Changing Lodi Zin culture: Klinker Brick Winery

Fifth generation farmers Steve and Lori Felton grow brand

Fifth generation grape growers, Steve and Lori Felton, opened Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi, Calif. in 2000.

A Zinfandel stronghold and track record of over 150 years, Lodi, California, has long attracted lovers of Old Vine Zins. Since the early 1900s though today, generations of families have farmed and produced over 40% of California’s premium Zinfandel and the region has long been branded that way.

Steve and Lori Felton, fifth generation Lodi grape growers, continue this family farming tradition and now exclusively farm, grow and produce wine on land their ancestors planted. And while they worked in the industry for years producing Zinfandel for other wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties on 16 individual vineyard blocks of Old Vine Zinfandel, today they produce premium Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel under their Klinker Brick Winery label.

However, Klinker Brick Winery, founded by the Feltons in 2000, continues to change the way wine enthusiasts view the Lodi wine region.

From their first vintage of Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel in 2000  and their first vintage of Farrah Syrah in 2001, the Feltons and Klinker Brick have set out to produce world-class wines that move far beyond the Lodi growers who singlehandedly kept the American wine industry alive during Prohibition, sending out thousands of railcars each harvest full of Zin, Tokay and Alicante Bouschet.

Old Ghost represents the best Zinfandel harvested each year at Klinker Brick Winery. This is lush excellence, perfect with prime porterhouse, grilled lamb or beef stews.

With a passion for producing exceptional wine and the vision and passion of winemaker Joseph Smith, Klinker Brick views themselves as stewards of the land and their ancient vines. They have also expanded and are creating award-winning Syrah, Petite Sirah and dry Rose among other wines. In addition to their own property, they manage a number of vineyards in the region with the goal of producing award-winning fruit.

Smith joined Klinker Brick in 2008 after starting his career in the nineties as an apprentice with Gnekow Family Wines. In fact, Smith actually made his first bottle with Felton as a consultant in 2000. Smith says his and the Felton family’s love for many varieties helped fuel their passion and they seemed to gel. The Feltons were ready to expand from just the farming aspect of the business and took Smith on to build Klinker Brick Winery as a label.

“While we are known as Zinfandel producers and branded as a Zinfandel region, we are wine drinkers and wine producers,” Smith said. “We like Zinfandel but we also like Rose, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Albariño and many others. I like all these wines and it depends on the occasion and where I am at as to what I want to drink.

“Kicker Brick has been very successful in creating world-class Zinfandels but I (we) wanted more,” Smith continued. “Five years ago, I knew I made a great white wine and Rose, and even though we started little by little, people have applauded our efforts. The wines have done very well in the tasting room. While this makes good business sense, it has been the love of our product that has grown the Klinker Brick brand.”

Klinker Brick concentrated on wine distribution first and then built up their tasting room. While they distributed a core three wines nationally, they used tried and true Lodi varieties  that had been forgotten by some. Consider their Carignane vineyard is over 108 years old and their Old Vine Zinfandel is harvested from an 90-year-old vineyard.

Klinker Brick Winery owner Steve Felton (middle left) and Farrah Felton-Jolley (right) are now six generation grape growers in Lodi, California. Winemaker Joseph Smith (middle right) has led the winery’s production since 2008.

With the help of their daughter, Farrah Felton-Jolley and her husband, Stefan, the family now moves to the six generation of grape growers. Farrah joined the winery in 2009 after graduating from the University of the Pacific with a degree in Business Administration. With a passion for grape growing, organic gardening, cooking and a love for wine, she travels and promotes the family winery and wine as VP of marketing & sales. Stefan is the most recent addition to the Klinker Brick Family, managing winery operations, compliance, website and information technology.

“We are making wine that we love and believe in,” Smith said. “We don’t short change ourselves or the consumer. When we decided to make a Rose, it had to captivate me–a Rose from start to finish. We grow our grapes for Rose with all Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignane). That’s our style of Rose. We are serious producers of a classic dry, crisp Rose.”

