Lodi, pronounced “LOW-dye,” has become a winemaker’s paradise, with 750 winegrowers farming nearly 100,000 acres of wine grapes. In 1998 Lodi had only 10 wineries, and today the number has increased to 77. With about the same number of different varieties being grown there, Lodi produces a whopping 24% of California’s wine grape output.
Located at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Lodi is 100 miles east of San Francisco and 35 miles south of Sacramento. During the growing season, the area has a Mediterranean climate; the days are sunny and warm, with significant temperature drops at night. Rain is rare in the summer, which makes the vines bear intense, concentrated, flavorful grapes. The area, best-known for its reds, has been dubbed the Zinfandel Capital of the World.
However, during a recent tasting, I experienced five wonderful white wines from Lodi which are among the best whites I’ve enjoyed all year. While these five wines are all true to their types, their winemakers are clearly working creatively to produce unusual wines that are way off the beaten path, yet affordable.
The online video tasting was hosted by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission; and Susan Tipton, owner/winemaker at Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards, Lodi’s only all-white wine winery. Despite the importance of Lodi, it still has a quiet, down-home feel and a strong sense of community. Our hosts told us, “You go into a tasting room and you meet the winemaker, the owner.” They said women are prominent in the region.
The first wine we tasted was the 2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürtraminer, 13.6%, SRP $19. This was a huge surprise. Gewürztraminer is generally thought of as a sweet wine. However, this one had salty minerality, crisp acidity, lychee, green apple, and citrus; it was dry, yet beautifully mouth-watering—a bit of a contradiction, but there it is. This surprising Gewürtraminer has very little sugar—just 0.49 g/litre. Winemaker Markus Niggli picked the grapes at lower sugars (21 brix) deliberately to maintain acid levels.
Markus Niggli hails from Switzerland, hence the deft European approach and the foray into German grapes. “Nuvola” is Italian for cloud.
71 cases were made. Just 14 are left; the wine can be ordered via the winery’s Web site.
BACK LABEL: Inspired by modern European architecture, our 2013 Artist Series features the cloud, Nuvola, a symbol of something new and powerful. Label design by Anneka Weinert, a Studio Art freshman at the University of the Pacific, in partnership with Borra Vineyards. This is the second label design in an emerging artist series.
Next up: 2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca, Vista Luna Vineyard, 13.2%, SRP $18. This lovely wine is 90% Garnacha Blanca and 10% Albariño. This had a beautiful aroma—floral, melon, lychee, peach, just a hint of green. The taste reminded me a little of saké! The mouthfeel was silky. Our hosts told us that it is lovely at any temperature; it can be chilled significantly and it won’t shut down, or it can be almost room temperature and it won’t collapse. It has crisp acidity, yet the brightness of tropical fruit, and was especially round at mid-palate.
This wine was produced from organically farmed and green certified vineyards. The “Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winemaking Practices” is a rigorous third-party certification.
Owner/Viticulturalist/Winemaker Markus Bokisch said, “Our Catalan roots have inspired our dream to produce Spanish varietal wines in California.”
This is a versatile wine that is said to pair well with cheeses and tapas.
BACK LABEL: Our Catalan roots have fueled our dream for producing Spanish varietal wines in California. This Garnacha Blanca is grown in the volcanic clay loam soils of the Borden Ranch Appellation of Lodi. Tasting notes reveal creamy flavors of apricot and Comice pears with hints of guava juice and zesty pineapple. Production: 250 cases. Salut!—Markus and Liz Bokisch
Our third selection was Susan Tipton’s 2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier, 14.1%, SRP $23. Susan grows just one acre of Viognier, and 268 cases of this wine were made.
She likes this paired with lamb tagine, arugula, ceviche, Thai stir fry; cilantro, lime. She called these “big pairings. The peachiness comes out that way. Tangerine, peach, rose.”
This wine was another that presented with a salty minerality. Susan told us, “In the tasting room, they have people taste the grapes off the vine, and taste the wines side by side. The Viognier is identical to the grape.”
There was a faint nose of cigarette smoke as it opened (that’s a new one on me), and it had tannins on the palate too, even though it never touched oak.
