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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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