In our previous blog post, Progress of terroir-focused, vineyard-designated wines in Lodi, we discussed how wines with single-vineyard designations do not necessarily express sensory qualities derived directly from their respective vineyard's growing conditions. Or as terroir is frequently defined: as having a "sense of place."
Quite often, winemaker or winery house styles, or obsessions with attaining intense varietal character, tend to blur or obliterate terroir expressions in commercial vineyard-designate wines (please see our recent post, How varietal character and terroir became generational bones of contention). In a world where 100-point scores and maintaining brand styles remain the highest priorities, focus on vineyards and even regional or appellation-associated characteristics usually falls by the wayside.
The Lodi Viticultural Area is, first and foremost, a region that supplies commercial-quality grapes to the rest of the wine industry. Except for big producers with facilities in the region (such as Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi and Trinchero Family Estates), the number of wineries in Lodi is relatively modest compared to other regions. Paso Robles, for instance, cultivates approximately 33,000 acres of wine grapes (far less than Lodi's 100,000 acres), yet boasts over 200 independent wineries (compared to Lodi's 90).
However, to remain competitive with the rest of California and the entire world as a wine grape supplier, the priority for many of Lodi's small, homegrown wineries has been to produce wines that, as much as possible, express the bright, fresh, fruit-forward qualities made possible by Lodi's natural, sun-soaked growing conditions. Consequently, over the past ten or so years, more and more Lodi-grown wines have been crafted to prioritize the unique qualities of the region, as opposed to simply duplicating characteristics typifying wines in regions outside of Lodi.
One of the prime examples of this movement started nine vintages ago and continues to this day: called Lodi Native, a name that perfectly describes the spirit, methodology as well as purposes of the project. Not to mention the most recent endeavors of an entire region, still dominated by families who have been farming in the area for over 100 years.
How Lodi Native Has Influenced Single-Vineyard Bottlings In Lodi
The Lodi Native Zinfandel project began in 2012 when six of Lodi's more accomplished Zinfandel specialists agreed to produce wines following strict, self-imposed limitations meant to turn the spotlight on individual Lodi heritage vineyards — defined as vineyard blocks planted over 50 years ago — and away from the brand or house styles, or varietal definitions of the grape.
The project's "mission," from the beginning, has been to demonstrate to the world that distinct vineyard sites, or terroirs, exist in Lodi, in the same fashion as other great regions of the wine world. Period. It wasn't about the wineries or the talent of participating winemakers, and it was never about "Zinfandel." It was about vineyards.
And to be specific, special, individual heritage vineyards. The name of the project itself has also been a handy reference to one of the key approaches undertaken by these producers to achieve maximum vineyard distinctions: The use of native yeast, as opposed to inoculated yeast, for fermentation. It is an approach that presupposes that the natural yeast flora found in each vineyard has as much impact on subsequent wines as any other factor, such as soil, macroclimate, aspect, wind, rootstock, clonal mix, surrounding air, vine training, or vineyard management.
The six original Lodi Native producers have been justifiably lauded for their willingness to take the plunge, despite the counterintuitive measures that were required to achieve the original goal. They were asked, for instance, not to use brand new or second-year barrels — something even top brand California Zinfandel specialists, such as Turley, Robert Biale, and Ridge, consider important to the complexity of all their bottlings. Only older barrels, “neutral” in oak flavor, are allowed in Lodi Native wines.
There has been no use of amendments such as oak dust or chips, which are routinely applied in the world of Zinfandel to bind pigments and enhance the phenolic structure, qualities in which Zinfandel grape skins are often deficient. The use of water, another routine practice in Zinfandel vinification, is not allowed to lower potential alcohol in well-ripened grapes, nor any acidification or de-acidification to balance out a fermenting wine’s chemistry. Finally, no fining or filtering may be used to clarify and help stabilize a wine. Basically, Lodi Native vintners are allowed to do "nothing," except employing a little sulfur at bottling to stabilize the wine.
