Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center offers in-depth winery information

locavisitorsign
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.

locaspencerstobbe3
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.”

locavisitorbldg
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.

Piccini Villa Cortile Riserva 2006 Brunello di Montalcino

This is my first installment of TalesoftheCork Wine Reviews.

Piccini Villa Cortile Riserva 2006 Brunello di Montalcino

With James Suckling and other wine critics calling the 2006 Brunello di Montalcino the best ever, I thought I’d begin my tasting review section with the darling of Italian red wine. As production increased over the last decade, it has become possible to purchase a wonderful bottle of Brunello without emptying the pocket book.

My first wine review will be the 2006 Piccini Villa Cortile Riserva DOCG Brunello di Montalcino. It is a dry red wine from Tuscany, Italy.

The romance of Italy is at your fingertips with this light Tuscan example of Brunello. Whether you travel to Tuscany this summer/fall or not, the 2006 Brunellos are showing their Tuscan flair. After five years in the bottle and now three on the shelf, this dark, reddish-brown, deep-garnet color has notes of black cherry and pretty roses aromas that fill the wine bowl as you swirl it.

The 2006 Piccini Villa Al Cortile Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva can be purchased via WineChateau.com or other Internet outlets.
The 2006 Piccini Villa Al Cortile Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva can be purchased via WineChateau.com or other Internet outlets.

This will be a great first Brunello for someone who’s experimenting with Italy’s most prized varietal. I opened the bottle three hours before dinner to give it time to breath and I wasn’t disappointed.

Brunello winemakers keep the wine in oak barrels for three years. The Piccini Sangiovese fruit is now showing a rich black cherry, mesquite with hints of coffee and chocolate aromas combined with a plum and brown sugar medium finish. The tannins have softened and dried fruits, spices including sage, cardamonm and clove, appear during a lasting finish at 14% alcohol.

While 2006 has wide fan fair, this is not a huge version but rather a lighter Brunello that even has some coffee overtones. I think it is perfect for roasts, game and mature cheese. On a rating scale of 100, I give the Piccini Villa Al Cortile Brunello 90 points.

Wine Enthusiast gave the Piccini Brunello 93 points.

The Piccini Brunello should continue to improve some but this light bodied Brunello is worth a try now. Originally marketed at $60 a bottle, this is the right time to purchase the 2006 Picciini Villa Cortile Riserva DOCG Brunello.

Currently this wine can be bought online through various outlets, including WineChateau.com for $34.97. If you are willing to buy a case of this or mix and match wine, the shipping is free! Another excellent source to find a good price for wine is at Wine-Searcher.com.

The average price for this wine currently is $37 (excluding tax) and available for as low as $34.97. Sample received courtesy Wine Chateau for review purposes.

According to their web flyer, the Piccini winery has been making wines since 1882. Winemaker Santo Gozzo grows his Sangiovese Grosso grapes on a seven hectare estate vineyards with a limestone based soil balancing clay and schist.

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.

If you missed it, check out my latest blog post: Talesofthecork to add grass roots wine reviews.