Wine Enthusiast gave Klinker Brick Rose blend 90 points and a “Best Buy” designation for their 2015 version. It is a dry blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignane.

The winery distributes their Bricks Rosé nationally, producing 4,500 cases. The blend has is crisp, light with citrus aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries, grapefruit and subtle watermelon.

However, the winemaker believes they still produce an award-winning Rose because they do not shortchange the vineyard. They grow the grapes, cultivate the vineyards and are managed from beginning to end.

“The process is quality driven,” Klinker Brick owner Steve Felton says. This starts in the vineyard. We’ve got to have the highest quality right there. And that’s the tough part of growing grapes–maintaining the quality. Fortunately for us, not only are we a winery but we are also growers and we’ve been doing that for six generations. I guess you could say, we have a handle on growing grapes.”

Over the years, Steve has been growing grapes for some of the best producers in the State, so that keeps them in close to the heart beat of the land and the expectation high quality demands.

“We always over deliver wines for the price and that starts in the vineyard,” Felton said. “And of course our winemaking staff is outstanding. Joe is very hands on. He still makes sure he is there each step of the way.”

With a large winemaking staff, Smith’s challenge is to keep quality high despite a high case count with so many different varietals. And he definitely is the one behind what’s in the bottle.

“While I am in charge, and then collectively, nothing goes in the glass without the round table,” Smith said. “I am the guy in the cellar making the protocols. I haven’t changed how I make these wines from day one. I am physically in the winery and in the vineyard, making sure the wines are made the way we want it done.”

The 2013 Farrah Syrah has ripe plum, blackberry, anise, pepper, exotic spices and earthy notes. Serve it with grilled meats, spicy tacos or mushroom risotto.

Of course the Klinker Brick is still widely known as a top shelf Zinfandel producer. Their  Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel ($37) is created with standout fruit, sourced from the best Lodi vineyards. Taste the blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Pair with your prime porterhouse or grilled lamb.

The winery owns or manages 18 Zinfandel-vineyard blocks that range from 50-125 years old in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation of Lodi. Wines from this warm climate and sandy loam soil create yields from gnarly, old vines with intense color and flavor. This region produces exceptional Zinfandel and Syrah.

Klinker Brick has access to Syrah vineyards over 125 years old in the same Mokelumne River region. Their award-winning Farrah Syrah and Farrah Syrah Grand Reserve are rich, vibrant and full of black fruit and spice flavors.  These are first class wines created for foodies and hearty wine drinkers. Both have amazing structure and balance with long, lingering finishes.

The 2013 Farrah Syrah exhibits aromas of ripe plum, cacao, and smoky oak with subtle earthy floral notes. The palate is greeted with bright and vibrant flavors of blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Supple tannins and superb balance lend structure to this full-bodied Syrah with a long, lingering finish. Enjoy with grilled meats, spicy tacos and Mexican dishes or mushroom risotto ($20).

The Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel paired so well with the rich, herbed  earthy sauce of the beef stew.

Their Old Vine Zinfandel is their flagship and still their most popular wine. Wilfred Wong, gave the latest release 94 points. It is a blend from 16 different vineyards with an average of 85 years. Taste these beauties as the dark fruit, spice and tannins with just a hint of pepper and anise will tantalize you ($19). This is a go to Zin for burgers, BBQ, hearty pizza or by itself.

While the farming aspect has long been a part of the Felton family’s history, an expanded Klinker Brick Winery from its modest beginnings is now an internationally-distributed brand of world class wines. And as Wine Enthusiast named the Lodi region their 2015 winner, isn’t it time you booked your next wine tasting trip to Lodi, California? There are 88 wineries to explore but be sure to put Klinker Brick Winery on your list.

For more information on the wines of Lodi, California, read Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation and learn more about the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (LoCA).