Or as Tim Holdener, the former winemaker/partner at Macchia Wines, described it, “With all our ‘winemaker tools’ taken away, we were basically asked to produce wines with our hands tied behind our back.” m2 Wines’ Layne Montgomery, who admits being dragged into the group “kicking and screaming,” asked the simple question, “What about quality... Do you not want us to produce the best Zinfandel we can?”
The objective of the Lodi Native project, as it were, has never been to produce the “best” possible Zinfandel—although many Zinfandel lovers may very well prefer the pure, “naked” qualities of these wines. The objective is to produce Zinfandels that taste as much as possible like their respective vineyard sources.
From an insider's perspective, how does one assess Lodi Native wines? Answer: for what they are, not what anyone thinks “Zinfandel” should be. On a macro level, these wines have been almost the opposite of what you expect of commercial Zinfandel. They tend to be gentle and pliant, rather than big and blustery because Lodi-grown Zinfandels tend to turn out that way when left to their own natural devices.
Accordingly, aromas are flowery, sometimes peppery, at times pure red-fruit-scented, and at other times somewhat earthy if not downright earthy (depending on the vineyard), but not really "jammy" fruity. I have often presided over presentations of Lodi Native wines where a common audience response has been, "Why, these don't taste like Zinfandels at all!" Think of a beautiful woman seen, for the first time, without makeup — she's still beautiful, just very different.
Lodi Native Zinfandels, if anything, are meant to taste like “Lodi." In that sense, not like anything from Sonoma, Napa, or Amador, especially since they are bereft of Petite Sirah (historically, not a variety found in Lodi AVA Zinfandel blocks), the most common ingredient used to beef up California Zinfandels to meet commercial varietal expectations.
Lodi-grown Vineyard-Designate Wines
In many of the wines in the following list, you will find a Lodi Native influence — particularly among reds, more and more of which are now aged in neutral barrels.
Lodi's white wines, by and large, are produced with cultured yeasts, but a movement away from oak influence has also become something of a Lodi signature, more so than in other regions. It is not unusual, for instance, for wineries located outside of Lodi to utilize Lodi-grown Viognier, Sauvignon blanc, Albariño, Vermentino, Grenache blanc, or even Piquepoul to produce whites fermented and/or aged in barrels; whereas in Lodi itself, most wineries stick strictly to stainless steel tanks in order to highlight the crisp, fresh fruit qualities intrinsic in Lodi's white wine grapes.
Each year about a dozen wineries, based both inside and outside of Lodi, produced red wines and rosés from Cinsaut grapes grown in Lodi's oldest vineyard, Bechthold Vineyard (planted 1886). Not all of these wines are native yeast fermented (which tends to result in more spice and mineral aromatic components), but across the board, virtually all the Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault's see neutral barrel aging — a miracle by today's winemaking standards (it is impossible to get winemakers to agree on anything, especially their love of brand new oak barrels).
We often discover the terroir-driven qualities in Lodi-grown wines in our own blind tastings. Six years ago, for example, we tasted 16 of the finest Grenache-based reds crafted in California, including two from Lodi (see Lodi Grenache rated among the finest in California). We did not suspect that the two Lodi wines would exhibit the most pronounced peppery spiced profile among all the other wines, grown in regions as far-flung as Mendocino, the Sierra Foothills, Santa Clara, and Santa Barbara. The Lodi-grown Grenaches were also among the softer tannin examples of the varietal — qualities that are a little more predictable, given Lodi's Mediterranean climate — but their distinctive, complex aromas (since confirmed in numerous other tastings) surprised even us!
We invite you to explore any of the following wines, in all their variety, and make your own judgment as to how far along Lodi has come along as a source of distinctive vineyard terroirs.