The unusually shaped bottle is from Provence; Susan called it an “homage to myself, my body type, except my neck isn’t that long!” Camron commented that his wife reuses beautiful bottles like this to hold flowers and fulfill other functions.
Susan said the reception she’s received in the tasting room has been amazing. (Her pairings are reportedly “legendary.”) She is excited to see winemakers coming on the scene and “playing with more fun whites in Lodi;” she observed that where reds are concerned, people put them on their shelf and “acquire” them, but “when people buy white, they put them in the fridge and drink them right away, so they’re always running out of whites. Wine is meant to be shared with family and friends.”
In her blog, Susan wrote, “The day I tasted my first white Châteauneuf du Pape wine, my life changed. It was the best wine I had ever had. So I quickly drove back to the store for a couple more cases of this wonderful nectar, only to be told I was holding the last bottle in California! Okay, what’s the deal? After research, I realized that the CDP area of France … [doesn't] produce many whites. The whites consist of blends with Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette and a few other varietals. I decided to give the Grenache Blanc a try and was pleased with the results in our vineyard so I planted Roussanne, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc. These cuttings came by way of Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, California. Tablas is partners with Chateau Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape, where these varietals originated.”
BACK LABEL: ac-qui-esce (a-kwee-‘es) verb; to surrender, to become quiet. I “acquiesce” to nature, the vineyard and the wine when handcrafting these classic, premium, food friendly wines made here … by hand … by me … Susan Tipton.
Fourth in our lineup: 2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, SRP $18. This wine, actually 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sauvignon Musquee, is the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted in a long time. With mushrooms and earth on the nose, it opened with citrus, big-time fruitiness, and once again the salty minerality. This is the biggest seller in their tasting room.
There are heritage oaks on the property, hence the winery’s name, but no oak goes into their whites. In their reds, yes.
Owner/Winemaker Tom Hoffman suggests pairing this with crab cakes and soft, creamy cheeses.
BACK LABEL: Sauvignon blanc is a superb white variety for Lodi’s warm days and cool nights. We especially like the crisp citricy [sic] flavors and full aroma we get when the grapes are grown in the shelter of a full canopy of leaves. This wine is a wonderful complement to fruit, cheese or a light meal of chicken or fish. Bottled in February, 2014. 325 cases produced.
Our fifth wine, “dessert,” was the 2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco, 12.9%, SRP $14. This wine, like the first Gewürztraminer, was a huge surprise because it simply wasn’t sweet. It was dry and beautiful, with the distinctive rose aroma and taste I’ve come to love about Moscato. “Secco” means dry, and Uvaggio does produce a “dolce” version. This Moscato is 100% Moscato Giallo. The aromas go on and on: besides roses, honeysuckle and ginger are evident.
Uvaggio is in Napa, but the grapes are sourced from Lodi. Uvaggio is producing all Italian varieties, although they are adding a Zinfandel.
Our hosts suggested pairing this with spicy dishes; it has a similar utility to the Viognier. Grilled chicken with fruit salsa or chutney would also work well.
BACK LABEL: Uvaggio—sounds like “Bellagio”—is Italian for “really great wine made by two incredibly hip wine lovers.” We have moved far beyond the conventional chocolate and vanilla by making Barbera, Primitivo, Vermentino and now Moscato. We say since California has a Mediterranean climate, we should make wine with the grapes that actually thrive there.
ALL of these whites were surprises. They were all beautiful expressions of the grapes, yet not stereotypical. All were bright, crisp, clear, with that distinctive salty minerality I’ve already mentioned a dozen times. Different? Oh, yes. These winemakers are clearly having a blast exploring new ways of playing with grapes. But they don’t make wines that don’t sell!
The multicultural aspect of Lodi winemaking was also great fun. Swiss/German, Cataluña (Spain), Châteauneuf du Pape, and Italy wines and grapes are all being used as inspiration and even as sources of vines.
This was a phenomenal online tasting. For one thing, the technology worked perfectly. Even more important, the tasting was a revelation. I no longer think of Lodi only as a region for big reds, from now on I will also think of it as a source of unusual, beautiful whites. High marks to these great winemakers, and to Charles Communications Associates for sponsoring a remarkable evening.
Samples sent for review.