Harney Lane cab proves again what’s possible in Lodi

Kyle Lerner isn’t about to release Harney Lane’s first estate cabernet sauvignon solely to satisfy consumers, though that’s part of the reason.

He’s out to prove a point.

“We are not just that one-pony show here, that one varietal show that we’re known for,” said Lerner, a longtime wine grape grower and owner of Harney Lane Winery, which opened 10 years ago. “This is part of what we’re trying to expose consumers to, is the fact that this is a region that can manage a lot of varieties very well, very successfully.”

“We” is Lodi, long thought of as a bulk-wine producing region and home to little else but jammy zinfandels. Lerner and growers and vintners like him steadily have chipped away at the preconceived notions outsiders have had about Lodi, a region where some 103,000 acres of wine grapes are being tended by 750 growers who are nurturing more than 100 varietals.

Over the past two decades, attention to quality has improved, higher standards have been set, many growers have become vintners, and word has escaped, most notably with Wine Enthusiast Magazine recognizing Lodi as its Wine Region of the Year in 2015.

Harney Lane’s spectacular cabernet sauvignon from the 2013 vintage will change more people’s perceptions about what’s possible in Lodi. Like with its entire lineup, Harney Lane’s cabernet sauvignon has true varietal character. The color is deep ruby; the nose conveys blackberries, cherries and a hint of vanilla. The aroma evolves in the glass – at one point hinting of brown sugar and baking spices. The palate is dry with medium body, medium acid and medium-plus alcohol (14.5 percent ABV). The flavors are bright, again with plush dark fruit, and silky tannins. The wine is beautifully balanced with a medium finish and is ready to drink now, but would reveal more earthy and leathery components with five years or more in bottle.

Harney Lane will release its cabernet sauvignon next week to some of its higher-tiered wine club members and for $35 a bottle to the public, a great value compared to Napa and Sonoma cabs of similar or lesser quality that cost double or more.

“It’s not a big lot, but I want people to experience what Lodi is capable of, bottom line,” said Lerner, who made about 175 cases of cabernet. “This is more about what we’re doing in this region. We fought back and forth on the price but we concluded: Let’s get this out in the market and let people experience it.”

Harney Lane’s winemaker, Chad Joseph, said he and Lerner nailed it.

“I was really happy. It represents the potential of Lodi,” said Joseph, who also works with Oak Farm, Dancing Coyote and Maley Brothers, among others. “The thing I’m happiest about is the varietal character. It has true varietal character.”

Lerner said the 2013 growing season was relatively easy, despite light rainfall, with fairly mild temperature patterns. The fruit came from a 16-acre vineyard not far from the winery in the Mokelumne River sub-American Viticultural Area consisting of a combination of sandy loam and clay soils. The grapes were picked at 26 brix (sugar content); the wine spent two years in 100 percent French oak and a year in bottle.

The 2014 vintage is in bottle for release next year, but Harney Lane’s cabernet sauvignon program will be suspended thereafter. As a commodity variety that grows well globally, competition has driven prices of premium cabernet sauvignon grapes down to a point where Lerner surrendered this particular vineyard with the hope of restarting a cabernet program in the near future. Lerner and his mentor, the late George Mettler, have supplied cabernet sauvignon and 14 more varieties to outside wineries for many years. Lerner allocates only about 6 percent from the family’s 550-acre estate to Harney Lane.

This cab proves Lerner’s point about Lodi.

“I love the fact we have captured what you would expect when this hits your palate,” Lerner said. “It definitely speaks cabernet. It’s just one more thing we can hang out there showing what our region is absolutely capable of doing and that’s producing wines all the way, for us, from albariño that’s very crisp and clean to these big, fat fabulous cabernets that are going to satisfy your palate.”

