Thursday, December 29, 2016

Rubio and Blanca

While I have nothing against wine being treated seriously, at the end of the day it can and should be a source of joy and at times, amusement. Enter Rubio and Blanco. Made by Renzo Masi (a family run company that has been making wine for three generations), whose mission is to produce wines with an excellent quality/price relationship. With Il Bastardo Sangiovese di Toscana and La Bastarda Pinot Grigio Terre di Siciliana both retailing for about $8, they seem to be backing up their aims.

Rubio and Blanca

Tasting Notes:
Il Bastardo Sangiovese di Toscana 2015: label inspired by sculptor Fernando Botero; 100% Sangiovese macerated on the skins in stainless steel for 10 days; cherry, blackberry and cranberry aromas, with the same showing as tastes on the palate; lighter mouthfeel with nice acidity leading into a slightly tannic finish; screw cap closure.
La Bastarda Pinot Grigio Terre di Siciliana 2015: fermented at cool temps in stainless steel; orchard fruit, honeysuckle, and citrus aromas; starfruit, subtle citrus and peach flavors; underlying saline and mineral aspects lead into a nice crisp, acidic finish; screw cap closure.
These are nice, well-priced wines that would work well as daily drinkers or at a party. While their lighter weight suggests them to be summer drinkers, the quality carries them through any time of the year.

*Wines provided for editorial purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Wines

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Wines

Casillero del Diablo has one of our favorite go-to wines. The wines got their name when Don Melchor de Concha y Toro wanted to scare off those who might try to steal his wines - he started a rumor that a devil protected his cellar and a legend was born. The Reserva line is their collection of Premium wines, spanning 12 varieties made with grapes selected from Chile's best wine valleys.

Tasting Notes:

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Wines

Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2015: Central Valley grapes; aged in American oak barrels; tart berry, dark red cherry, and cocoa aromas; dark cherry, cassis, and earthy flavors; cork closure.

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Wines

Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016: grapes from Casablanca, Rapel (coastal) and Limari valleys; fermented in stainless steel; white grapefruit and floral aromas; lime, guava, and white peach flavors; great acid, beautiful balance; twist-off closure.

*Wines provided for editorial purposes - all opinions are mine.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Review - Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail

Book Review - Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail

Interestingly enough, I hadn't read Sideways, Rex Pickett's novel of wine lust, though I heartily enjoyed the movie. When I was offered a chance to review the sequel, Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail, I realized it would make sense to read the first book as well. So I did.

If you've read the book, you know the movie Sideways stays pretty true to the novel, though I must admit that I could not imagine casting Thomas Haden Church in the role he simply owned, as he is not the big bear of a man that Jack is in the book. In any case, both the book and movie are enjoyable on many levels and are well worth searching out if you haven't come across them before.

Vertical, the sequel, has much of the same manic energy and humor, but it plumbs depths that were only hinted at in the first book. While the group (spoiler alert: this time it's a group traveling) enjoys the expected hijinks of a trip through a wine wonderland, this time the stakes are a lot higher due to Miles being famous for Sideways. Pickett makes me want to be a famous wine author, with oodles of outstanding wine being poured left and right for my gustatory pleasure. Loads of fun.

But...there's a darker side to this novel, a slow reveal of the deep-seated problems the characters experience over the course of their road trip. This melancholy both takes away from the book's goofy hedonistic side as well as adds a much more complex level that didn't exist in Sideways. You'll have to read the book to decide whether or not the two halves merge. For me it was almost too dark in that it overshadowed the lightness of the less serious, but I'm still on the fence whether that's good or bad.

Overall, Vertical is a more thoughtful novel than Sideways. My suggestion is to get both books and read them one after another, as I did - the comparison and contrast will be more evident and you can decide for yourself whether my review hits home or not. The books would also make a great gift any time of the year.

In any case, head over to Loose Gravel Press to buy the book and read more reviews.

