AUGUST 20, 2018. BY RANDY CAPAROSO.
What are the top Lodi Viticultural Area vineyards identified as vineyard-designate wines on highly regarded Lodi grown bottlings, and why do they matter?
They matter because of the precedent set in European countries long ago: The simple fact that the finest wine regions are associated with vineyards known to produce great wines.
One could make the argument, for instance, that Napa Valley first emerged as a wine region of some significance or prestige during the 1960s and ‘70s when wineries first began bottling wines with single-vineyard designations. Cabernet Sauvignons such as Heitz Cellar‘s Martha’s Vineyard and Freemark Abbey’s Bosché, Chardonnays such as Acacia Winery’s Winery Lake Vineyard, and the Three Palms Vineyard Merlot by Duckhorn Vineyards are all historic examples of wines that served to underline this basic premise:
- Napa Valley has vineyards that produce distinctive wines that deserve to stand alone as vineyard-designate wines
- Great wine regions are associated with great vineyards with boundaries that can be clearly identified geographically as well as on maps
- Ergo, Napa Valley is a great wine region
Old vine vs. terroir related qualities
In Lodi, the top vineyard-designate wines are primarily associated with “old vine” plantings – a distinction organizations such as Historic Vineyard Society identify as vineyards dominated by plants that are at least 50 years old. On the other hand, in wine regions such as Napa Valley – as well as Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, the Mosel and Rheingau in Germany, Piemonte or Chianti in Italy, and most top wine regions of the world – once young vines are established, old age is neither here nor there when it comes to vineyard quality or prestige.
Old vines, in fact are a peculiarity of Lodi – there are more plantings over 50 years old in this American Viticultural Area than in any other in the U.S. The reason for this is because Lodi’s most distinctive wines have long been produced from grape varieties conducive to the region’s particular variation of Mediterranean climate – a climate zone defined by warm summer days (in Lodi, average temperatures of about 91° F.) and cooler temperature nights (average lows below 56°). (See our previous post, How warm, or cool, is Lodi?). These particular grapes – especially Zinfandel and Carignan – also happen to be varieties known to benefit from vine age. The older the better!
Older plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sangiovese or Riesling, for instance, do not produce superior wine. Consequently, vineyards in France, Italy and Germany are routinely pulled up and replanted on a rotating basis by the time vineyard blocks are 35 or 40 years old. The average age of vines in Napa Valley, for instance, is only about 17 years. By way of contrast, California vineyards planted to Zinfandel or Carignan – as well as in other special circumstances, such as Shiraz in South Australia, Cinsaut in South Africa, or Garnacha and Mataró in Spain – are known to produce better and better wine when vines exceed 50, 75 or 100 years of age.
Which is not to say that all of Lodi’s most interesting vineyard-designate wines come from old vines. Many of Lodi’s most acclaimed wines – such as the Delu Vineyard Vermentino produced by Fields Family Wines and PRIE Winery, McCay Cellars’ Abba Vineyard Grenache, Jeff Runquist Wines’ Silvaspoons Vineyards Touriga, Klinker Brick Winery’s Farrah Syrah, or the Terra Alta Vineyard Albariño and Liberty Oaks Vineyard Tempranillo produced by Bokisch Vineyards – are made from vineyards planted less than 20 or 30 years ago. Vine age isn’t everything in Lodi.
But as Tegan Passlacqua – the winemaker of Turley Wine Cellars, which produces over 30 vineyard-designate Zinfandels from 12 counties in California each year – pointed out during a ZAP interview this past January 2018 (see Can Zinfandel be saved?), in Lodi as well as Napa Valley the plantings of Zinfandel that somehow survived periods of lowest demand for the grape such as the post-Prohibition years, and the ‘60s and ‘70s, happened to be head trained vines located on the best sites. These were the vineyards that were considered worthsaving; and thus, many of them remain the source of many of the best vineyard-designate wines in California today.
What is “great?”
Which begs the question: Can a wine like old vine Zinfandel ever be considered “great?” There are obviously many books, wine reviews and pundits of all sorts who strongly believe that the only great wines of the world are those made from grapes such Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir or Chardonnay; and maybe, on occasion, Syrah, Sangiovese, Tempranillo or Riesling. But never from grapes like Zinfandel, Carignan, or a variety like Cinsaut (the latter, to which Lodi’s oldest vineyard, called Bechthold, is planted).
