September 21st, 2013
St Jorge Winery – production 5,000 cases
m2 Wines – production 2,500 cases
Stem Theory Wines – 200 cases
Our recent trip to go wine tasting in Lodi brought me back to some of my earliest memories. My father grew up there and my grandparents lived there until they passed away. I remember summer days swimming in the Mokelumne River which runs through Lodi and the grape fields near my grandfather’s blacksmith shop just outside Lodi in the little town of Victor. To a six year old, the vineyards seemed to go on forever until the rows on each side of me merged in the far off distance. Forty plus years later, this sleepy valley town who’s biggest claim to fame was being the birth place of A&W root beer, would become a premier wine producing area and our paths would cross again as Karen and I started our foray into wine.
We went wine tasting in Lodi last weekend with my cousin Brian and his wife. I haven’t been “to” Lodi since my grandmother passed away in 1993 having mainly traveled “through” it on the way to Lake Tahoe. The downtown area has undergone a resurgence with several Lodi wine tasting rooms and upscale restaurants scattered on a number of the main streets downtown. If you go wine tasting in Lodi, treat yourself to a meal at the School Street Bistro. You won’t be disappointed. The specials were incredible including their airplane chicken…and no, they didn’t mug a flight attendant to steal a cart full of what airlines euphemistically call “food”. There is an interesting story behind the name but after two bottles of wine, I’ll be damned if I can remember what it is. I’ll chalk that up to the wine rather than advancing age although my kids would beg to differ.
No longer just known for making lots of wine, it’s now known for making good wine and Lodi wine tasting is now a major tourist attraction. If I have one criticism (and believe me, it’s pretty minor), I wish more of the wineries would embrace Lodi fruit more fully. A few of the places sourced some of their fruit from Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, even through we had some excellent examples of the same type of wine from Lodi. Amador County fruit has a different character. Call it differences in terroir, grower tendencies or a simple twist of fate but the Lodi fruit generally had more layers of flavor and better balance. Lodi wineries generally benefit from cooler night time temperatures because they sit close enough to the Sacramento River delta to benefit from considerably more cooling at night than most other valley towns. This likely explains the added complexity. In 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival released a song called “Stuck In Lodi Again”. Based on the quality of what I tasted, I’ll happily be stuck, wine tasting in Lodi again. Ok…enough with the long winded introduction…let’s get to the wine.
Ok…maybe I lied…one more point. The calendar apparently realized that it had just turned Autumn that day and the temperature plummeted from the normal late summer 90s to a typical mid fall 60’s with a cool breeze and heavy rains. For those of you who are familiar with the wine industry, you know that in late September, the harvest is in full swing and rains during harvest are a bad thing for a host of reasons. For those of you who don’t know that, well…it’s still a really bad thing but now you’re aware of it.
We love finding wineries that have a unique story. It could be a historic building, a fascinating tale of how they got into the wine industry or how they make their wine. St Jorge Winery’s tale is the Varietals they make, along with having one of the only wine caves in Lodi. The Vierra family embraces their roots by specializing in Portuguese wines. They are one of the very few in California that does. We started with the Verdelho Seco. Seco, means “dry” in Portuguese (and Spanish for that matter). It was dry and crisp which would have been great on a warm summer day but we’ve already established that the weather sucked but the Verdelho was good nonetheless. Two of Portugal’s best known grapes are Touriga Nacional, sometimes called Portugal’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Souzao and St. Jorge had both. They were both very well made with lots of depth and complexity. They were our favorites until we got to several of the old vine Zinfandels. They are real “Old Vines”, not just called old vines. Check out our “tongue in cheek” blog on labeling Old Vine wines if you want to know why this is sometimes a slightly confusing moniker. Both the River Ranch and the Home Ranch are exceptional examples of Old Vine Zins. One other wine of note was their Alicante Bouschet. I usually consider this a throw away wine as a Varietal. If a well made Cabernet Sauvignon, with all of its layers of flavor, is a full symphony playing the worlds greatest music, Alicante Boushcet would be a kazoo playing Mary Had A Little Lamb – one note and no complexity. However, St. Jorge’s was pretty good. Apparently it also comes from Old Vines which they say adds complexity that is sorely lacking in the others that I’ve tried.
At m2 wines Layne Montgomery, the winemaker is larger than life (literally…I’m 6’1″ and I think I came up to his knee). He is also a great source for blog quotes. Usually I have to come up with the off the wall humor for our blog but Layne is a walking quote machine. That became immediately apparent when he said he called the winery “m2” because he had an Arkansas public education and he didn’t know what “m squared” meant. Layne likes to experiment with wines. His father told him that he is, “Often wrong but never in doubt” but we didn’t see anything remotely wrong in what we tasted. We started with several good wines but frankly the real stars of the show were the 2012 barrel samples that he pulled. Holy crap, they were good. I think my cousin, Brian has still got a grin on his face. The two different Old Vine Zins that he pulled were stunning. I don’t usually throw those kind of words around with Zins but these two will knock your socks off. Both were from 2012 and if they were already showing that well now, they are going to be spectacular when they are released. We spent so much time talking about these wines, we didn’t even think to ask about the current releases of the same wines. I hate a lost opportunity. If you are wine tasting in Lodi, make sure to look for the Soucie Vineyard old vine Zinfandel from m2. If you are disappointed by this, you just don’t like wine so go back to drinking moonshine or whatever other rotgut has destroyed your palate.
We also ended up with a bonus taste at m2. Michael Klouda, the Field Manager for Michael David was using some of Layne’s equipment to make his side project wine called Stem Theory. He is only making about 200 cases currently but based on what we tasted, he is cheating all of us out of some really good stuff. We tried a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petite Verdot. It had a spicy flavor that was excellent. We’ve included a link to his web page if you are looking for it because it can be tough to find. http://drinkmkwines.com/store/
We’ll publish part two of our Lodi wine tasting trip next week.
Lodi is located about 35 miles south of Sacramento and sits on highway 99. It can also be easily reached from highway 5 and highway 88.
1) To view more information for the Wineries in Lodi (the local regional association), click here and type “Lodi” in the “quick search” field to see their listing on Winery-Sage.com.
2) To find more Lodi wineries, click here and enter “San Joaquin” in the “quick search” field for Winery-Sage.com’s Winery database.
3) More information can be found for each Varietal that we’ve listed by clicking on the link that we’ve created the first time the Varietal is listed in each post.
Karen – Ken
Check out their tastes and bios here
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