*This book was provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Elkhart, Indiana Road Trip

My son and I like to pick a destination and then build a weekend around it. Thus was the case that we found ourselves in Elkhart, Indiana, visiting the RV Museum and Hall of Fame and camping at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Elkhart, Indiana Road Trip

On the way to the museum, we stopped for lunch at Flippin' Cow, a bar and grill overlooking Simonton Lake - since they specialized in burgers, we figured we couldn't go wrong. Great location overlooking the lake, as we got to watch people cruise up in their pontoon boats, tie up, and come in for their lunch. Plenty of TVs as well, though we were happier watching the outside entertainment. The food is good, a step up from your average Midwest bar and grill, which made it even better that we had found it. While it definitely feels like a bar, the attached dining area (which also has outdoor seating) is just fine for kids.
Flippin Cow Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


If you're having lunch or even if you're willing to drive a little ways North, make your way to State Line Road, which literally has states on both sides of the road (hence the name). It was fun to drive along and see the Michigan license plates on the cars to  our left, with Indiana plates to our right. Simple pleasures, right?

Elkhart, Indiana Road Trip

On to the RV Museum and Hall of Fame, which, if you're a fan of that sort of camping, is a must-see. A lot of RVs now look very similar to each other, but that was hardly the case in the past. Some amazing old travel trailers, RVs, and travel fans are in the museum, and some of the one-offs are truly incredible. Definitely worth a few hours of time.

Elkhart, Indiana Road Trip

We love to camp on our road trips, and in this case, we got a spot at the nearly empty Dunewood Campground, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore campground run by the National Parks. Unlike the campground near Lake Michigan run by the state parks, this one is more rudimentary: no reservations, no electricity, and about a mile from the lake shore. Read my full review over at Midwest Basecamp.

Elkhart, Indiana Road Trip

For breakfast, good simple diner food is always our favorite, though it's not as easy to find anymore as it once was. We were really excited to find the Northside Diner in Chesterton - on the tracks (trains!) and sporting a retro design, this is a throwback to the diners that every small town had. And, unlike some restaurants, here the plates are overflowing with breakfast goodness, from yummy bacon to the crispy chicken fried steak. Definitely a great way to start a weekend day.
Northside Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

Opened in 2005, Wide River Winery is located a bit out of the way, along some winding roads, and is well worth a visit, both for the wines as well as its outstanding location. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mississippi River, this facility includes the winery, a tasting room, the owners' home, the vineyards, and a chicken coop, if we saw all of it. If not, more to explore next time.

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

The first building you get to is both the winery and the wine tasting room. While partially hidden, it's kind of cool to know that the wines you are quaffing have been made just behind the wall (grapes are grown onsite, and sourced from grapes from Iowa, Illinois, southern Michigan and Missouri). The wines have unique names, influenced by the owners' law background. When I visited, there was a cost to taste that included 5 tastes along with a souvenir glass to take home. Outside the winery/tasting room, extensive decks are a great place to drink more wine or enjoy a picnic. 

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

With the great views, take the opportunity to stroll around the property, taking time in the vineyards and also along the bluff trail. There are picnic tables at the end of the bluff trail, so there is even more opportunity to drink and eat in the great outdoors.

At this time the winery is open daily - additional tasting opportunities are at their tasting rooms in Le Claire and East Davenport.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire Riverfront - Davenport Hotel Review

This past weekend, to celebrate Veteran's Day, we took an overnight road trip to Eastern Iowa. We visited the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum, Buffalo Bill Cody's Homestead, the Buffalo Bill Museum, and ended our trip by visiting my first Iowa winery, Wide River Winery. It was an excellent trip and we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Le Claire Riverfront - Davenport.

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire  - Davenport Hotel Review

The Staff were uniformly friendly and helpful and we checked in and out with no issues. My six year old always has a lot of questions, and the Staff were patient and happy to help him each time.

Our room was a double queen with a balcony overlooking the parking lot and, further back the Mississippi River. The room looked and felt clean, there was a variety of pillows to choose from, and in general, felt like it was taken care of. The bathroom was a shower only, so if you're a bath person, ask if any of their rooms have a tub.

