- The Underground Wine Letter - https://www.undergroundwineletter.com -


 back to the future [1]



 Lodi Zinfandel grapes [2]

Lodi Zinfandel vines [3]

I am always looking for new wines to try. Sometimes it is a wine that is a type of wine I like so I just take a chance. For me, Rosés are a great example as are Champagnes, Burgundies, Sancerres, and many other types of wines. I never buy a wine based on a number. I buy wines based on my experience of what I like. To venture into completely unknown territory I usually rely only on people I trust. These are mostly friends who share my taste in wines and some selected wine merchants. Recently, on a visit to Corti Brothers [4] in Sacramento, Darrell Corti, the proprietor, an old friend and trusted wine merchant, as well as grocer extraordinaire, brought some unusual wines to lunch. Two really captured my imagination. One was an old vines Zinfandel made in a traditional style of restraint and balance which we used to find many years ago. The other was a dry sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes. I tasted these over lunch with Darrell and bought a bottle of each to take home with me to enjoy over a period of a few evenings. The sparkling wine was unique and delicious. It was made in a painfully small quantity, but I am including a note on it at the end of this article because it is so special and fits in with the story behind the Zinfandel. Both are amazing wines. But the Zinfandel is a visit to the past.

Below is the tasting note on the Zinfandel which is followed by the story behind the wine. The story is a real game changer.
  lodi native [5]

2013 Fields Family Wines Zinfandel Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Clements Hills Lodi.
This Zinfandel is from a sandy loam vineyard planted in the 1940s. In recent years most of the fruit from this wine has gone to Bedrock Wine Company (to read about Bedrock Wine Company click here [6]). It is one of six Lodi Zinfandels made by Lodi Native. Bright red in color the wine has a gorgeous perfume exhibiting rose petals and raspberry fruit with a briary very faintly spicy undertone. It is elegant and luscious with lots of briary tinged raspberry tinged fruit and a floral accent. Very pure and tasty this is a red wine that is really charming and easy to drink. As I drank the wine over several evenings I found it to be a great complement to a wide variety of foods from red meat and chicken to savory salads and cheeses. In short, it is a delicious wine made to accompany food – Outstanding.   $24.99

The Lodi Native project was formed by six winegrowers and winemakers who want to highlight the unique characteristics of Lodi by focusing on single vineyard selections. The first wines were from the 2012 vintage and the 2013 wines are currently on the market. These are the 2013 wines:
2013 Fields Family Wines Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel 
2013 Macchia Wines Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Zinfandel
2013 Maley Brothers Lodi Native
 Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel 
2013 McCay Cellars Lodi Native
 Trulux Vineyard Zinfandel 
2013 St. Amant Winery Lodi Native
 Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel 
2013 m2 Wines Lodi Native
 Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel

From the website http://www.lodinative.com [7] here is the mission of the project and the winemaking protocols:



This comes from a desire of all the members of the Lodi Native project to return to traditional and noninvasive wine making to show the natural potential of the grapes. This is music to my ears. Consider the following Underground Commentary:

CAUTION! WHAT’S IN YOUR WINE?  [11]                   

So why Lodi you might ask? Well for one thing grape vines there date back to the 1850s so there are a lot of old historic vines. There is also the climate. The Lodi climate is more moderate than the Central Valley with a Mediterranean climate influenced by Lodi’s proximity to the Sacramento River Delta.

This is how the Lodi AVA is described by Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lodi_AVA. [12]

The Lodi region has been home to grape growing since at least the 1850s when wild grapes would grow down from trees along the edge of rivers. This led some trappers to call the Calaveras River, which runs through the southern portion of the area, “Wine Creek”.
Climate and geography
Lodi has a Mediterranean climate similar to that along the  Mediterranean  Sea , with warm days and cool nights. The soil, unlike many other appellations, varies within the AVA, though in most places it is a deep loam that occasionally is covered with large rocks, similar to the French region of Chateauneuf du Pape.  
Grapes and wines
Although the appellation is probably best known for its old vine Zinfandel, Lodi also produces a large quantity of  Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Lodi has become known for its concentrated and rich (New World) style wines. This is due to abundant heat and the addition of grape concentrate before bottling. The concentrate adds sugar which gives the wine the full bodied, thick and coating reds that Lodi is known for.

YIKES! Please note the last paragraph above. No doubt this had a lot to do with the Lodi Native organization being formed. I first visited the Lodi wine growing area in the 1970s as part of our wine adventures to Paso Robles, Santa Cruz, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Santa Clara, Monterey, Amador and other places. I have known for a long time that there were very old vines in Lodi. I also have tasted a few really good ones over the years. But, mostly I have found the wines alcoholic and jammy. But, I was still curious. So a few years ago I made a casual trip to Lodi and visited the wine visitor’s center. I bought a number of bottles of different wines to take home to taste and found that most of them were too ripe, jammy, sweet, alcoholic and over the top for my taste. So, let’s fast forward to this past September. As mentioned above, that is when Darrell Corti brought the Lodi Native Zinfandel to my attention. It was love at first taste.

And, what is remarkable is that it is the growers and winemakers in Lodi who came together to set standards for their wines. I say remarkable in the sense that it is happening in this country. In other more established wine growing areas of the world this type of thing has been in place for a very long time. There are strict standards as to what types of grapes can be grown and how the wines are made. This is based on what has historically produced the best wines that are typical of that region. This is true in virtually all major old world wine producing countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and others as well as specific areas within those countries. For example, in Champagne only 3 major grape varieties are allowed along with a few ancient varieties. This is true for many other areas such as Burgundy where only Pinot Noir can be used for the red and Chardonnay for the white. But, in this country we have a little bit of everything going on most everywhere and I, for one, do not think it is all good (to read my historical perspective of Where Has Napa Valley Gone? click here [13]). So with the Lodi Native project we have something that correlates with Ingredient Labeling and also has a certain tie in with the Historic Vineyard Society (to read an article with more information click here [14]).

I think this Lodi Native type of endeavor is something that should be established in other areas of California as well. Especially in areas such as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which is mentioned above as well as other areas such as those known for Pinot Noir. Here there are no standards and the wines can be dramatically different based on the degree of manipulation. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if we consumers could really know what is in the wine we are drinking? Efforts like the Lodi Native and Ingredient Labeling by Ridge Vineyards and Boon Doon Vineyard are things that all of us wine consumers deserve.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article there was another wine that captivated me. It was a sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc that was fermented dry. Chenin Blanc is, for my taste, one of the most underrated white grape varieties in the world. Dry Chenin Blanc from France I love as well as some from South Africa and California. In California, the area of Clarksburg along the Sacramento River produces some of the very best Chenin Blancs. I don’t know that I have ever had a Sparkling Chenin Blanc, but this one is really special. Made in a miniscule quantity of only 50 cases, the wine is not likely to become a household name. But, it is an indication of the level of quality that can be found in a sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc grapes. And, to that I pay homage. Hopefully, future vintages will bring more production and that others will also follow. The wine is unique and delicious.

cb sparkling [15]

2014 Sutter Ranch Vineyard St Rey Chenin Blanc Petillant Naturel Clarksburg
Pale yellow in color with a great floral perfume showing a hint of pear and a faint citrus nuance the wine is beautifully balanced and has gorgeous citrus tinged fruit with hints of pear and guava. Balanced with very pure fruit accented by a bright citrus tinged undertone with a nice creamy effervescence and a nice crispness on the finish, this is a really gorgeous and unique sparkling wine – Outstanding.   $33.99