For a long time, when people thought of California wines, Napa was the name. Santa Barbara- Santa Ynez and Paso Robles brought more to the conversation, and as I recently discussed, Temecula even has a little something to contribute to the California wine conversation as well. But wait, there's more! As if California wasn't lucky enough in the wine department, there's another wine growing region that also deserves to be a major part of these discussions - Lodi.
You may be like me and think Lodi? Uh, I got nothing. You may recall some big Zins and sweet dessert wines, but you may not. Luckily I was invited to get a proper education of what's going on in Lodi and I'm here to share the good news.
Lodi ain't no new kid on the block. In fact, they've been doing wine a lot longer than some of our other local California wine regions. Let's start with some facts. Here's Lodi by the numbers.
- 100,000 acres make up the Lodi AVA
- 80 wineries
- 750 growers farm the land
- 75 different varietals - more than any other area in CA
- 19% of CA production comes out of Lodi
- 38% of CA Zin is produced here
- 20,000 acres are certified green (more on that later)
- 1850 is the year when Lodi first started growing grapes
- 100 miles east of San Francisco
- 35 miles south of Sacramento
All of these numbers add up to the fact that Lodi has been producing wine for a long time, and many of the people producing the wine have been doing so for 4 or 5 generations. So there's care, pride and a personal touch not found in some of the larger California wine regions. If you go into a Lodi tasting room, you might be served by the winemaker himself. These aren't huge conglomerates looking to buy another winery to add to their already enormous portfolio. These are families who have been living and working on the land for generations.
To that extent some of the wine production is limited. For instance, the 2013 Onesta Viognier has a mere 250 case production. Worse yet was that this Lodi Viognier was absolutely lovely with bright apricot and nectarine notes, but balanced acidity and texture, making this a great warm weather wine, especially at $22 per bottle.
Another great summer sipper was the 2012 Vermentino from Uvaggio. I love that the alcohol content on this one was only 12.9% so you won't wilt in the sun with every sip. Subtle apple and melon notes are present, but a nice minerality rounds it out. At $16 per bottle, there's nothing not to like about this wine.
Uvaggio, like much of Lodi, sells their grapes to Napa and beyond. Nearly 85% of Lodi grapes leave the region. So yeah, you've been drinking Lodi grapes all along and didn't even know it. You can also pick up a Rosata from Uvaggio where you'll get a little of the Vermentino blended with some Cinsault. It's a little bigger in flavor than your typical French Rose, but still very dry, and good paired with food. At 11.9% alcohol, it'll keep you cool and composed.
We also tasted a range of well produced, interesting reds like Michael David's 2013 Ancient Vine Cinsault. You may know David's name from mainstream hits like 7 Deadly Zins, Freakshow and Petite Petit, but things move in a different direction with this Ancient Vine Cinsault. David hadn't produced a Cinsault since 1999, and this one was worth the wait. The grapes truly come from ancient vines planted in Lodi's oldest producing vineyard back in 1885. This silky little number has low tannins with light red berry undertones. The light oak keeps it easy drinking and one you can reach for even when it's warmer out. At $25 you want to get yourself to Lodi to snatch up one of these unique gems.
David's Ancient Vine Cinsault is a Lodi Rules Certified Green wine. That's not just a random way to slap another pretty sticker on a bottle for marketing purposes. Lodi Rules is California's first third-party-certified sustainable wine growing program, and it's truly impressive. It goes beyond soil healthy and responsible farming to include land stewardship and employee well being. It's about healthy land, practices and people. Over 20,000 acres in the Lodi AVA have the Lodi Rules green certification.
Our final two wines finished as strong as we started. Michael McCay uses natural fermentation in his wines and his 2012 Faith Zin is pretty special because of it. It's softer and more elegant than what you may remember of CA or Lodi Zins. The bottle we had came from "Lot 13" planted in 1915 and is a best-of fresh red fruit on entry and then darker berry and plums on exit. With only 379 cases produced, I'm on my way to get more of this before it's gone.
The Macchia 2012 Primitivo Devious plays off its close cousin Zinfandel, but with an Italian flair. Velvety, chocolatey and with some coffee notes made this the perfect wine to enjoy with our dessert.
Lodi is producing some really solid wines at great prices. Visiting is a unique, more personal experience than you might find in other big California wine regions. If you can't visit to get your hands on some of the small production batches, then take a look at the Lodi Wine Club to get quarterly shipments sent directly to your house.
* This was a hosted tasting by Lodi Wines, but all opinions are always my own.