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire  - Davenport Hotel Review

The location is a bit odd, as the hotel sits next to a boat yard and nowhere near the small town of Le Claire. Being on the banks of the Mississippi, however, makes up for a lot of that. Not advertised by the hotel too much, there are several restaurants within walking distance with deals for hotel guests. One thing I'd like to see is the hotel remove the river side parking lot and replace it with landscaping - that would dramatically improve the view.

This hotel has a good variety of amenities: pool with spa, fitness room, laundry, business desk with printer and views of the Mississippi from rooms on the river side, with some having a patio or balcony for outdoor appreciation.

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire  - Davenport Hotel Review

The free breakfast had a good selection, buffet style, including an automatic pancake maker, which I'd never seen before. There was a good balance of hot and cold food, though I'd like to see more fresh fruit if possible.

Negatives: Only one. Like many newer hotels, there is a lot of sound transference into the rooms both from other floors and the hallway. I always seem to end up in a room under a vaulting practice and this time was no difference - run, run, run, jump (stomp). Nothing the hotel can do about it, but definitely ask for the top floor if it's available.

In general, this is a relatively standard chain hotel, with above standard cleanliness and Staff. The views of the Mississippi River are great, marred only by the large parking lot that sits in front of the hotel. Close to the Interstate and not too far 

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Iowa Road Trip

This past weekend, 2 of my sons and I planned a quick trip to Eastern Iowa, just to get a toe into the state - we haven't really explored much, even though we've driven through many times. With the long weekend, we knew we could go for Friday night and decided to play Saturday night by ear. The general plan was to visit the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum, spend the night on the Mississippi, then visit an Iowa winery (my first!). On the way home we planned to stop in at Raven's Grin Inn, a haunted house in Mt Carroll, IL.

Iowa Road Trip

Our first stop was the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum, next door to The World's Largest Truck Stop (also an interesting place to visit, but straight commercial, really just a giant store and gas station). The Museum is free (donations accepted) and is housed in a large, hangar-like space, along with an entry area and store. The trucks are in various stages of repair - most are in pretty good shape, but some need lots of work (donations to help refurbish these old beauties are also accepted). Even if you're not a truck buff, I would think that this would be an interesting museum to walk through - there are some crazy and crazy beautiful designs on these old vehicles. Highly recommended.

Iowa Road Trip

The Quad City area museums have banded together to create a geocaching trail featuring some of the museums in the area (the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum is one of them). At each stop you can collect a wooden geocoin to commemorate your visit. After the museum, we headed towards the hotel, with a stop at the Buffalo Bill Cody Homestead along the way. While the house was closed for the season, we were interested in seeing the property and picking up our second museum geocoin as well. It's a beautiful property set in some amazing agricultural land of rolling hills. It would be nice to return to get a tour of the property one day.

Iowa Road Trip

For dinner, we opted for the Blue Iguana in Le Claire, where our hotel was, though there are actually quite a few selections in the area, surprisingly. The restaurant is housed in an old brick building, formerly the town hall, with indoor and outdoor seating (covered at the time we visited). Even though it might not be, the Blue Iguana has the feel of a chain restaurant, very slick and somewhat formal feeling. That being said, however, the food was really good and I liked how they distinguished between an "American" and "Mexican" style of presentation (my tacos had cilantro and onions rather than lettuce and tomatoes for example). Overall I thought it was pretty good for a smallish town.
Blue Iguana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Iowa Road Trip

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Le Claire Riverfront-Davenport, which sits right on the Mississippi River, offering up prime views both in the morning and evening. It's a full service hotel, with a pool, workout room, free breakfast and more - full review forthcoming.

Iowa Road Trip

The next morning, we headed over to the Buffalo Bill Museum, for a third museum trail geocoin and a major surprise in how good the museum was. Housing a full-size paddle-wheeler that you can actually climb in and around on, there are also rooms and rooms of historical memorabilia. My only complaint was that there was simply too much to take in during one visit, but it just means we'll need to come back. My 6 year old had fun with a treasure hunt, which had him looking high and low for objects - the only disappointment there was his prize was chosen from a drawer of junky toys; it would have been neat if they gave him a little trinket with the museum's name on it or something instead). There is also a small children's playroom if the kids get antsy, though I can't imagine that would happen here.

