I was invited to be on a panel at the Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Lodi, California and have now had (quite) a while to reflect on my experience. Here are some of the things I learned about the region. It was my first time visiting, so I had a lot to digest.
When I think about Lodi….Wait, what I used to think about Lodi was Zinfandel, Zinfandel, Zinfandel. And a lot of bulk juice going anonymously off into the world.
My first surprise? The white wines.
I won’t lie, the weather had me leaning strongly towards whites, especially when outside with the sun on full blast.
At the opening reception I was impressed with a Grenache Blanc from Fields Family Wines. Next up was a Vermentino from Uvaggio, which the winemaker noted was a library wine. I was definitely skeptical about a Lodi Vermentino with a few years of bottle age on it. You can see my of-the-moment thoughts via the Instagram photo below. (Are you following me on IG?)
(Oh, and I had a handful of Albariños, all tasty.)
The most astonishing wine I had came later that day during the wine speed dating/tasting. How that works is the (very vulnerable) winery rep has five minutes at each table of bloggers where they are tasked to pour a wine while dazzling us with wit and wisdom. I was a bit gobsmacked when The Lucas Winery stepped up to the table with their 2001 Chardonnay. A fifteen-year-old Chardonnay? From Lodi?!? Once again, I ate/drank my words/thoughts.
A photo posted by Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) on
But did I neglect red wine and specifically Zinfandel? Nope. It was cool to be on a post-conference excursion to dive deeper into Lodi on a barnstorming tour of multiple vineyards. The most impressive? The Bechthold Vineyard, organically farmed and planted in the 19th Century. It’s full of some bad-ass, gnarly old vine Cinsault. This vine was literally* hanging on by a thread:
Look out for Turley Cinsault from this vineyard. Excellent stuff and worth braving multiple sips on a hot day. (Would like to note that Director of Winemaking Tegan Passalacqua had it on ice. No red wine is going to show well outdoors on a 100 degree day unless it is served cool to the touch.)
Now, to Zinfandel. The culmination of my Sunday post-conference excursion was a gathering to celebrate Lodi Native. It’s a project where six different winemakers agree to a set of ground rules guiding the Zin they contribute. The goal? Showcase the excellent, old vine raw material available.
No high-alcohol (15%+), jammy wines. No new oak. And no “fixing” the wine with water and other additives. (Plus more rules. See the above link to a Wine Enthusiast article for more geeky detail.)
It was a treat to taste all these wines with every winemaker present, each telling their story and giving their opinion on the project. I was impressed with their candor. Many winemakers expressed doubt if the wines would ever come together, among other concerns.
But the proof is in the bottle. These were wines you could enjoy alongside a meal, rather than a meal themselves. (Full disclosure: At dinner that night, a shrinking violet in the heat, I made a bee line for the iced-down white wines. Now that it’s autumn my palate is thinking about reds.) But like the famous Zinfandel producer touting “No Wimpy Wines,” don’t think the Lodi Native wines resemble delicate, lacy Pinot Noirs. They still have the oomph you want from Zinfandel but without gilding the grape.
Stay tuned for Part II of my Wine Bloggers Conference roundup. And this time, it’s personal. Seriously. It’s all about being up on stage as part of a panel, in front of (for me) a lot of people, and opening up about your…feelings. #NBD