This, of course, is low comfort to wine lovers who happen to believe that the best red wines in the world are those made from Zinfandel, if not Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache (a.k.a. Garnacha) or Mourvèdre/Mataró; just like there are countless wine lovers who would much rather drink white wines made from grapes like Sauvignon blanc, Vermentino, Albariño, Assyrtiko or Ribolla Gialla than they would Chardonnay. What is “great,” by this definition, but a reflection of taste or preference?
There is, however, a definition of “great” that even the majority of serious wine lovers can agree upon: Wines that truly express the place, such as a vineyard or region, where they are grown. Wines, that is to say, that are strongly expressive of terroir. Both a Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château Mouton-Rothschild, for instance, are made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon. But the value of these wines (these days, in the hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle) is not based upon how strongly they express Cabernet Sauvignon; but rather, by how a Lafite tastes like “Lafite,” and Mouton a “Mouton,” which can never be duplicated by any other vineyards in Bordeaux or anywhere else in the world. For the greatest wines in the world, terroir is everything.
And when you consider the fact that Lodi is now producing single-vineyard wines that are strongly expressive of individual vineyards – especially the tastes of old vine Zinfandel growths that can never be duplicated elsewhere in Lodi or anywhere else in the world – then you would have to say that, in a sense, “great” is possible in Lodi, the same as it is in Southern France, Spain, Chile, Australia, or anywhere else where distinctive old vine plantings can be found.
Ergo, Lodi can be great!
That said, a listing of some of Lodi’s more notable old vine growths found on the west side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River Viticultural Area (that is, vineyards located west of California Hwy. 99, bisecting the City of Lodi) and bottled as vineyard-designate wines…
Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut
- 25 acres consisting entirely of own-rooted Cinsaut originally planted as “Black Malvoisier” by Joseph Spenker in 1886.
- Produces both soft, sumptuous reds and strikingly Provençal style rosés by wineries such as Michael David Winery, Turley Wine Cellars, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Onesta Wines, McCay Cellars, Fields Family Wines, Jessie’s Grove Winery, Estate Crush, The Scholium Project, Two Shepherds, and Odisea Wine Company.
- Still owned by Joseph Spenker’s great granddaughter Wanda Woock Bechthold, but has been managed and farmed organically by Phillips Farms (i.e. Michael David Winery) since 2008.
- Bechthold Vineyard was named 2014 California Vineyard of the Year by California State Fair.
Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel
- Revered 8.3-acre block of own-rooted, head trained Zinfandel originally planted by the Mettler family in 1901 south of the City of Lodi along West Ln., north of Armstrong Rd.; now part of Mohr-Fry Ranches, owned and farmed by the Fry family.
- Described by Stuart Spencer – owner/winemaker of St. Amant Winery, which has taken almost the entire vineyard since 1999 – as Lodi’s “mother of all vines,” with which few Lodi vintners would disagree.
- The combination of meticulous, LODI RULES driven viticulture, exceptionally sandy soil, a unique clonal selection (different from adjoining Mohr-Fry Ranches Zinfandel blocks planted between 1941 and 1945), and enduring vine health (still yielding 2.5 to 4 tons/acre) produce a distinctively bold, concentrated style of Zinfandel somewhere between the floral, delineated styles of Lodi’s east side and the lush, round, earthier styles of Lodi’s west side.
- Vineyard-designate Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandels are bottled under the St. Amant as well as Lodi Native labels.
Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel
- 100% own-rooted, head trained Zinfandel – its oldest block dating back to 1916 – owned, planted and farmed by the Soucie family for three generations (Kevin Soucie is the current custodian).
- Located in the far-west edge of the Mokelumne River-Lodi AVA, closest to the Delta, and known for its extremely fine, talcum powder-like variant of the Tokay sandy loam soil series, sometimes identified as Acampo sandy loam.
- The growth and success of Lodi’s m2 Wines has been intertwined with Soucie Vineyard since the winery’s founding in 2002; although most of the Zinfandel goes to Michael David Winery.