Iowa Road Trip

Up next was Antique Archaeology, one of the stores for the American Pickers folks from TV. What a disappointment - while there were a few interesting pieces for sale, the vast majority was souvenirs for the show or the shop. If you're in town and a fan it's worth a stop, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

At this point, my younger son was flagging, complaining of a head and ear ache. We decided to pack it in and head home, stopping at a pharmacy for some pain reliever and possibly snacks for the trip. After this stop, however, the 6 year old decided he wanted lunch, so we checked on Zomato (probably my fave food app) and found an interesting option.

Iowa Road Trip

Hillbilly Jack's BBQ sits across from the Archer Daniels Midland coal processing plant, which stretches for miles seemingly, so the views are not that enchanting, though the gold storage dome isn't so bad. The restaurant itself is all bright colors and country charm, though not cloyingly so. One glaring oversight (in my opinion) on their menu is a lack of rib tips, though there are plenty of other options as well. I opted for their BBQ burger, while my older son got the Brisket Sandwich, both of which we shared half and half. My mac 'n' cheese was okay, but nothing special in a Kraft kind of way, though the boys' fries were really good. The meat was pretty good, maybe a bit dry, but available sauces took care of that. One other thing I'd like to see is the restaurant adding some veggies to the menu. 
Hillbilly Jack's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Iowa Road Trip

With my son feeling better after lunch and medicine, our last stop was Wide River Winery, my first winery visit in Iowa! Beautifully sited on top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, this family winery was well worth a visit - full write up forthcoming.

At this point, we were getting tired, so home was the option. Next time we come back this way we'll visit the haunted house and also make time for a cruise on the Mississippi.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Breakfast was a bit more subdued that morning, as two solid days of driving Lodi Wine country started to take their toll. Not that any of us were complaining - the quality of the wine and, more importantly, the quality of the stories, was simply amazing. It's the history that we heard during our visit that will make Lodi a true wine destination, if they can figure out a way to express it to visitors.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

It's a bit incongruous to find oneself at the intersection of two small roads, drinking wine, immediately after breakfast. Yet that's where we found ourselves as we learned about the Victor Triangle vineyards on the east side of Mokelumne River AVA that morning. Yet, hearing Randy Caparoso (our indefatigable tour guide), explain the grapes, the soil the families behind even this small plot of land really brought it together, just as it had on every one of our stops. Drinking wine while standing in the vineyard it originated from was an experience we had several times a day, and it never got old.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

We didn't tarry long, but hopped in the van and headed for Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills AVA, to meet Bokisch Vineyards’ owner/grower Markus Bokisch and winemaker Elyse Perry. Markus is a polished speaker and, while a "newcomer" to Lodi, is clearly passionate about the region and has been instrumental in getting the recognition it deserves through the sub-AVA process. He and Elyse walked us through a tasting not only of what was in bottle, but also in barrel. I still marvel at the roughness of the wine and the optimism of the winemakers that, once in bottles, it will become a transcendent experience to drink.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Our next stop was Vista Luna Vineyard in Borden Ranch AVA, driving through environmental preserves that protected vernal pools, home of fairy shrimp. While little is known about the effect these shrimp have on our environment, it was a pleasure to drive through this beautiful area, knowing that it would be preserved for the foreseeable future. It's a also a great reflection on Lodi and its commitment to sustainability - many agriculturally rich areas are protected from any use, ensuring that the area's beauty will be enjoyed for many years to come. During our  Vista Luna Vineyard tasting with Markus Bokisch, he continued our education in Lodi wine and, more specifically, in the Iberian grapes of which he is a champion in the region. Lodi has such a wide range of microclimates that growing a specific type of grapes is often just a matter of finding a suitable location. This has resulted in wines being made from over 100 varietals, a true boon to wine drinkers everywhere.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Lunch was at the Mettler Family Vineyards after a tasting of their entire lineup of wines, alongside some that are no longer available commercially. The generosity of the winemakers and growers (at this stop and at every stop we made) with their time, products, and stories was unexpected, yet much appreciated.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Our visit at Harney Lane Winery became work for some, as people took turns punching down grapes that were fermenting - it appears to be quite difficult work, yet must be done several times a day or more, depending on the plans of the winemaker. Harney Lane Winery, like Mettler before them, is a professional, well-developed tasting room, and it's great that a lot of these long-time resident families are starting to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