Kinker Brick Winery is located at 15887 N. Alpine Road, Lodi, California 95240. They can be reached via phone: (209) 333-1845 or through email: Their wines can be ordered online or find a retail outlet via the Klinker Brick website.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Old Fig Wine Cellars: A Central Valley urban dream.” 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: or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

The Klinker Brick Carignane is easy to drink and fresh with black cherry and black tea aromas. I love hints of leather and earthy dried sage notes. caption
The Petite Sirah is rich and brooding with flavors of espresso, dark chocolate and blueberries that linger long on the palate.


J. Rickards Winery: Darn fine barn wine (VIDEO)

I spent three days in Sonoma County in July and, on a tip from David Scheidt, was privileged to meet Jim Rickards at his Alexander Valley tasting room in Cloverdale, CA. My premise for the trip was to taste first-rate California Rosés and J. Rickards Winery made the list.

The J. Rickards 2012 Bistro Table Rosé is perfect for the European palate, with fragrant rose petal, strawberry, watermelon in a crisp, dry finish.
The J. Rickards 2012 Bistro Table Rosé is perfect for the European palate, with fragrant rose petal, strawberry, watermelon in a crisp, dry finish.

With the summer in full swing, I wanted to begin with J. Rickards aperitif-style Rosé; it was dry and rosy-pink. Perfect for the European palate, the slightly fruity wine is a sure “patio pounder.” The 2012 Bistro Table Rosé opens with fragrant rose petal and strawberry on the nose with a burst of watermelon and crisp, dry finish. The complex taste lingers and is versatile with food or by itself at poolside. Try this blend of 60% Aleatico, 40% Syrah (100 cases, $20).

Just off of California Highway 101 north of Geyserville near Silver Oak Cellars in Sonoma County, the family-run operation of both wine grape farming and wine production is owned and operated by Jim and Eliza Rickards. They planted the vineyards starting in 1976, augmenting the original 1908 Old Vine Zinfandel block planted using horse technology.

When Jim left the military in 1969 with his military cut and large mustache, his dream was to work and own a winery.

“I wasn’t born into the wine business,” Jim said. I didn’t get it for nothing. I have worked my whole life for it.”

Hand-crafting small lot wines since 1991, Jim Rickards goal is to showcase the diverse soils and micro-climates of his vineyards. He has pioneered environmentally sensitive vineyard practices and been a proponent of sustainable farming techniques.
Hand-crafting small lot wines since 1991, Jim Rickards goal is to showcase the diverse soils and micro-climates of his vineyards. He has pioneered environmentally sensitive vineyard practices and been a proponent of sustainable farming techniques.

As their property had been in disuse and very little left from the original land owners, except the 105-year-old vines of Old Zinfandel planted by the Brignole family, the Rickards had years of development ahead of them.

In fact, the dream was so strong, they passionately recreated the early 20th century winery. He was told there was no water on the 60-acre ranch and that the best land use would be a rock quarry. Today, there are two wells and two large ponds providing water for all irrigation. Jim revived the original Zinfandel vineyard, adding new Zinfandel vines and later added Cabernet and Syrah, grafting much of their new stock. Born out of the encouragement of friends who have enjoyed the small lots of hand-crafted wine, the couple has been making wine since 1991.

As Jim began to share his passion for his wines, it became evident he was gifting me a personal history of his love for hand-crafted wines. His story includes pioneering environmentally sensitive vineyard practices and a long-time proponent of sustainable farming techniques. He spoke of losing 20 acres of vines in the late 80s-early 90s and replacing them with new disease resistant root stock. Jim’s tale includes nearly losing the farm to now growing 150 tons of grapes per year on his 45 acres.

J. Rickards Winery planned use of flowers, grasses, bird boxes and rainwater collection all add to the Jim's phrase whenever a visitor arrives at the tasting room: "Welcome to my house."
J. Rickards Winery planned use of flowers, grasses, bird boxes and rainwater collection all add to Jim’s phrase whenever a visitor arrives: “Welcome to my house.”

