Changing Lodi Zin culture: Klinker Brick Winery

Fifth generation farmers Steve and Lori Felton grow brand

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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).

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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, Wine.com 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: info@klinkerbrickwinery.com. 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: talesofthecork@gmail.com or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

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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
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The Petite Sirah is rich and brooding with flavors of espresso, dark chocolate and blueberries that linger long on the palate.

 

Viticulture and Enology programs promote Fresno State research at Grape Day

My wife’s hospital co-worker asked me last week to chauffeur her son to daily chess and chef camps. Her 12-year old son needed something to pass the time, rather than sit home alone watching TV. At first I said no, but have since enjoyed learning about Fresno’s summer camps; this week, I am limo driver for the youngster’s canoe camp on the San Joaquin River.

The daily deliver and pick up routines last about 45 minutes, but the trip takes me by area vineyards both near the river and California State University, Fresno [FSU]. Ripening grape clusters along country roadways initially attracted my attention, so I took the time to stop and check on the status of the Thompson and Muscat vineyards.

Fresno State students grow many grape varietals and create award-winning bottles of Barbera, Petite Sirah, California Syrah, Chardonnay, Rosè and Pinot Gris.

As temperatures heat up in August, schools and universities are gearing up and the grape harvest is not far off. So it was no surprise to me the Fresno State Viticulture and Enology program is set to host Grape Day, Aug. 14.

According to their web site, “Grape Day is an informal field day and open house held at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State for grape growers, pest control advisers, winemakers, and winery personnel. The event is designed to showcase the latest grape and wine research conducted at Fresno State and to provide an educational forum on current issues affecting the grape and wine industry.”

Senior enology major Kerry Fitzgerald is planning to attend Grape Day by helping out one of his viticulture professors, Kaan Kurtural, as he talks about mechanical management (machine harvest, pruning). Fitzgerald is excited to attend his first Grape Day.

“This is going to be a very good experience,” Fitzgerald said. “Not only will I be able to listen to my professors, but FSU enology alumni will be on hand to share why the program helped them graduate into successful careers.

Fitzgerald has kept tabs on FSU alumni and winemaker Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena. The Fresno State graduate is often referred to the winemaker of Bottle Shock fame. Fitzgerald met Barrett at the Fresno State Winery in March 2012 at the Home of Tomorrow’s Winemakers event.

Besides meeting Barrett, Fitzgerald also has worked at The Grape Tray, a Fresno wine cellar and sandwich shop, where he has been encouraged by another FSU graduate selling his bottles via the retail market.

Winemaker and FSU alumni Bo Barrett, right, is senior Kerry Fitzgerald’s winemaker hero because of his involvement with the “Judgement of Paris.” The Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Barrett and his dad entered in a 1976 Paris blind tasting showed the world Napa had come of age.

“Alumni Dave Scheidt sells his wines at The Grape Tray as Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars. It is really cool to have a guy who graduated from Fresno State selling his stuff in the retail market,” Fitzgerald said. “Fresno State enology students are successful upon leaving the program and I am excited to listen to them share their stories at the event as well.”

Fitzgerald went on to say how Fresno State is the only student-operated commercial winery in California. The students complete their book work but then learn how to grow the grapes to using winemaking equipment from harvest to bottling. They not only read about sorting, using the wine press, punching down, checking the sugars and racking the wine, but they can sell it via the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market.

“I love being a Fresno State enology student because this is as close to real world experience as it gets and I’m still in school,” Fitzgerald said. “I can be in class one hour then spend hours in the vineyards or winery learning hands-on. You cannot get that anywhere else. We are student farmers becoming winemakers. We research and test as much or more than anyone else and we produce and sell our product. People should come to Grape Day to check us out and find out for yourself.”

Grape Day is a half-day event held every other year at the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology on Fresno State campus. There will be practical field and indoor presentation with viticulture and enology professors sharing the latest grape and wine research.

Fresno State is one of five campuses in California which have notable winemaking programs: Napa Valley College, California Polytechnic State University, Sonoma State University and University of California, Davis.

In 1997, the California State University, Fresno, became the first university in the United States to have a winery fully licensed to produce, bottle and sell wine.

Registration and exhibits open at 7:30 a.m. with the program running from 8 a.m. to noon in the shaded lawn west of the Viticulture building. A BBQ lunch is sponsored by American Vineyard Magazine and will be on the lawn near the Viticulture and Enology building, 2360 E. Barstow (between Cedar and Maple) on the north side of the street, surrounded by vineyards. To reserve a spot at Grape Day, visit the Viticulture and Enology web site. Tickets are $20 and $15 for current students. Be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.

Tours of the unique facilities, refreshments, and lunch are included in the registration fee. Parking is available in the yellow or green lots with a courtesy parking code. Check for the code at registration. Without a code, parking at FSU is $3 per day.

A spokesperson for the program was not available to comment on the event and suggested interested students or community members refer to the July 31 Fresno State News press release.

According to the Fresno State web site, one of the focuses of the event will be to “learn about the latest research into crop forcing, nematodes, grape-rot measurement and mechanization. A complete list of presentations are listed.

“Dr. Sanliang Gu, holder of the Ricchiuti Chair of Viticulture, will discuss “Crop Forcing – Yield and Cultural Practices” and his work on introducing degree-hours to better interpret heat accumulation and thermal distribution of regions and vintages for wine grape production.”

Dr. Sanliang Gu briefly discusses crop forcing in this short YouTube video previously posted.

For those interested in checking out the Enology program at California State University, Fresno, and the Fresno State Winery, be sure to contact them at the winery. For Enology inquiries, call 559.278.2791 or call 559.278.9463 for winemaking inquiries. The campus farm, the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market, has fresh produce for much of the spring through fall, including many of the California award-winning student produced wines. Their phone number is 559.278.4511. Be sure to also visit the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology web site on how to become involved as a Fresno State viticulture and enology student.