While palates and bodies were beginning to flag, all of us were excited to get to the 2016 Zinfandel barrel tasting with Macchia owner/winemaker Tim Holdener. Again, wines from the barrel are pretty rough, but Tim walked us through several options and it was interesting to see how different each vineyard was from the next. Since several of these were possibilities for the Lodi Native project, native yeasts and hands-off winemaking clearly revealed each wine's terroir, as good an argument for that concept as I've ever tasted. Once done in the barrel room, we headed back out to what is basically an upscale man-cave/tasting room for a multi-winery Lodi Barbera tasting (you can read Randy's write-up of this on the Lodi Wine blog). It was interesting to hear from the winemakers and taste their wines, especially when Tim brought out (from his personal cellar) an older bottling that, while past its prime, clearly held an allure for those in attendance who fancied older wines.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

We then had a little time to relax before it was time for a Virtual Tasting at Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (there is a write-up by Claudia Angelillo on Snooth). I really enjoy these tastings, but have always found them a bit static. After meeting some of the characters in the Lodi Wine world, I think maybe putting together a group of the winemakers and winegrowers on a couple of couches with plenty of wine might be the best way to go.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

As hard as it was to believe, after the virtual tasting it was time to head out for our farewell dinner. This was held at the Ledbetter family’s residence
, who opened their home to us and lavished us with an amazing dinner and plenty of outstanding wines to go with it. As evidenced time and time again, these winegrowers (and so many others) were the partners, friends, and often families of the winemakers - the fact that, in Lodi wine, there is this communal effort for all to succeed is something I hope they always hang on to.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

And that was it. The next morning we got up, breakfasted together, bought wine at the Lodi Wine shop, and then headed our separate ways at the airport. Our immersion in Lodi wine was complete. The stories we heard, the wines we tasted, the vineyards we visited - all are now part of each sip of Lodi wine we'll drink in the future. 

If you haven't tasted Lodi wines, you must. If you haven't visited the region, make plans to do so. Lodi has become so much more than a region that produces great grapes to be made into spectacular wines in other areas. Its infrastructure is growing and the locals will welcome you with open arms.

(*This media trip was provided courtesy of Snooth and Lodi Wine - all opinions expressed are my own.)

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 2

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 2

The morning started with coffee and pastry at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center, as we field up for our hardest task to date - a Petite Sirah harvest with Phillips Farms’ Kevin Phillips
. We made our way to the Jahant AVA, where Kevin described his family's work, gave us a brief demonstration of how to pick grapes, and set us off. After viewing the feverish pace of the actual grape pickers, I can only describe the writers' attempts as deliberate. Grape picking, while meditative in its own way, is difficult. After a quick look, Kevin sent us back to the vines to clean up all the clusters that were missed, so nothing went to waste. Great experience, even though I probably spent more time taking photos than picking grapes. 

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 2

A brief stop before breakfast had us at the Bechthold Ancient Vine Cinsault Vineyard - what a treat to see these old gnarled vines. Old vineyards like these are in danger of being replaced, due to their low yields and sometimes unusual grapes, but Lodi will certainly be losing a piece of itself when that happens.  After tasting the Cinsaults in situ, it was time for breakfast and tasting of Earthquake, Inkblot and Rapture reds at Michael David Winery’s Bare Ranch with Michael David Winery co- owner/president David Phillips. What a beautiful location, with the old house and grounds spruced up and modernized, sitting in a vast sea of vines. New bucket list item for me is to spend a night or two there on a return trip.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 2

Up next was  Borra Vineyards’ Gill Creek Ranch in Clements Hills AVA, where we met up with Jon Bjork and winemaker Markus Niggli. The focus here is on lesser-known varieties, both red and white - this was a great opportunity for all of us to taste grapes we may not have had before and I urge you to support their efforts by buying Borra and/or Markus Wine Co wines.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 2

