Today I attended at tasting hosted by Abe Schooner (Scholium Project) at Sager & Wilde on the wines of Lodi, California. The idea behind this tasting was to provide us with an introduction to a growing region that’s both not well known, and where it is known it is misunderstood. Abe now makes most of his wines from Lodi, and was keen for us to be able to look at a range of different wines grown here.
Lodi is a growing region in the north centre of California. It wasn’t the first place in California to be planted – perhaps the fourth or fifth – but currently it’s the region with the most old vines. The earliest plantings in the state were near San Diego, but these have been eradicated. Next to receive the vine was Los Angeles, which still has two old vine vineyards. After that, Napa and Sonoma were planted, but there are only a few places in these two regions with old vines: commerce drove the eradication and replanting of old vine vineyards. It was because you could get good money for the grapes that it was economically justifiable to replant.
In Lodi, the grape most widely planted was Flame Tokay, which is more suited to eating than winemaking. It’s very aromatic and quite tannic, it has no acidity and it has plenty of bitterness. Most Tokay was ripped out in the 1950s and 1960s, to be replaced with other varieties. But the old vineyards with other varieties, such as Cinsault, Carignan and Zinfandel remained: they weren’t ripped out because the grape prices didn’t justify replanting, and they weren’t as awful as Tokay.
The important climatic influence in Lodi is the Mokelumne river. This comes from the Sierras and is very cold, even in midsummer. This brings a cooling influence. And where the river has snaked its way around, it has laid down light alluvial soils which are the best in the region for viticulture. Elsewhere, there’s heavy, richer soil from flood deposits over thousands of years.
Abe was introduced to Lodi by Tegan Passalacqua, who makes his own wines as well as working as winemaker for Turley. Tegan worked a harvest with Eben Sadie, and brought back news to California that Eben was making some very serious wines. Because of the old vine connection, Abe included three South African wines in this tasting: two from Eben and one from Craig Hawkins.
This was an interesting tasting: some great wines showing the potential of the region, but also some fairly gross over-ripe, over-oaked wines.
Sadie Family Mev Kirsten Chenin Blanc 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Planted in 1905. Complex and intense with lovely ripe pear and peach notes, as a bit of apple. Has a fine spiciness here with a lovely acid streak. Real finesse, weight and intensity here. 94/100
Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc 2017 Lodi, California
12.5% alcohol. Very fresh, delicate and fine with a nice mineral streak sitting under the lovely citrus fruit. It has a nice texture and weight in the mouth with freshness, delicacy and purity. Lovely stony, fine grained texture. 90/100
Sandlands Kirschenmann Chenin Blanc 2015 Lodi, California
12% alcohol. Very fine grained deep sand with a high quartz content. Vines are quite young. Rootsocks of varying age, grafted over 5 years ago. Selection massale from all over California. Complex, waxy and intense with lovely spiciness. Lovely acid core here and notes of citrus, pear and ripe apple, as well as a hint of toast. Great intensity and focus: this really tastes like Chenin. 93/100
Scholium Project FTP-C Kirschenmann Chenin Blanc 2017 Lodi, California
12.5% alcohol. Slightly cloudy. Has an open, apple, spicy nose. The palate is bright with good acidity and lovely cheese, wax, lemon and apple fruit. Tangy finish. Such an interesting wine with lovely weight. Has some reductive hints, but apparently this was much more reductive when it was young. 94/100
Scholium Project Bechtold Ranch 1MN 2016 Lodi, California
This is Cinsault from old vines. Whole cluster, no punchdown or pump over. Abe has been letting the cap dry out since 2014. He’s only had one year where this didn’t work when some of the caps became acetic, in 2017. Bechtold Ranch was planted in about 1870 by German immigrants, on its own roots in deep sandy soil, with some loam. Cloudy. Aromatic, slightly lifted nose of sweet cherries and raspberries. Such a lovely fresh, textural palate with smooth, fine-grained red cherries and spice. Has a nice sour cherry character and a hint of cheesiness. So nice with a slightly wild edge. 93/100
Michael David Bechtold Ranch Ancient Vine Cinsault 2016 Lodi, California
Fresh, clean, pure and sweetly fruited. Very accessible with sweet cherries and plums, and some raspberry notes. Tastes sweet, easy and fruity. 88/100
Turley Bechtold Ranch Cinsault 2016 Lodi, California
12.5% alcohol. Supple, smooth and fine-grained with attractive strawberry and raspberry fruit. Supple and quite elegant with ripeness and poise. Sweet but nicely poised and balanced. Expressive in a light-ish style, but has some substance. 92/100
Sadie Family Soldaat 2016 Swartland, South Africa
Grenache. Lovely mouthfeel with some green sappy, stemmy notes supporting a palate of fresh raspberry and some cherry, with a herby, slightly cheesy twist and a touch of damson savouriness. Such a bright, expressive wine. 94/100
Klinker Brick Carignane 2015 Lodi, California
14.5% alcohol. Tastes ripe, sweet and has some angular cedary oak. A bit unpleasant really: too sweet, ripe and oaky. 80/100
St Amant Winery Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 Mokelumne River, Lodi, Calfornia
14.7% alcohol. Sweet strawberry and cherry fruit with a fine spiciness. Rich and sweet and lush with a very soft mouthfeel. Ripe in a crowd-pleasing style. 87/100
Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel 2016 Lodi, California
Planted 1920 on its own roots. Very sweetly fruited with smooth, ripe red cherry and berry fruits. Concentrated and softly structured with very sweet fruit, but still retains a bit of freshness, with a twist of raspberry crunch. 91/100
Scholium Project FTP-Z Kirschenmann Red 2016 Lodi, California
Zinfandel. Smooth and sweet with a bit of sour cherry and damson bitterness on the finish. Has a little greenness with some spicy framing, and a twist of spicy wildness. Ripe and sweet but with some nice complexity. 91/100
Michael David Freakshow Zinfandel 2016 Lodi, California
Sweet, ripe and jammy with raspberry jam, strawberry, some mint and a savoury, cedary quality from the intrusive oak. Very hard to drink. Too ripe and oaky. 81/100
Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2016 Swartland, South Africa
Very fresh, linear and juicy with lovely taut lemon and pear fruit, a hint of pith, and some grapefruit and tangerine freshness. Nice texture and grip here. Juicy, mineral and expressive. 93/100
Scholium VLV Reserve Bokisch Vista Luna Ranch 2016 Lodi, California
13.9% alcohol. From the transition of the flatness of Lodi and the Sierra foothills. Powerful and expressive with ripe apple and pear fruit, with some pithy notes and a bit of spice. Very bold and intense with some structure. Has some honey and a bit of toast. Phenolic. 89/100
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