Lodi Native: Redefining Old Vine Zinfandel

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-20-2015

Lodi is home to a ton of Zinfandel, 111,000 tons, actually. In 2011, that amounted to 32% of all Zin grown in California, according to Wines of Lodi California, a trade group. But in this historically rich region between Sacramento and Stockton, the best juice comes from single vineyards of old gnarly vines.

To highlight these old vine treasures, six winemakers have teamed up under the Lodi Native umbrella, producing six different single-vineyard Zinfandels (most of them from Lodi’s Mokelumne River appellation). The idea is to let these old vines speak as clearly as possible about their roots, so the wines are all fermented with native yeasts, and they get no new oak, fining or filtration. The bottles are sold as a $180 six-pack from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Together, they comprise a master class in old vine Zinfandel goodness.

During a recent online video tasting, Stuart Spencer, winemaker at Lodi’s St. Amant Winery, said the Lodi Native team hopes to elevate the region as a whole and broaden the picture of what’s being made in Lodi. And these winemakers have all sorts of ancient vine Zinfandel sites to choose from, with many historic vineyards remaining “undiscovered,” Spencer said. “There are really some treasures out here in these acres of Zinfandel vines.”

I was really impressed with this project’s first vintage, 2012, and the Lodi Native crew has done it again in 2013. If you’re used to candied, bruiser, oak-slathered Zins, you may be surprised by the freshness, vibrancy and silkiness of these old vine beauties.

I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them sighted.

2013 Fields Family Wines Zinfandel Lodi Native Stampede VineyardCalifornia, Central Valley, Clements Hills
Winemaker, Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)
Growers, Jeff & John Perlegos
The pale ruby colored immediately tells you that this is a different kind of Zin. The nose is bright and floral with red apple peels, wild strawberries, dusty earth and crushed charcoal. On the palate, fine tannins, accessible but still nice and drying, medium acid. Tart red currants and wild strawberries, red apple peel, the fruit has some spicy clove, black tea, dusty soil and charcoal accents. Smooth, even elegant. Long, refined, very deep but the lightest in style and alcohol. From a sandy loam vineyard planted in the 1940s, most of the fruit goes into Bedrock Wine Co. bottles, but glad Ryan Sherman got some of this juice. (91 points IJB)

2013 Macchia Zinfandel Lodi Native Schmiedt RanchCalifornia, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Winemaker, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)
Grower, Ross Schmiedt. Managed by Markus Bokisch of Bokisch Ranches.
Juicy ruby colored. Bright and ripe, blackberries, strawberry jam, gushing blueberries and summer plums, lots of fruit but also some deeper violets, plum cake and earthiness underneath. The biggest and most full-throttle of the bunch at 15.9% alcohol, this wine is rich and chewy on the palate. Dark plums, blackberries, blueberries, notes of coffee, sweet violets, wet clay. Jammy but not baked, the lack of strong oak flavors saves this wine and lets the more nuanced floral, nut and rocky elements in the wine come out. A bit of heat on the finish, but a really delicious wine. From sandier soils, this vineyard was first planted in 1918. (89 points IJB)

2013 Maley Brothers Zinfandel Lodi Native Wegat VineyardCalifornia, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Winemaker, Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)
Grower, Todd Maley
A deeper ruby color. I like the nose: dried berries, currants, elements of loam and spice. Bold approach on the palate, chewy yet silky tannic structure, actually showing some refreshing acid in a rather low dose though. Black cherries, red and black currants, some dried blueberry. Interesting notes of nutshell, loam, pencil shavings and black tea. Loamy, rich but very pretty. Richer, bold, but also really silky and smooth. From head-trained vines planted in 1958. (90 points IJB)

Soucie Vineyard. Credit: Randy Caparoso.

2013 M2 Vintners Zinfandel Lodi Native Soucie VineyardCalifornia, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Winemaker, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines)
Grower, Kevin Soucie
Bright ruby colored. Aromas of rich red berries, gushing with juicy cherries, strawberries, some cola and coffee, along with dried roses. Chewy structure, fleshy tannins, some acid to help tame the richness. Jammy black cherries and raspberries, along with spicy notes of clove and ginger. Add in some complex elements of loam, clay, leaves, roasted nuts, cracked pepper, barbecue sauce and sarsaparilla. Chewy, warm and rich, begs for cold weather, but a very delicious wine that opens up a lot with floral and spicy complexity. From a vineyard of fine silt planted in 1918. (91 points IJB)