Driving around and drinking wine in the vineyards builds up one's appetite, so it was off to family-owned (of course) Teichert Ranch in the Sloughhouse AVA. At over 1,000 acres, this vineyard fills one's view and their integration of water features throughout the vineyard add a beautiful counterpoint to the rolling hills filled with grapevines. Stops at several locations to view the vines and soil, taste the wines made from those blocks culminated in a great tasting and lunch with Ironstone Vineyards’ Joan Kautz and Winemaker Steve Millier. If you are ever unsure about which wines to buy from Lodi (they are all good), you can't go wrong with Ironstone - great wines at even better prices make them sure to become favorites. Several of us even got to ride on a mechanical harvester, affording us a unique experience and a new perspective looking over the area from up higher. 

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 2

Our next stop at Abba Vineyard for a talk and then  tasting of Grenache and Syrah with owner/grower Phil Abba and McCay Cellars winemaker/owner Michael McCay introduced me to a whole new trellising system. While certainly many systems are unique in their own right, the Syrah grapes trained in what can only be described as looking like musical notes was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Drinking the wines that came from those vines only added to the experience.

The afternoons had been getting hot (close to 100 degrees), so an executive decision was made to reschedule our visit to the Victor Triangle vineyards in east side of Mokelumne River AVA for the next morning. After  a day of hard manual labor (haha) and tasting copious amounts of wine, it was nice to have some extra downtime before dinner.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 2

I can heartily recommend School Street Bistro
 in Lodi, especially if you are a fan of Southern food - everything we ate had that influence, though the product was all local. Once again we impressed the restaurant staff with the amount of wine we brought along and it was great fun to taste multiple wines with each course. Our waiter was a riot and added to the happy atmosphere. After taking one bite of everybody else's desserts (that is truly the best way to have dessert), I sat back, fully content, ready to rest and rock 'n' roll one more day.

(*This media trip was provided courtesy of Snooth and Lodi Wine - all opinions expressed are my own.)

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

Waking up at Wine and Roses wasn't difficult, and opening the curtains to the beautiful landscape was a great way to start the day.  Though it was still dark, I was raring to go, so I walked down the road to Lodi Lake Park and watched the sunrise there. Heading back, I found most of the other writers ready for breakfast at the Towne House Restaurant.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

Having eaten, it was time to meet our guide, Randy Caparoso, at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center and after introductions, we departed for Marian’s Vineyard at the Mohr-Fry Ranches. There we met up with winegrower Bruce Fry and winemaker Stuart Spencer, St.Amant Winery. After hearing the history of the vineyard, we broke out the wine glasses and had a taste of the wines made in that very vineyard. That set the tone for the whole trip: history, family stories, and drinking wines in the very fields where they had been birthed - it's a great way to be immersed in an area, but not easy to take notes. I decided to lose myself in the moments and not worry about facts, figures, or tasting notes, but rather enjoy the amazing experience I found myself part of.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

Up next was a walk in the Soucie Vineyard with winegrower Kevin Soucie, who is meticulous as a grower and it shows, even in the vines planted as far back as 1916. A fifth-generation farmer, Kevin explained how these own-rooted and head trained Zinfandel vines enjoyed the Devries sandy loam and benefited from the Delta's cooling breezes, resulting in Zinfandel wines that are lush and earthy. To drive home the point, winemaker Layne Montgomery of m2 Wines poured us glasses to taste.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

Not far away sits Wegat Vineyard, where we met winegrower Todd Maley, winemakers Chad Joseph, Layne Montgomery, and Tim Holdener. Planted in fine sandy loam by the Maley family in 1958, this 21-acre vineyard's head trained vines, field budded on St. George rootstock, produce a Zinfandel wine that is more dark fruit and round mouthfeel. Truly special to taste a variety of wines from this vineyard.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