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Don’t forget about reds this summer

The summer seafood season is upon us.
But that doesn’t mean you have to swap out your reds for whites.
Red wines can pair nicely with seafood dishes. The general rule of thumb is to match the weight and structure of the wine with that of the seafood. Dishes with heartier textures can stand up to more assertive red wines.
Spanish reds play especially nicely with seafood.
For instance, the 2011 Beronia Reserva ($21), a tempranillo-dominated blend from Rioja in Northern Spain, goes perfectly with gambas al ajillo — shrimp sauteed in olive oil, garlic, chiles and smoked paprika. The fruit-forward wine with its soft tannins and medium acid are a nice complement to the dish’s deep flavors.
The 2011 Beronia Reserva is deep ruby in color with a nose of cinnamon, dark chocolate and a ton of blue fruit. The palate is dry with medium-minus acid, medium-minus tannin and medium alcohol (14 percent). The flavors are medium in intensity: tart blueberries, dark chocolate and black cherries. The finish is medium. The quality level is very good, and it has the potential to age another 5 to 7 years.
When buying Spanish wines, there are some terms on the label to look for. “Reserva” means the wine has aged a minimum of 36 months with at least 12 months in small oak barrels and the rest in bottle. “Joven” wines may or may not have seen oak and are released immediately, so they are fresh and easy to drink but may lack complexity. “Crianza” wines must be aged a minimum of 24 months with at least six months in oak, and “Gran Reserva” means the wine has been aged a minimum of 60 months, including at least 18 months in oak barrels. Also, look for “Denominacion de Origen Protegida” or better yet, “Denominacion de Origen Calificada.” DOP and DOCa wines must meet minimum quality standards. Rioja has DOCa status.
If you can’t find Spanish tempranillo, look no further than Lodi. Spain’s premier black grape variety seems to enjoy Lodi’s Mediterranean climate and sandy soils. Many Lodi wineries craft outstanding tempranillo.
Try this shrimp recipe from cookbook author Rebecca Simpson-Hargreaves with a glass of tempranillo and see if it doesn’t rock your world:
Spanish Garlic Prawns (Gambas al Ajillo)
4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 chiles, hot or mild, deseeded, chopped
1 t smoked or standard paprika
Half an onion, finely chopped
10 oz. large raw shrimp
Heat the oil over medium-low heat, add the garlic, chiles, paprika and onion. Cook until the onion’s soft and translucent.
Add the shrimp to the pan, turn up the heat to medium and cook until the shrimp turn pink, about 5-10 minutes.
Serve as an appetizer, light lunch, main course or tapas with crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

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Argentine white grape the toast of Lodi

Torrontés is the most widely planted white wine grape in Argentina.

It’s as popular there as chardonnay is in the United States. But torrontés is virtually unknown here.

Lodi’s Ron Silva is working to change that.

Several wineries in Northern California have crafted award-winning torrontés using Silva’s grapes from the 350-acre Silvaspoons Vineyard in the Alta Mesa sub-American Viticultural Area of Lodi.

“That’s where ours came from,” said Tyler Grace, winemaker for Lewis Grace Winery near Placerville in El Dorado County. “This is our second year working with it and though we are a very small production winery, this wine has won everywhere it’s been. It’s been amazing.”

Torrontés is fragrant, easy-to-drink and approachable. And it’s winning awards.

Lewis Grace’s 2015 Torrontés won Double Gold and Best of Class at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition; Double Gold, Best of Class, Best White and Best of Show at the 2016 North of the Gate Wine Competition; and Double Gold and Best of Lodi White at the 2016 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. Only 150 cases were produced and Grace said they’re going fast.

“It’s been very well-received,” Grace said.

Silva is part grower, part salesman. Over the years, he’s had to convince winemakers to take a chance, just as he did, on a little-known varietal that has shown tremendous potential.

“You do have to try and convince people to try it,” Silva said. “But they want to be convinced. They want to try something different.”

Grace’s openness to try new things is what attracted him to Silva’s torrontés.

“It was just kind of an experiment for us,” Grace said. “We were going to get some other grapes from Ron and he mentioned he had some torrontés and asked if we wanted to try it. That’s where it originated.”

Grace never had worked with torrontés prior to obtaining some of Silva’s 2014 vintage. Grace said he treated it in the same, delicate manner as with all of his whites.

“We did a very long, slow fermentation,” Grace said. “This was temperature controlled in stainless steel tanks and it was out there for eight weeks. That helps preserve the nice, delicate aromas of it. It was treated very gently. It kind of made itself.”

