Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center offers in-depth winery information

While Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel capital of the world, over 85 boutique wineries offer a broad range of varieties, including 200-300 wines in the Lodi Wine & Visitor’s Center.

While I did not grow up in the San Joaquin Valley, I have lived close to its vineyards, crops, orchards and beneath the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for over 35 years. However, for the first time since I began sipping, then collecting wine, I visited Lodi Wine Country in mid November.

Sheepish. Or maybe a little red-faced. That’s how I felt when both Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (LoCA) and Snooth reached out to me during the past summer. I have to admit my knowledge of Lodi wines was pretty much  limited to a few boutique wineries and the historic, well-known wine houses like Sutter Home, Gallo, Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi.

But I could only name a couple of boutique wineries who had already made a name for themselves.

I’d hear of Lodi’s wine history, even after it was named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year Star Award by Wine Enthusiast; however, the lure of Paso Robles, Sonoma and Napa distracted me from exploring the rural landscape of farms and wineries, even those run by its 4th and 5th generation families.

With wine tasting trips to their big brothers to the West and wineries in France and Italy, I totally misjudged the growth and subsequent evolution of Lodi’s 85 plus boutique wineries and now established premium wine grape varieties.

Well, I’m not claiming ignorance now. Bring on LoCA and the wines of Lodi, California.

One visit to the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and chat with Stuart Spencer, Program Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, last week changed everything. I had to check out for myself why people from all over the world visit the Lodi wine region.

I spent a couple of hours chatting with Stuart Spencer, (right), Lodi Winegrape Commission, program manager, at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center in mid November.

From the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Lodi has seen its planted acreage change from a source of fruit for blends of “red” and “Chablis” to premium varietals. The 1940s-1960s produced sought-after Lodi dessert wines and a source of Zinfandel. The Lodi American Viticultural Area has transitioned to premium grape varietals and also has its own AVA since 1986 as well as adding seven smaller AVAs in 2005.

That same year the “Lodi Rules” certified sustainable wine growing program was formed, demonstrating leadership in sustainable agriculture, energy management, soil conservation, water quality and disease management and is a model for many other wine regions. Today over 20 wineries farm bearing “Lodi Rules” on the label.

Spencer attributed the growth of the wine region to the establishment of the Lodi Winegrape Commission in 1991. Today over 750 growers in the Lodi area belong to and tax themselves much like a milk board might. This forms the base source of money to support the organization. In fact, the Lodi Winegrape Commission just celebrated its 25th year! The primary goals of the Winegrape Commission are to educate the region’s winegrowers, conduct grape-growing research, and raise awareness of the quality of Lodi grapes and wines through innovative marketing and public relations campaigns.

“Many of the winegrowers and wineries wanted someone to tell their story,” Spencer said. “A lot of our guys wanted someone to share the Lodi story. They also created an extensive grower education, which became the sustainable viticultural program in 1992. This provides day-to-day promotional and educational opportunities to improve famers.”

The Lodi Appellation is about 100 miles directly east of San Francisco at the north end of the San Joaquin Valley. The Mediterranean climate allows Lodi winegrowers to craft a diverse set of full-flavored varietals.

I love it that so much leading research has been done to improve farming in Lodi. Deficit irrigation and management to mechanization, canopy management, rootstock and trellising, and a host of other innovations have given famers the tools to excel and craft world-class wines in vineyard specific sites.

“Our commission provides information in real time to help farmers,” Spencer said. “We then shared the research story along with our growers’ story. This research not only helps our famers improve but it also gets more buyers to the area, marketing Lodi grapes to the North Coast and the big players and buyers in the industry.”

Spencer went on to say that Lodi has created a real culture of sustainable wine growing program. From the growers to the winemakers to the consumers, Lodi on the label now brings prestige. The farmers are innovative, respond to consumer needs for diversity (they lead the state in alternative or experimental plantings) with over 75 varieties in commercial production and 25-30 experimental varieties.