- In years past, Soucie Vineyard played a major part of Michael David’s top-of-the-line Zinfandel, called Lust, and was one of the original seven properties going into the first 7 Deadly Zins bottlings.
- Soucie Vineyard has always produced one of Lodi’s most aromatic, fleshy, full bodied yet well balanced Zinfandels (think of Dylan’s line about “mattress balanced on a bottle of wine”); pungent with red and black berried qualities tinged with unmistakably loamy/earthy, organic qualities.
- Vineyard-designate Soucie Vineyard Zinfandels are bottled under the m2 as well as Lodi Native labels.
Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel
- The 21-acre “crown jewel” of the 330 acres farmed by the Maley family, who are close cousins of Michael David Winery’s Phillips family (all descendants of Andrew Harshner, who began homesteading on Lodi’s west side in 1869), and another one of the seven growers comprising Lodi’s original 7 Deadly Zins.
- Farmed by Todd Maley, the son of Joseph Maley who first established the Maley Brothers wine brand with his late brother Louis Maley. Head trained vines planted in 1958 on St. George rootstock.
- Plant material originally taken from an Acampo (east side of Mokelumne River-Lodi) vineyard; a selection prized by wineries such as m2 Wines, Oak Farm Vineyards, and Macchia Wines (bottled as “Voluptuous”) for its consistently loose, even sized, fairly small berried clusters.
- Wegat Vineyard yields what is considered to be quintessential west-side Zinfandel; distinguished by flowery, red-towards-blue berried fruit qualities underlined by signature loamy/earthy undertones, and rounded, plush texturing.
- Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel is now bottled each year under Maley Brothers’ iteration of Lodi Native Zinfandel.
ZinStar Vineyard Zinfandel
- Notably, Lodi’s first single-vineyard estate bottling; starting with the 1978 vintage and bottled every year since by The Lucas Winery.
- 3.5 acres of head trained Zinfandel planted on its own roots in 1933; located in the heart of Mokelumne River-Lodi’s west side (just east of the historic Spenker Ranch/Jessie’s Grove property, and north of W. Turner Rd.).
- Farmed CCOF certified organic.
- By choice (owner David Lucas and winemaker/spouse Heather Pyle’s house style) as much as terroir, produces a medium bodied style of Zinfandel of moderate alcohol, zesty natural acidity, and distinctively earth toned, lush fruit qualities.
TruLux Vineyard (a.k.a. Pescador Vineyard) Zinfandel
- Another one of Lodi’s most distinctive west-side vineyards; 30 acres of Zinfandel on St. George rootstock – half the vines planted during the 1940s, with an inter-planting of younger vines put in during the 1970s – located a quarter of a mile south of W. Kettleman Ln. behind Van Ruiten Family Winery.
- Owned and farmed by Keith Watts, and named for the Watts family’s late Filipino vineyard manager (Pesacador) who originally planted and managed the vineyard.
- Vineyard is distinguished by unusually tall (even for Lodi; topping 6 ft.) head trained vines with “chocolate cake” layering of spurs; producing atypically small, loose, elongated clusters prized by wineries such as McCay Cellars (bottled as TruLux Vineyard), Watts Winery (bottled as Pescador Vineyard), and Michael David Winery.
- TruLux/Pescador Zinfandels are distinguished by meaty, dark fruit qualities with smidgens of perceptible, earthy/loam (but never herby or barnyardy) notes, and balanced medium-full bodies.
Royal Tee Vineyard Zinfandel
- The 5-acre Royal Tee Vineyard is Lodi’s oldest planting of Zinfandel; planted in 1889 by Joseph Spenker, and still owned and farmed by one of his descendants, Greg Burns, who founded Jessie’s Grove Winery in the late 1990s.
- Royal Tee Vineyard also represents Lodi’s oldest surviving example of the classic, California style “field mix” – consisting of approximately 83% Zinfandel, with a balance of Carignan, Mission, Flame Tokay and Black Prince (a.k.a. Rose of Peru), all head trained and spur pruned on their own rootstocks.
- Up until 2017, Jessie’s Grove produced Royal Tee Zinfandel exclusively from Zinfandel vines isolated in the vineyard; the Royal Tee Carignan and Flame Tokay grapes going into Jessie’s Grove “Ancient Vine Carignane” and “Ancient Vine Tokay.”