2013 St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Lodi Native Marian’s VineyardCalifornia, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Winemaker, Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)
Growers, Jerry & Bruce Fry (Mohr-Fry Ranches)
Vibrant ruby color. Nose of roasted plums, rich berries, red licorice, some tobacco and nutshells. Silky approach to the tannins, rich waves of fruit (dried cranberries, blackberries, blueberries), I also get elements of red licorice, sweet pipe tobacco, clove, rose potpourri. The wine has a nutty complexity, with earthy, clay and toasted almond elements. A full and chewy wine but not cloying at all. Maintains refinement and lots of complexity underneath to sift through. From vines originally planted way back in 1901. (89 points IJB)

2013 McCay Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Native Trulux VineyardCalifornia, Central Valley, Lodi Mokelumne River
Winemaker, Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)
Grower, Keith Watts
Lighter ruby color. Bright red fruits on the nose (plums, raspberries). Almost Pinot-like with notes of roses, tobacco, sweet rhubarb pie, I also get hints of dusty, loamy, charcoal notes underneath. Showing restraint and elegance, the tannins are fine and silky and the acid comes out to keep the wine fresh. Ripe and bold but creamy fruit (black and red cherries, raspberries, plums), I also get complex notes of sweet spices, clove, dried potpourri, sweet herbs, cola, rhubarb. Rich texture yet maintains elegance, a very pretty wine made from a vineyard planted in 1940. (90 points IJB)

Comments (6)

  1. Excellent. Thanks, Isaac! I love that you “get it” — the unique qualities of Lodi growths, which produce silkier, earthier, more feminine styles of Zinfandel compared to other regions.

    The only thing I’m curious about, though, is the reasoning behind placing “California, Central Valley” among the regional indicators next to each wine. These are political nomenclatures, of course, since no California “Central Valley AVA” exists (which is why it is not on labels).

    As you know, one of the things our Lodi producers work hard at is to distinguish the Lodi AVA from the rest of the Central Valley, since the raisin and bulk wine production associated with grape crops south of Stockton is as different from the focus on premium Vitis vinifera in Lodi as it is from, say, the wine focused viticulture of mid-Napa Valley and much of Sonoma County and Mendocino (the latter regions sharing climatic similarities to Lodi).

    It is true, of course, that Lodi is in the midst of transitioning from a culture of grapegrowing to winegrowing. But it seems more likely that, other than San Bernardino’s Cucamongo Valley AVA, most of the Central Valley south of us will never be able to make that transition (Lodi’s lower Region III is one thing, but most of Central Valley’s Region IV and V climates is another).

    Otherwise, well done — truly appreciate the attention to detail and willingness to help bring attention to Lodi vineyards!

  2. Randy, thanks for reading, and thanks for the comments. So, when I post reviews of wines I copy and paste the link from CellarTracker. They include sub-regions, some of which are actual AVAs, and some of which are not. It’s a bit confusing at times, and imperfect for sure, but it’s the best way for me to enter in information about a wine I’ve tasted. I totally understand how Lodi winemakers want to differentiate themselves from the Central Valley – and they’re doing a good job of it! Looking forward to checking up on Lodi again soon. Cheers!

  3. Thanks for the clarification, Isaac… too bad about the outdated methodology of CellarTracker… this is why we have appellation systems (in the U.S., since 1980) — to get away from misleading names defined by political boundaries!

  4. While not a Lodi old vine zin, I did have my eyes opened recently with a 2012 DeLoach Saitone vineyard old vine zin from the Olivet bench in the Russian River area. The Boisset family clearly know how to make expressive, transparent, beautiful wines, and they sure succeeded with this wine. Fresh, vibrant, silky, but with great depth is exactly how I would describe this old vine creation, and it made my want to try more old vine zin if I can find more with these characteristics. I’m glad to hear about the Lodi wines, and while my previous experience with Lodi did not speak to those characteristics I value, I will take another look. Thanks.

  5. Yes, the Saitone is truly a treasure. I such a big fan, I occasionally used to buy entire barrels of Zinfandel from that vineyard and served them in my restaurants (Roy’s). So this I know: the Russian River Valley, typical of Sonoma, produces a bigger, more phenolic style of Zinfandel; often jammy, but always with wonderful, bracing acidity. Kudos for DeLoach for knowing how to keep this terroir expression intact.

    But you cannot expect the same in a Lodi Zinfandel. Narrower diurnal swings and super-sandy soil produces a softer, more gentle, almost feminine style of Zinfandel, usually with more pungent earthiness (loam, compost, mushroom, etc.). The Lodi Native project is dedicated to keeping these sensations pure and intact, so that you can taste the “real” expression of Lodi grown Zinfandel.

    But that’s what nice about this type of production. You can appreciate a DeLoach because they give us an accurate snapshot of what makes Russian River Valley grown Zinfandel what it is. The Lodi Natives are different, as well they should be. If you like the softer, earthier style, you might prefer the Lodi Natives even more!

  6. While not a Zin (although I have had a great Lodi Zin, forget which one) I have a 2009 Cantara Cellars Grenache that you reminded me I need to drink soon :)