It was time for lunch and paella awaited us at m2 Wines. After a quick tour of the tasting room and cellar, it was time to eat, along with an educational tasting of the Lodi Native Zinfandels. If you're not familiar with the Lodi Native project, it is a must-taste for any Zinfandel or terroir lover. In a nutshell, the Lodi Native Project focuses on specific old growth vineyards, with native yeast fermentation and minimal intervention by the participating winemakers. This process results in a glorious showcasing of what the vineyards are actually producing and emphatically demonstrates how much there is to Zinfandel's range. Side by side, it's sometimes surprising that each bottle is Zinfandel, though some commonality of course remains.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

One the most destination-worthy wineries in Lodi to visit is Oak Farm Vineyards. It appears that money was almost no object in creating a place that represents the future of Lodi as a wine travel objective. Beautiful cellars, an amazing tasting room and lush vineyards make this an enviable lifestyle that so many of us aspire to. Tasting in barrel and then the finished products shows how much faith the owners and winemaker have in the quality of the grapes. After many, many samples, it was both are to leave but also time, as the long day began to slow us down.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 1

To decompress, Snooth took us to dinner at Pietro’s Trattoria - rather than ordering from the menu, we asked the chef to just bring us a meal of their devising. Seeing the copious bottles we had along from the days' tastings, the staff eagerly brought us plate after plate of amazing food that complemented the wine in every way. Post-dinner, some planned to meet up for a drink at the hotel's bar, but for this tuckered wino, it was time to head to bed for much-needed rest.

(*This media trip was provided courtesy of Snooth and Lodi Wine - all opinions expressed are my own.)

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

This is NOT Your Father's Lodi

At the end of September, six wine writers were invited by Snooth and Lodi Wine on a Media Trip to visit the region and see it in person. I've been enjoying Lodi wines for quite some time, but this was my first visit to the area. To be honest, I thought of the area as less destination than a place that made some seriously good wine. It just didn't have an image I could visualize in my mind. Five days there have me certain that Lodi is about to take its rightful place as a wine destination that is on every one's lips.

This is NOT Your Father's Lodi

A generation ago, Lodi was a practically unknown agricultural area among wine people (if it was known at all), maybe as a place to get Zinfandel and Flame Tokay grapes. Wineries were not common, as wine cooperatives were more the norm. However, with the growing improvement in American winedrinkers' palates, Lodi began planting more popular varietals and began selling them to wineries across the state and the entire U.S. It's not all Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay though - for me, one of the great things about Lodi wine is the incredible diversity - over 100 diverse varietals from around the world are made into wines that will expand your wine horizons like no other region can.

This is NOT Your Father's Lodi
(Images courtesy of the Lodi Winegrape Commission)

Things began to change, albeit slowly, in the mid 80's, when Lodi was approved as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Consumers became aware that much of their favorite wines had roots in Lodi. Slowly, the area began its transition from grape producer to a wine destination. More wineries started vinifying the grapes and labeling them with the Lodi AVA. The ten or so existing wineries were somewhat alone, but not for long -- there are now over 85 wineries. And they are clearly doing something right - Lodi was named 2015 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

This is NOT Your Father's Lodi

Approximately 100,000 acres of premium grapes are spread across over 550,000 acres of land, and it soon became clear that the Lodi AVA was insufficient to give credit to the variety of soils and climates that existed across it. After research to show the distinct differences, the Lodi Appellation was further subdivided into 7 new sub-AVAs in 2006. The names of the sub-AVAs are Alta Mesa, Borden Ranch, Clements Hills, Cosumnes River, Jahant, Mokelumne River and Sloughhouse. We got to visit and taste wines in about half of the sub-AVAs, so there is a lot more to explore on a return trip.

This is NOT Your Father's Lodi

One thing that hasn't changed that much, however, are the deep roots that many families have in Lodi. 4 or 5 generations of a family farming the land is not uncommon, and intermarriage has meant that many of them are related in one way or another. While I'm sure there are squabbles, one of the things I've most enjoyed over the years (and now reinforced in person) is how friendly and supportive the growers and makers are of each other. It is often said that a rising tide lifts all boats, and the Lodi wine community certainly takes it to heart.

This is NOT Your Father's Lodi

I'm very grateful to Snooth and Lodi Wine for sponsoring this trip, it was truly a memorable experience. Watching the region grow and burnish its reputation is something that will be exciting and gratifying to see.

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