On the second day of the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Pre-Conference Excursion in Lodi, my phone alarm began chiming at 5:00 a.m. I am never awake at this hour! But an experience not to be missed lay ahead. Our fearless leaders, Randy Caparoso and Jenny Heitman, loaded us onto our bus and we drove to the vineyards at Michael David Winery as the sun rose to pick Viognier grapes. A short walk around the vineyard allowed us to observe the professional team of pickers who were already at work. Wow – they are fast! They use knives to cut the bunches and move so quickly through the vines, it is truly amazing.
Our group was equipped with clippers and gloves and led to the row we would pick. This was a perfect example of a task that is more difficult than it looks. The luscious clusters of grapes are often hidden under the canopy (intentional – this is a technique called head training that protects the grapes from the fierce summer sun) and you have to stoop and bend to get to them. As my “picking buddy,” Michelle, and I got started, I looked across at the row next to us and said, “Hey, let’s pop over here, the grapes look easier to get to.” Well, no luck on that – we were quickly directed back to Row 1, being told that the hope was that the group could get that one row picked. This short video illustrates the process:
After about 45 minutes, we were told to stop picking; it was estimated that our group had brought in about a half a ton of grapes. On a patio near the winery we were rewarded with yummy breakfast burritos and lots of hot coffee. Saying goodbye to the Michael David property, we moved on to Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. In the last article, I mentioned the French and Spanish grape varietals that are thriving in Lodi. However, the Koth family, who own and farm this vineyard, specialize in German and Austrian varietals. More than 40 different types are grown, many of which I had never heard of such as Bacchus and Zweigelt. I found these German varietals particularly intriguing for two reasons – one, we had encountered a number of them in the Finger Lakes last year and two, you just wouldn’t think German grapes would thrive in Lodi where the summers are truly hot.
After a leisurely walk through the vineyards, tasting ripe grapes and admiring the gorgeous vines as we wandered, we moved to a picnic area to enjoy the first tasting of the day at 9:15 a.m. The Koth’s no longer make wine, but sell to a number of area winemakers, four of whom shared their stories and excellent wines with us. One of my favorites was the 2015 Nativo from Borra Vineyards, a blend of Kerner, Bacchus, Riesling, and just a touch of Gewurtztraminer, with the Kerner grape providing the foundation and minerality that made the wine stand out.
Following the tasting, we walked across a lane to Las Cerezas Vineyard owned by Markus Boskisch. Markus’ maternal family is from Catalonia, Spain and therefore, it is no surprise that Markus decided to import Spanish root stock that he was certain would do well in Lodi. This particular Certified Organic vineyard is home to Albariño, Tempranillo, and Graciano grapes. I don’t believe I have ever tasted Graciano, an ancient varietal grown in Spain since before the arrival of the Romans. The wine is deeply hued with flavors of fig and blueberry.
From Las Cerezas, we drove to Bokisch Vineyards in the nearby Clements Hill AVA. Bokisch is the largest producer of Spanish varietal wine grapes in California and in addition to the grapes mentioned above, they grow Verdejo, Verdelho, Garnacha, Garnacha Blanca, and Monastrell. Following more tasting and a visit to the winery, we meandered down a path through a vineyard to the setting for lunch, a beautiful Spanish-themed picnic lunch under a giant oak tree. We enjoyed home made gazpacho, Spanish style open face sandwiches, and an amazing watermelon salad, all accompanied by Bokisch wines. It was memorable and I think we would all have happily spent the rest of the afternoon there.
However, there were more vineyards to visit and once again, we boarded the bus and drove to Abba Vineyard, home of world class Syrah and Grenache grapes. In the last post, I mentioned that Lodi has a Mediterranean climate, but it is also diurnal, meaning that there are large temperature swings from morning to afternoon to evening. While we needed sweaters or jackets for our sunrise harvest, by 2:00 p.m. it was really hot. We squeezed under the canopy that had been set up in the vineyard to provide some shade and enjoyed a Grenache-based rosé, Grenache, and the Syrah. A brief stroll through the vineyard enabled us to observe the unique “Smart Henry” trellising system, a two-tiered design that is used to improve fruit quality and yield from over-vigorous vines, which would otherwise produce masses of foliage rather than bunches of grapes.
Soon it was time to move on to the final stop of the day, Rous Vineyard, a famous Zinfandel vineyard dating to 1909. We were treated to a tasting hosted by several winemakers who purchase Rous grapes including Ironstone Cellars, Macchia Wines, and McCay Cellars. Rous Vineyard Zinfandels are not the huge, jammy “fruit bombs” that many people associate with California Zins and are instead beautifully balanced, elegant wines characterized by a floral, violet-like aroma.
Our incredible pre-conference excursion had drawn to a close and we were delivered to our hotels to prepare for the evening’s opening reception. We were overwhelmed by the amount of information shared, the generous hospitality shown us by the growers and winemakers, the diversity of grapes and wines, and the extraordinary quality. I have barely scratched the surface of what Lodi has to offer in these last two articles and I encourage every wine lover to visit Lodi.
Coming up next – the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Conference.