- In 2015 Alquimista Cellars (led by winemaker/partner Greg La Follette) began harvesting and producing traditional “field crush” mixes of all five grapes; yielding exceptionally silken, zesty styles of Zinfandel with floral notes akin to white wine perfumes.
Jessie’s Grove Estate Carignan and Tokay
- On the western edge of the 320-acre Jessie’s Grove property (a.k.a. Spenker Ranch, planted to 265 acres of wine grapes) – along DeVries Rd., is a small block own-rooted Carignan planted by Joseph Spenker in 1900, yielding the majority of fruit going into Jessie’s Grove’s perennially award winning Ancient Vine Carignane.
- At the center of the Jessie’s Grove estate is a second notable block of own-rooted, spur pruned Zinfandel planted in 1941 called Westwind Vineyard; bottled as a vineyard-designate wine, producing a classic, full bodied, dusty/earthy nuanced style of west-side Lodi Zinfandel.
- Behind the old Spenker home is a small stand (less than half-acre) of Flame Tokay planted on their own roots in 1889, which goes into Jessie’s Grove’s White Port style Ancient Vine Tokay.
Scottsdale Vineyard Zinfandel
- Scottsdale Vineyard is a 2.5-acre, own rooted, head trained Zinfandel block dating back to the early 1900s (exact year unknown) that has been farmed for the past 15 years by Harney Lane Winery, and owned by the same since 2013.
- The vineyard is located at the far eastern edge of what is considered “west side” Mokelumne River-Lodi along Scottsdale Rd., between the railroad tracks running east of West Ln. and west of Hwy. 99.
- Harney Lane co-owner/grower Kyle Lerner has always described Scottsdale as the “blueberry block” for the floral, blue and red berry scented quality of the wine, with just smidgens of the dusty/loam quality common to west-side Lodi Zinfandels.
Bonnotto Vineyard Zinfandel
- An own-rooted vineyard planted in the 1930s by Ernie Spenker (a cousin of Joseph Spenker, who founded the neighboring Spenker Ranch, known as Jessie’s Grove today), and owned and farmed by the Bonnotto family since the 1950s.
- Typical of the Zinfandel blocks planted by this branch of the Spenker family along DeVries Rd., south of W. Turner Rd., these spur pruned vines are trained low to the ground (2 to 3-ft. height) in a traditional goblet or “umbrella” style.
- Since 2014, a Bonnotto Vineyard Zinfandel has been produced by McCay Cellars; exhibiting somewhat meaty, medium-full bodies with black and red fruit qualities, with a tinge of the dusty/loamy/earthy notes typical of Zinfandels grown on Lodi’s west side.
Bishofberger Vineyard Carignan
- 12-acre block of own-rooted Carignan, planted in 1936 just south of W. Turner Rd. between DeVries and N. Ray roads.
- Owned and farmed by Bob Bishofberger, a close cousin to thhe the Phillips family of Michael David Winery.
- Apart from a Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut, the Bishofberger Vineyard Carignan is the only single-vineyard wine bottled by Michael David Winery (vineyard identified on back label).
- This Carignan is typically between medium to full bodied (about 13.5% alcohol); retaining zesty natural acidity, moderate tanning and a classic red cherry varietal aroma with leafy/herby nuances.
Mohr-Fry Ranches Zinfandel
- In addition to their venerated Marian’s Vineyard, the Fry family owns and farms an additional 8 blocks of own-rooted Zinfandel planted over several years during the early 1940s.
- The Fry family home ranch is located south of the City of Lodi; north of Armstrong Rd., across West Ln. from the Deshmesh Darbar Sikh Temple.
- Mohr-Fry is located in slightly sandier variations of the Tokay sandy loam series defining the Mokelumne River Ava.
- In addition to St. Amant Winery, Mohr-Fry Ranches Zinfandels are produced by several wineries; typically exhibiting very “west side” characteristics, with rounded, full bodies, red and black fruit qualities, and tinges of dusty/loamy notes.
- Besides being leading exponents of LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing, Jerry Fry and vineyard manager/son Bruce Fry were recently honored by the California Association of Wine Grape Growers (CAWG) as their 2016 “Grower of the Year.”
