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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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