Land stewardship is extremely important to Jim. The planting and mulching of wild flowers and grasses and the planned introduction of environmentally friendly insects all help to create pesticides free vineyards for 20 years. He builds bird boxes which have attracted songbirds like the Western Bluebird and Tree Swallow. His use of manures and composts help add minerals and beneficial bacteria to the vineyards. From collecting rain water to the building materials his home and tasting room are made of, Jim has created a winery which is sustainable and suitable for the land he farms.

While J. Rickards is Jim and Eliza’s dream, they raised two daughters and a son who do not carry their parents’ passion into their adulthood. This Sonoma County winery remains under the zeal and spirited direction of Jim who almost always addresses his visitors with “Welcome to my house.” Jim’s warm, inviting personality soon wins over those who visit the tasting room to try some of his 15 varieties of wine. He truly has lived out the phrase, “Friends are the family you get to choose yourself,” welcoming folks from all over into his circle.

The Old Vine Zinfandel, Estate, planted in 1908 from the Brignole Vineyard, is flush with Blackberry and plum. The Ancestor Selections Zinfandel, Estate, is a prime example of the Alexander Valley with black cherry, raspberry and pepper.
The Old Vine Zinfandel, Estate, planted in 1908 from the Brignole Vineyard, is flush with Blackberry and plum. The Ancestor Selections Zinfandel, Estate, is a prime example of the Alexander Valley with black cherry, raspberry and pepper.

While I tasted through much of his wines, I do want to recommend visitors taste side by side the Ancestor Selections Zinfandel, Estate and the Old Vine Zinfandel, Estate. I loved the elegance of the 2009 Ancestor Zin. The ripe black cherry, raspberry and spicy pepper were balanced and smooth (658 cases, $24).

Yet I am old school. I preferred the rich, old-world full-bodied “field blend” of the 2010 Zinfandel, Old Vine. The boysenberry, plum and gingerbread were gorgeous. The mocha and juiciness lingered. Jim blended 80% Zinfandel, 10% Petit Syrah, 5% Carignane, 4% Mataro and 1% of Alicante Bouschet (515 cases, $25). This is a must-buy for those not yet familiar with J. Rickards.

I appreciated Jim sharing how he hand-crafts his wines while pioneering environmentally sensitive vineyard practices and sustainable farming techniques. Yet despite all the accolades his wines have earned, Jim is passionate, not pretentious, allowing the wine to speak for itself.

J. Rickards dry Bistro Table Rosé with smoked salmon salad. Wow! Great combo!
J. Rickards dry Bistro Table Rosé with smoked salmon salad. This is a full-bodied wine that is great for almost any patio meal.

Before this gets too long, I also want to recommend J. Rickards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Five Sisters Blend. It is fruit forward but made in the Bordeax-style. He smiles and calls it an $80 Cab in a $34 dress (322 cases).

Finally, the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Croft Vineyard is a Gold Medal winner at the 2013 North Coast Wine Challenge. I could smell and taste grapefruit, white peach, floral aromas, leading to fig and melon. This is great for summer lighter fare as well as richer foods like roasted chicken (1150 cases, $19).

With over 450 Sonoma County wineries, including J. Rickards, be sure to visit as there is sure to be wine to fit all tastes, pocketbook and pairing options.

For a short VIDEO introducing J. Rickards Winery and 2012 grapes, check out Wine Oh TV’s

Wine Oh TV’s Monique Soltani as she interviews Jim Rickards.

For more information on J. Rickards Winery, visit them online at or call: 707.758.3441. They can also be reached via email: or on Facebook at J. Rickards Winery is on 24505 Chianti Road, Cloverdale, CA, 95425.

If you missed my last post, check out the South African Mulderbosch Rosé delivers superb summer value.

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