Hatterle Vineyard Zinfandel
- Head trained, spur pruned Zinfandel off W. Turner Rd. originally planted on their own roots towards the end of Prohibiton in 1930.
- Farmed by Roland Hatterle since the late 1960s, and very recently appearing on vineyard-designate wines by Michael Klouda Wines in a contemporary, early picked, terroir focused style.
Ready to geek out further on Lodi’s old vine growths, and what makes them utterly unique in the entire world of fine wines? Let’s start with this…
Impact of sandy loam soil
When nineteenth century growers first began farming in the areas surrounding the burgeoning community of Lodi, they chose properties with the deep (20 to 50-ft.) sandy loam soil now classified in the Tokay series (named for the pinkish-red Flame Tokay grape, the Lodi region’s #1 grape crop between the 1880s and 1980s).
Why sandy loams rather than, say, the gravelly clay loam soils found closer to Galt north of the City of Lodi, or the redder, rocky clay slopes around Clements further to the east? Simple reason: The shallower gravelly or rocky clays required arduous plowing to break up the soil and hardpans. Planting grapes – which always benefit from deep rooting – in the softer, friable, well-drained, yet richly organic sandy loam soils surrounding the growing community of Lodi was much easier. A no-brainer.
In 2006 the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) recognized the region around the City of Lodi as its own AVA (i.e. American Viticultural Area), called Mokelumne River, to delineate this area from other regions within the larger Lodi AVA that growers began to plant in earnest during the 1980s and ‘90s. With modern-day machinery, it became much easier to plant in Lodi’s shallower, rockier clay based soils in AVAs such as Jahant, Clements Hills and Borden Ranch (today, most of Lodi’s vineyards are found outside the historic Mokelumne River appellation).
The primary differentiating factor of Mokelumne River is the appellation’s Tokay sandy loam soil; found in predominantly flat topography conducive to furrow irrigation, at 50 to 150-ft. elevations. This was where the Tokay grape thrived – as much as because of this ideal soil series as the region’s moderate Mediterranean climate – and where, today, most of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel (to be specific: vineyards planted prior to the mid-‘60s) is still to be found. This knowledge became empirical: Wherever Tokay thrived, so did Zinfandel; and vice-versa.
East side of Mokelumne River-Lodi
In an interview three years ago, Craig Rous – owner/grower of Rous Vineyard on Lodi’s east side – broke down the advantages of the Tokay sandy loam soil series defining both the west and east sides of Lodi’s Mokelumne River:
► Reduces vine vigor and crop size, giving vines a higher percentage chance of attaining fruit/canopy balance (hence quality)
► Promotes deep roots leading to increased vine health (especially for vines over 50 years old)
► Enhances overall fruit concentration
► Encourages deeper skin color and phenols (i.e. flavor components)
► Gives typically lower pHs (resulting in higher natural grape acidity)
► Results in earlier harvest dates (thus, less danger from late season disease pressure)
Rous goes even further by citing the existence of the deepest, sandiest soils on the east side of California Hwy. 99, which bisects the City of Lodi; particularly in an area he calls the “Victor Triangle.” According to Rous, the points of this “triangle” are located approximately at Bruella Rd. at Orchard Rd. in the north, Curry Rd. and E. Kettleman Ln. to the west, and N. Locust Tree Rd. and E. Kettleman Ln. to the east. Says Rous, “There seems to be a lot of really good blocks within this area that exemplify the Mokelumne River.”
Rous elaborates: “Soils within the ‘triangle’ on Lodi’s east side have even more sand than the rest of the AVA. If you look at a soils map, they are described as loamy sand rather than sandy loam.
“While I am not entirely comfortable saying all vineyards in the Mokelume River AVA or even the ‘triangle’ fit these descriptions, I think the wines from the Victor area, especially Zinfandels, tend to be more elegant, better balanced, with less ‘fruit bomb’ character, especially when harvested at optimal balance.”