But I guess what impressed me the most about my visit was listening to Spencer talk about the collaboration of winegrowers who have struck a balance between creating wine of place, tradition, independence, balancing modern science with traditional methods and support of each other. They place a high value on Lodi as a region–a destination–a favored place; they value its history, heritage and pioneering spirit. Most growers are working together, in many cases as fourth and fifth generation winegrowers, to provide leadership in education and research for those in their AVA and beyond.

As I walked around the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and tasting room, I marveled at over 200 different selections of Lodi’s wines beautifully displayed from over 60 wineries. While it opened in 2000 with far fewer selections, Spencer said today there are between 200-300 selections are available over the course of the year, depending on the calendar and recent releases.

For those who still have doubts, the Lodi Wine & Visitors Centers now has over 700 wine club members, further solidifying its status. Four times a year, 3-4 local Lodi wines are sent to members for about $80.  I for one, will be looking to find my favorites amongst the wineries represented.

And as Claudia Angelillo wrote in her Oct. 13, 2016, article, “Lodi is changing the way we think about wine,” I too have become convinced Lodi wines need and will be a part of my wine cellar and table wine pairing.

Take the time to return and/or bookmark TalesoftheCork for future posts on Lodi area wineries on my subsequent visits to the AVA. While my time was short on this day, I plan on returning to visit and taste some of Lodi’s favored wines.

Pencil in Lodi Wine’s next event on your calendar as they gear up for spring. The 20th annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend is slated for Feb. 11-12, 2017. Over 50 wineries will provides tastes and a chocolate snack for visitors. Tickets are $55 advance and $65 after Feb. 10. They will go on sale the first week of December 2016.

The Lodi Wine & Visitors Center is conveniently located just two miles from Highway 99 on 2545 Turner Rd., Lodi, CA 95242. LoCA is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. They can be reached at 209.365.0621 or via their website: lodiwine.com. They are also on social media as well.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Five Thanksgiving sparkling wines.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Branding Le P’tit Paysan as a fresh, friendly Rosé

TalesoftheCork Wine Reviews

Ian Brand continues to produce top shelf wines in Monterey, San Benito Counties

While a personal family crisis has shuttered much of my creativity this summer, it did not prevent me from seeking out and purchasing great Rosé bottles to drink poolside or enjoy with summer, backyard cuisine.

Today’s weekend wine choice for a hot August day was suggested by Fresno’s Stan Kato of The Grape Tray. In fact, Tim Fish of Wine Spectator mentioned the bottle in his July 22, 2013, 17 Pinks from California, article.

Ian Brand moved and is raising his young family in Monterey County to work its challenging vineyards, including the Spur Ranch Vineyard in San Benito County.
Ian Brand moved and is raising his young family in Monterey County to work the challenging vineyards, including the Spur Ranch Vineyard in San Benito County.

I’ll often shop at The Grape Tray because Stan takes the time to learn the taste preferences of both his Internet and local regulars and will alert me to bottles that may be of interest. So this week, instead of just picking up an old standby French Rosé to enjoy while I soaked in the pool, I purchased a bottle of Le P’Tit Paysan. Stan said why purchase another French when a California pink would “knock my socks off.”

And he was right. But I would add, “Ian Brand knocked my socks off.”

Normally, the epicenter of a good Rosé is found in the South of France; however, increasingly quality pink wines are found coming from growers and vintners of central California. Personally, I love the smell and taste of watermelon and strawberry and historically wines with a higher percentage of Grenache, Syrah or Mourvedre produce some of the best dry Rosés.

According to Jeanne Howard of MC Weekly, Ian Brand is the winemaker and driving force behind seven boutique wineries in Monterey County and consults with four other labels. Yet it is his Le P’Tit Paysan Mourvèdre San Benito County Rosé Pierre’s Pirouette 2012 that got me pouring today.

California’s 2012 vintage continues to create a buzz and Brand’s dry French-style Rosé is one of the best I have tasted this season in a state that has produced a plethora of outstanding examples. And winemakers are creating some outstanding pinks with Cinsault, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir.