Albariño Bokisch Vineyards, Las Cerezas Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Bokisch Vineyards, Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi
Alicante Bouschet St. Amant Winery, Mohr-Fry Ranch St. Jorge Winery, Vierra Estate
Bacchus Uncharted (by Holman Cellars), Mokelumne Glen Vineyard
Barbera LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, Macotera 09 Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi PRIE Winery & Vineyards, C. Lewis Vineyard St. Amant Winery, Leventini Vineyard
Blaufränkisch Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars, Mokelumne Glen Vineyard Trail Marker Wine Co., Mokelumne Glen Vineyard
Cabernet Sauvignon LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyard, Railroad Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, Thirty-Eight Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi Peltier Winery & Vineyards, Schatz Farms Family Reserve, Clements Hills-Lodi
Carignan Alquimista Cellars, Jessie's Grove Vineyard Leaf and Vine Winery, Mule Plane Vineyard Precedent Wine, Mule Plane Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Precedent Wine, Spenker Ranch, Mokelumne River-Lodi PRIE Winery & Vineyards, 1900, Spenker Ranch Tizona (by Bokisch Vineyards), Mule Plane Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Uncharted (by Holman Cellars), Mule Plane Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi
Chardonnay Harney Lane Winery, Home Vineyard Harney Lane Winery, Scottsdale Vineyard
Chenin Blanc Harmeyer Wine Cellars, Cresci, Palmero Family Vineyard, Borden Ranch-Lodi Paskett Vineyards & Winery, Hoffman Vineyard Sandlands Wines, Kirschenmann Vineyard Six Hands Winery, Palmero Family Vineyard
Cinsaut Alquimista Cellars, Bechthold Vineyard Estate Crush, Bechthold Vineyard Fields Family Wines, Bechthold Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Jessie's Grove, Bechthold Vineyard Marchelle Wines, Bechthold Vineyard Michael David Winery, Bechthold Vineyard McCay Cellars, Bechthold Vineyard Onesta Wines, Bechthold Vineyard Turley Wine Cellars, Bechthold Vineyard Two Shepherds, Bechthold Vineyard
Dornfelder Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars, Mokelumne Glen Vineyard Uncharted (by Holman Cellars), Mokelumne Glen Vineyard
Graciano Bokisch Vineyards, Las Cerezas Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Bokisch Vineyards, Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi
Grenache Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha, Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi Jeff Runquist Wines, Silvaspoons Vineyard McCay Cellars, Abba Vineyard
Grenache Blanc Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca, Vista Luna Vineyard, Borden Ranch-Lodi Onesta Wines, Clay Station Vineyard Uncharted (by Holman Cellars), Clay Station Vineyard, Borden Ranch-Lodi
Kerner Sidebar (by David Ramey Wine Cellars), Mokelumne Glen Vineyards
Malbec Tizona (by Bokisch Vineyards), Linden Ridge Vineyard
Marzemino PRIE Winery & Vineyards, Hux Vineyard
Mencía PRIE Winery & Vineyards, Silvaspoons Vineyard Ursa Vineyards, Silvaspoons Vineyards
Montepulciano LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, River Ranch Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi Watts Winery, Los Robles Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi
Mourvèdre Bokisch Vineyards Monastrell, Sheldon Hills Vineyard, Sloughhouse-Lodi
Nero d'Avola LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, Redtail Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi Petit Verdot PRIE Winery & Vineyards, Hux Vineyard Tizona (by Bokisch Vineyards), Patriot Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi
Petite Sirah LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards, One Hundred Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi Mountain Tides Wine Co., Palmero Family Vineyard, Borden Ranch-Lodi Mountain Tides Wine Co., Viñedos Aurora Vineyards, Clements Hills-Lodi St. Amant Winery, Mohr-Fry Ranch
Picpoul Blanc Bokisch Vineyards, Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi PRIE Winery & Vineyards, Bokisch Vineyards Uncharted (by Holman Cellars), Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi
Pinotage Loma Prieta Winery, Amorosa Vineyard Loma Prieta Winery, Karma Vineyard
