity with savory herbal and spice notes.
2014 Lodi Zinfandel Lot 13 – The Estate Vineyard Mokelumne River Lodi USA: Grower and winemaker Michael McCay of McCay Cellars; medium+ ruby; medium+ aromas of slightly stewed red and black berries, violets, baking spice, black pepper, fresh tobacco, dried savory herbs and mineral notes; delicate mouth-feel with lots of lift, pronounced tannins with a touch of grip, pronounced acidity, well-balanced, full-body, long spice and crushed violet finish.
Stampede Vineyard: This vineyard was originally planted in the 1920’s and replanted in the 1940’s. The vines are head trained and mostly own-rooted. It contains fine sandy loam, a soil unusual for its Clements Hill AVA location.
2014 Lodi Zinfandel Stampede Vineyard Clements Hills Lodi USA: Growers Jeff and John Perlegos; winemaker Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines; medium- ruby; medium- aromas of fresh picked cherries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh roses, red licorice, baking spice, dried savory herbs; smooth and light on the palate with nice lift, elegant and restrained, medium+ tannins that are well-integrated and acidity, zesty with a long spicy finish.
These are not the cut me a slice of cedar cigar box Zinfandels. Instead, these wines are contemplative, beautifully crafted with elegance, finesse, and style. If you love big zins that overwhelm you palate these are not those wines, but the flavors are there and the structures are on point; try them and see what you think. If you avoid zin because it can be opulent and overpowering while lacking charm, I encourage you to try these wines. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
There is much more information about the mission, commitment and stringent protocols of the Lodi Native project on their web site. Please visit it to learn more. These wines are available for purchase in six-bottle cases only, each consisting of six different single-vineyard bottlings encased in a custom-branded wood box. To order call 209-365-0621, or email Jeremy Bowe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lodi Native project makes a great holiday gift for the wine lovers in your life or for yourself. If you are a wine geek like me, or just a passionate lover of Zinfandel the Lodi Native six-bottle case is a must. Sometimes consumers think a Zinfandel is a Zinfandel. In fact, that is completely false. California Zinfandels, even Lodi Zinfandels, are diverse wines. Exploring the Lodi Native project provides a depth of understand as well as a delicious education into the many faces and possibilities of Zinfandel.