In fact, I find myself scouring wine shelves looking for that perfect balance between fresh fruit aromas and a dry, crisp, light, refreshing taste. I also want to keep most of my Rosé purchases around $20 or less.

The 2012 Le P’Tit Paysan Mourvèdre had hints of rhubarb, blood orange but the dry Rosé shone its salmon hue and minerality much like its French counterparts.
The 2012 Le P’Tit Paysan Mourvèdre had hints of rhubarb, blood orange but the dry Rosé shone its salmon hue and minerality much like its French counterparts.

Tim Fish agreed with Stan when he wrote of Brand’s San Benito County gem: “Who needs French Rosé when California can make them this good?” I agree with Fish when he wrote Brand’s Le P’tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette is a “winning blend of Mourvèdre and Grenache that tastes like a pink from the Southern Rhône.”

Wine Enthusiast named Brand a rising star among winemakers in the April 2013 issue. To me his Rosé is a star which tops a great year of pink wine in 2012.

In my glass, the 2012 Le P’Tit Paysan Mourvèdre Rosé showed a beautiful salmon hue that complimented the subdued strawberry and apricot aromas. I grew up in the Northwest and enjoyed a hint of rhubarb before the dry taste of watermelon took over. Finally, the finish lingered with blood orange. I appreciated how Brand kept the flavors in check, including a noticeable but lovely minerality. The wine is balanced, full and ends with a soft spice. I drank a full pour (maybe two) while sitting in the steps of the pool. Later, I finished the bottle with a plate of charcuterie. While his Rosés may improve with another year in the bottle, Brand’s Le P’Tit Paysan wine can be enjoyed immediately.

Brand believes his Rosé’s success comes because his vines have difficulty growing in the Spur Ranch Vineyard over the limestone seabed, white rocks and fossil shells. The struggle creates thicker skins and stronger flavors. The scraggly vineyard is not only tough grow in but to work with as well.

Ian Brand moved to Monterey County and works in San Benito County on purpose, seeking out untapped potential in the rocky, limestone, old seabeds and shale soils.
Ian Brand moved to Monterey County and works in San Benito County. He is seeking out untapped potential in the rocky, limestone, old seabeds and shale soils.

“I moved to Montery County and work in San Benito County on purpose,” Brand said. “I love working there, seeking out untapped potential in the rocky, limestone, old seabeds and shale soils. I believe the climate and soil is perfect for the vine’s growth on the south-facing Chalone Peak to ultimately produce my style of Rosé.”

The San Francisco Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonné says 2013 may finally have brought a perfect storm of rosé and it is the hottest thing in wine now. He calls rose a “serious enough wine to be crafted with care, made from grapes dedicated to that purpose.” I am excited to say that Brand’s 2012 Le P’Tit Paysan Mourvèdre Rosé made Bonné’s list of wines that won’t disappoint. Check out
Think pink – a bumper crop of rosé this year for more information.

For those who act quickly, you still might be able to purchase a few bottles of this Rosé gem. Only 85 cases were produced and are selling for around $19.

The 2012 Le P’Tit Paysan Mourvèdre Rosé can be purchased in select small wine shops. Two local spots are The Grape Tray and Nick’s Wine Corner. Both can take orders over the phone and/or through their websites.

Be sure to check out Brand’s posts on the Le P’tit Paysan Facebook for more information.

If this wine does not seem to fit your fancy, Wine Folly’s Madeline Puckette will help you get in the know why and what kind of Rosé is right for you.

For more information on Le P’Tit Paysan visit the website or call Ian Brand at the winery: 831.212.3660 or through email: info@LPPwines.com. He is also on Twitter: @ptit_paysan.

For those who missed my latest posts, check out Calistoga: Brannan’s Grill for lunch or Tuscan tasting: Castello di Amorosa 2012 Rosato.

Be sure to return check out my Twitter @TalesoftheCork and on my Instagram (talesofthecork) daily postings. I also would covet those who would suggest a wine, restaurant, chef or hotel to visit. Feel free to contact me through social media or via email at talesofthecork@gmail.com.