Sangiovese Avivo (by DeVero Farms & Winery), River's Edge Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi
Sauvignon Blanc LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, Jahant Woods 01 Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi
Syrah Fields Family Wines, Fields Family Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi McCay Cellars, Abba Vineyard
Tannat Jeff Runquist Wines, Silvaspoons Vineyard
Tempranillo Bokisch Vineyards, Las Cerezas Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Bokisch Vineyards, Liberty Oaks Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi Fields Family Wines, Lot 13 Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi m2 Wines, Kirschenmann Vineyard McCay Cellars, Lot 13 Vineyard
Teroldego LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, Jahant Woods 02 Vineyard Peltier Winery & Vineyards, Schatz Family Reserve
Touriga Jeff Runquist Wines, Touriga, Silvaspoons Vineyard St. Jorge Winery, Touriga Nacional, Vierra Estate
Verdejo Bokisch Vineyards, Clay Station Vineyard, Borden Ranch-Lodi Uncharted (by Holman Cellars), Clay Station Vineyard, Borden Ranch-Lodi
Vermentino Avivo (by DeVero Farms & Winery), The Bench Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi PRIE Winery & Vineyards, Delu Vineyards
Verdelho Paskett Vineyards & Winery, Silvaspoons Vineyards
Viognier Onesta Wines, Bokisch Ranch
Zinfandel Alquimista Cellars, Jessie's Grove Vineyard Bedrock Wine Company, Kirschenmann Vineyard Fields Family Wines, Stampede Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi Harmeyer Wine Cellars, Stampede Vineyard Harney Lane Winery, Home Ranch Harney Lane Winery, Lizzy James Vineyard Harney Lane Winery, Scottsdale Vineyard Heritage Oak Winery, Bartlam Heritage Oak Winery, Block 5 Ironstone Vineyards, Rous Vineyard Reserve Jessie's Grove, Royal Tee Vineyard Jessie's Grove, Westwind Vineyard
Klinker Brick Winery, Marisa Vineyard
The Lucas Winery, ZinStar Vineyard
Lodi Native, Lot 13 Vineyard (by McCay Cellars)
Lodi Native, Marian's Vineyard (by St. Amant Winery)
Lodi Native, Soucie Vineyard (by m2 Wines)
Lodi Native, Wegat Vineyard (by Maley Bros.)
m2 Wines, Soucie Vineyard
m2 Wines, Select Block, Soucie Vineyard
Macchia Wines, Generous (Mohr-Fry Vineyard)
Macchia Wines, Luxurious (Rous Vineyard)
Macchia Wines, Voluptuous (Maley Vineyard)
Maître de Chai, Stampede Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi
Marchelle Wines, Jessie's Grove Vineyard
McCay Cellars, Bonnotto Vineyard
McCay Cellars, Faith, Lot 13 Vineyard
McCay Cellars, Jupiter
McCay Cellars, Rous Vineyard
McCay Cellars, TruLux Vineyard
Michael Klouda Wines, Hatterle Vineyard
Michael Klouda Wines, 1902
Oak Farm Vineyards, Hohenrieder Vineyard
Oak Farm Vineyards. Mohr-Fry Ranches
Precedent Wine, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi
PRIE Winery, Soucie Vineyard Sandlands Wines (Kirschenmann Vineyard) St. Amant Winery, Marian's Vineyard St. Amant Winery, Mohr-Fry Vineyard Tizona (by Bokisch Vineyards), Süss Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi Turley Wine Cellars, Dogtown Vineyard Turley Wine Cellars, Kirschenmann Vineyard Turley Wine Cellars, Steacy Ranch Twisted Roots Winery, 1918
Zweigelt Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars, Mokelumne Glen Vineyards Trail Marker Wine Co., Mokelumne Glen Vineyard
Rosé Bokisch Vineyards, Terra Alta Vineyard Rosado, Clements Hills-Lodi (Garnacha with Tempranillo and/or Graciano) Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars, Rosé of Dornfelder, Mokelumne Glen Vineyard LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, Aglianico Rosé, River Ranch Vineyard, Jahant-Lodi Michael David Winery, Cinsaut Rosé, Bechthold Vineyard Onesta Wines, Rosé of Cinsaut, Bechthold Vineyard Ursa Vineyards, Tannat Rosé, Silvaspoons Vineyards
Randy Caparoso is a full-time wine journalist who lives in Lodi, California. Randy puts bread (and wine) on the table as the Editor-at-Large and Bottom Line columnist for The SOMM Journal, and currently blogs and does social media for Lodi Winegrape Commission’s lodiwine.com. He also contributes editorial to The Tasting Panel magazine and crafts authentic wine country experiences for sommeliers and media.