Bokisch Vineyards’ Markus Bokisch – whose “home” vineyard, Las Cerezas (planted to Albariño, Tempranillo and Graciano), sits in Mokelumne River’s east side – has gone so far as to speak of the possibility of one day proposing still another sub-appellation within the Mokelumne River AVA, encompassing this pocket of deep, beach-like sand found around the tiny CDP of Victor (population 293), east of the City of Lodi. Bokisch refers to the “more nuanced, softer perfume” of Zinfandels from this sub-area.
Turley Wine Cellars winemaker Tegan Passalacqua – who also owns and farms Kirschenmann Vineyard on Lodi’s east side – has described these Zinfandels as “prettier, higher toned wines, not inky dark or massive, with medium to medium-plus concentration, and aromatics that are more on the floral side, yet with a good amount of spice, pepper and just enough tannin structure to make it full, but not gigantic.”
Winemaker Chad Joseph – who consults for three or four Lodi wineries at a time (including Harney Lane Winery and Oak Farm Vineyards) – has the experience of producing wine from all parts of the Mokelumne River AVA. Mr. Joseph acknowledges that “there are ‘fingers’ of very fine sandy soils, with less loam, throughout this appellation, such as the soil type found in (Harney Lane Winery’s) Lizzy James Vineyard… These vines are some of the earliest to ripen, with less vigor and more concentration, compared to other old vine vineyards in the Lodi AVA.”
Joseph contrasts the loamy sands on the east side with the sandy loam found in west-side old vine growths, such as the Maley family’s Wegat Vineyard. According to Joseph: “Wegat Vineyard has slightly loamier soil than Lizzy James on the east side. Like Lizzy James, Wegat ripens earlier than most, and is very concentrated with small berries. But unlike Lizzy James, Wegat tends to have more loamy and herbal characteristics that I find very unique and pleasing. In general, though, I find that the best Mokelumne River vineyards, on either side of town, all have potential for better concentration, less vigor, and higher acid due to the earlier ripening patterns.”
Some notable east-side Mokelumne River old vine growths found in vineyard-designate bottlings…
Lizzy James Vineyard Zinfandel
- 20-acre growth located along Alpine Rd., south of Hwy. 12 E. and north of E. Kettleman Ln.; consisting mostly of own-rooted Zinfandel dating back to 1904; although more than half the vineyard consists of replants of multiple ages.
- Possibly the single sandiest site in the entire Mokelumne River AVA (the closest thing to beach-like sands in Lodi); and as such, the most “east-side” of Lodi’s east-side vineyards.
- Owned and farmed by Harney Lane Winery; producing a svelte, medium-full bodied style of Zinfandel with ringing notes of cherry/raspberry, floral and spiced tea scents, moderate tannin and balancing acidity.
Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandel
- 19 acres of own-rooted, east-side Mokelumne River-Lodi Zinfandel originally planted in 1915; farmed by Alan Kirschenmann until his death in 2004.
- Known as Baumbach Vineyard up until 2012, when it was purchased by Tegan Passalacqua (winemaker of Turley Wine Cellars) from Sandy Laskey (née Kirschenmann); now farmed by Passalacqua and Arbor Vineyards (a.k.a. Mettler Family Vineyards).
- Located just east of Bruella Rd., south of Schmiedt Rd., inside an oxbow-curve of the Mokelumne River; circumstances said to have a significant impact on both the temperatures (a degree or two cooler than surrounding areas) and soil (streaks of chalky, calcareous mineral found in the deep loamy sand) of vineyards in this area, which adjoins McCay Cellars’ Lot 13 and Klinker Brick Winery’s Rauser Vineyard; also accounting for the unusual number of surviving ancient vine plantings found in the vicinity.
- Flowery fruit (cherry, tea, licorice/anise) and gentle, silken, layered styles of Zinfandels bottled by Turley Wine Cellars, Carlyle Winery, Arnot-Roberts, Bedrock Wine Co., Newsome Harlow Wines, and (soon to be released) Passalacqua’s own Sandlands Wines label.
Rous Vineyard Zinfandel
- 10 acres planted in 1909 on St. George rootstock(one of the oldest in Lodi grafted onto Rupestris du Lot St. George); owned and farmed by Craig Rous (former director of the Kautz family’s Bear Creek Winery and Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi).
- Located towards the south-west corner of what locals are calling the “Victor Triangle” sub-area of Mokelumne River’s east side; a section characterized by deeper, sandier variations of Tokay sandy loam.
- Produces uniquely flowery (violet/blueberry) styles of Zinfandel with herby nuances and full, fleshy, rounded structures under the Ironstone Vineyards, Macchia Wines, and McCay Cellars labels.
Lot 13 Vineyard Zinfandel
- 10 acres of own-rooted, head trained, spur pruned Zinfandel originally planted in 1915 on a patch of exceptionally sandy loam with limestone layers at Schmiedt and Bruella roads.
- Property acquired by Michael McCay in 2013 from Sandy Kirschenmann, and named for the original lot number (13) found on a 1906 Colonial Green Track plot map.
- Vineyard is located in an oxbow-bend of the Mokelumne River where vineyards are surrounded by water on three sides (thus, dubbed “The Peninsula” by McCay), at the north corner of what Craig Rous has called the Victor Triangle.
- Bottled by McCay Cellars as “Faith,” and also used in McCay’s most recent bottlings of Lodi Native Zinfandel (including 2014 and 2015).
Rauser Vineyard Carignan
- Bruella Rd. vineyard owned by Jeannie Rauser, but managed by the Felten family of Klinker Brick Winery.
- Consists of mostly own-rooted ancient vine Carignan (with a mix of equally old Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel, and recent Carignan replants).
- Located in the heart of Mokelumne River-Lodi’s east side inside a bend of the river locals are calling the “Victor Triangle,” right across Schmeidt Rd. from Tegan Passalacqua’s Kirschenmann Vineyard, and kitty-corner to McCay Cellars’ Lot 13 Vineyard.
- Most of vineyard goes into Klinker Brick’s Carignane (medium bodied, black cherry scented reds with scrubby/earthy undertones), although a small portion of the fruit is picked earlier in the season (at lower sugars, with higher natural fruit acidity) to go into dry rosés bottled by Klinker Brick and McCay Cellars.
Lewis Vineyard Zinfandel
- Own-rooted, thick trunked, goblet trained ancient vine Zinfandel block planted in 1903 about 50 yards west of Alpine Rd., near Victor Rd./Hwy. 12 East, on a patch of particularly fine sandy loam that extends south into nearby Lizzy James Vineyard and west towards Rous Vineyard.
- Owned and farmed according to LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegowing by Charlie Lewis, and going entirely to LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards.
- LangeTwins Family’s current release of Lewis Vineyard Zinfandel is a 2011; distinguished by meaty textured, red fruit, red licorice and black tea scented fragrances, and a svelte, zippy, moderately weighted feel despite 15.6% alcohol.
Marisa Vineyard Zinfandel
- Classic loamy sand/east-side site located just east of the town of Victor on Hwy. 12 East; estate owned and grown by the Felten family of Klinker Brick Winery.
- Vineyard is a 50/50 split of own-rooted and Flame Tokay rooted vines (the latter half, grafted over in the late 1980s) originally planted in the mid-1920s.
- Produces consistently refined, gentle, silky styles of Zinfandels (i.e. the opposite of “big” or bludgeoning) with distinctively floral raspberry/cassis-like perfumes.
Steacy Ranch Zinfandel
- Owned and farmed by Turley Wine Cellars, and located in the Acampo area east of Hwy. 99.
- Planted in 1907; as such, the oldest Lodi Zinfandel vineyard of record planted on St. George rootstock (as opposed to the natural Zinfandel roots typifying the vast majority of pre-1960s Lodi Zinfandel growths).
- Vineyard is interspersed with Grenache, Carignan and Mission vines somewhat in the old style of California field mixes.
- Produces zesty yet silken, fine textured Zinfandels of moderate weight; with flowery red fruit perfumes tinged with spice (pepper, thyme, allspice, etc.).
Noma Ranch Zinfandel
- Steadily shrinking, own-rooted, spur pruned Zinfandel (less than half of the 15-acre size it was just 5 years ago) planted during the first decade of the 1900s; south of Victor Rd./Hwy. 12 E., across E. Pine St. from Lodi Memorial Park & Cemetery.
- Unusually small (for Lodi), 2-3-ft. high vines, dry farmed for over a century and trained in the classic goblet style; yielding largely fist-sized, tiny berried clusters rarely adding up to more than 1 ton per acre.
- Farmed by Leland Noma and bottled exclusively by Macchia Wines under their “Outrageous” label; traditionally a big (around 16% alcohol), concentrated style of Zinfandel with unusually high acid/tannin balance resulting from extreme skin-to-juice ratios.
Dairy Vineyard (a.k.a. Schmiedt Ranch) Zinfandel
- Own-rooted, head trained, spur pruned Zinfandel planted (and still owned and farmed) by the Schmiedt family in 1918 alongside the Mokelumne River where it is diverted north and bent into an oxbow; just east of Bruella Rd., at the end of Schmiedt Rd.
- Shares common factor of exceptionally sandy, limestone streaked alluvium with adjacent vineyards (notably Mike McCay’s Lot 13 Vineyard just to the west, and Tegan Passlacqua’s Kirschenmann Vineyard one block over); hence, producing similar styles of Zinfandel (flowery, red cherry perfumes and zesty, moderate weights and tannins).
- Most of Dairy Vineyard’s fruit has been going to Turley Wine Cellars, although some of it each year is bottled under the Schmiedt family’s Twisted Roots “1918” label.
Clements Hills old vine plantings
In significant contrast to the Mokelumne River AVA is Lodi’s Clements Hills AVA, located east of the City of Lodi in the vicinity of the CDP communities of Lockeford and Clements. Here, the Lodi topography transitions from flat sandy loams into rolling hills topping off at about 400-ft. Soils become a visibly red (or yellowish-brick red) clay loam of volcanic origin, which are gravelly or cobbled, and less vigorous on the hilltops
There are, however, a few small pockets of sandy loam soil similar to the Mokelumne River AVA’s in parts of the Clements Hills near the Mokelumne River, which skirts past Lockeford and Clements from the Camanche Reservoir and higher foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
It is in these sandier parts of Clements Hills that you find a few stands of old vine plantings; including…
Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel
- 29 acres of own-rooted, head trained Zinfandel originally planted in 1944; managed by Turley Wine Cellars on a long-term lease.
- Although located on a sloping site in Lodi’s Clements Hills AVA (known for red volcanic soils in the Redding clay series), Dogtown is close enough to the Mokelumne River to retain a mix of sand (similar to the pulverized granite found in Lodi’s historic Mokelumne River vineyards) and pale brick colored clay loam.
- This unique terroir produces a consistently fine grained, lush red fruit and tea nuanced Lodi style Zinfandel; only, with a firm acid/tannin structure recalling Zinfandels grown in the Sierra Foothills.
Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel
- Zinfandel planted in the 1920s and 1940s by J.J. Zechmeister and C.H. Süess on what was once a southern embankment of the Mokelumne River – hence, soil types dominated by Kingdon and Tokay fine sandy loams – north of Hwy. 88 in the CDP of Clements, adjacent to the Clements Buckaroos Rodeo Grounds.
- Head trained, own-rooted Zinfandel – with smatterings of Mission and Mourvèdre – planted in an unusual diamond-shaped pattern with 10’ by 10’ spacing.
- Produced as distinctive single-vineyard Zinfandels by Fields Family Wines as well under the Lodi Native label; possessing a firm acid/tannin edge while retaining a roundness as well as red fruit (cherry/raspberry) fragrances typical of most Lodi grown Zinfandels.
- Owned and farmed by Jeff and John Perlegos; most of the fruit going to Bedrock Wine Co.
Süess Vineyard Zinfandel
- 15 acres of own-rooted, head trained, traditional goblet shaped Zinfandel planted during the 1920s by C.H. Süess, south of Hwy. 88 between Lockeford and Clements, just east of Disch Rd.
- The distinctive quality of this vineyard is that it lies in a swale of particularly fine-grained, almost talcum powder-like loamy sand.
- Farmed and bottled by Bokisch Vineyards as a vineyard-designate wine since 2015, and just beginning to express its own character as a vineyard-designated wine; already producing sturdy, medium bodied Zinfandels zesty with acidity, yet silky fine in texture; with floral notes of cherry, plum, and sweetly scented, wild scrub-nuanced spice.
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