Silva also has supplied torrontés to Wise Villa in Lincoln, Matt Rorick’s Forlorn Hope Winery outside Murphys, and Kenneth Volk Vineyards in the Santa Maria Hills, among many others.

The 2014 Wise Villa Torrontés won a gold medal in the Best Other White Varietal category at the 2015 California State Fair, the 2013 Wise Villa Torrontés won Best of (Lodi) Region at the 2014 California State Fair, and Best of Class — White Varietals at the 2014 Orange County Fair Wine Competition.

Grace recalls the 2015 torrontés coming in at 23 brix (sugar content), a little on the low side, which retained the acid and kept the alcohol at a reasonable 13.5 percent (ABV). The fruit had reached physiological ripeness and was full of flavor, Grace said.

Grace described the 2015 Lewis Grace Torrontés ($25) as being light-bodied with aromas and flavors consistent with one of its parent grapes, Muscat of Alexandria: apricots, mangos, pears, tangerines and passion fruit. Torrontés’ other parent grape is believed to be mission, introduced to California in the late 1700s by Franciscan missionaries.

Though I haven’t sampled the 2015 Lewis Grace Torrontés, I recently sampled the 2015 Trumpeter Torrontés ($11) from Rutini Wines in Mendoza, Argentina. The nose had a fragrant mix of tropical and stone fruits with a hint of lemon custard. The body was medium-minus, the acid was medium and the flavor intensity was medium of citrus and stone fruits with a mineral backbone. The finish was medium. To me, this wine falls between a viognier and sauvignon blanc in its flavor profile, and at $11, it’s a value as an alternative to chardonnay and pinot gris.

Suggested pairings include Thai, Indian or other spicy cuisines, as well as poultry, pork, salmon and salty cheeses.

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Peltier Winery opening ‘pop-up’ tasting room

ACAMPO – Across the railroad tracks stands the new phase of a winery that has produced an array of wonderful single varietals, blends and even sparkling wine for more than a decade.
Peltier Station Winery had been a stalwart on the Lodi wine scene, mainly as a bulk-wine producer. But husband-wife owners Rodney and Gayla Schatz have embarked on a new vision with a new look and a fresh attitude for their enterprise in Acampo.
Gone is the homespun Peltier Station name and label. Now, the re-branded Peltier Winery sports a cleaner, more sophisticated label, and on Saturday, the Schatz’s will host the grand opening of their first on-premise tasting room, a place they call their “pop-up” tasting room.
“This is our first tasting room, though we’ve been making wine for some time,” Gayla Schatz said.
The “pop-up” tasting room conveys the Schatzes’ desire to eventually build a permanent tasting room as well as offices at North Kennefick and Peltier roads on the northwest corner of their property, a parcel they purchased in 1985 some three months after they were married.
“There was nothing here,” said Rodney Schatz, a third-generation farmer and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo graduate. “It was all vineyards.”
Rodney and his parents manage about 1,200 acres combined. In 2001, Rodney and Gayla started Peltier Station Winery as a bulk wine and custom-crush facility. Their company grew and in 2006, the Schatzes released their first wines from the 2005 vintage under the Peltier Station label, named for the winery’s proximity to the railroad tracks that run north to south along their property but barely are in use any more.
Last year, Rodney and Gayla decided to re-brand their winery, so they hired Ian Bender to come up with new labels for their entire line, including five new brands, and a marketing strategy. The Schatzes also put into motion plans to convert a corner of their storage facility into a “pop-up” tasting room, so they could present their wines and interact with their customers face-to-face.
“It’s just been a continual construction project because we keep adding and adding an adding,” Rodney Schatz said. “Then, having Ian on board to redo our labels and change the whole mode of the place allowed us to say, ‘OK, now we can add a tasting room. Now, we can take the next step.’ So, we’re pretty proud of that.”
The new Peltier Winery labels are clean, modern and striking. The core of each label has “Peltier” in all caps at the top and their trademark red diamond logo in the middle. On the reserve labels, the word “Reserve” is sculptured emboss in cursive on one side. The estate line has a diamond capital “P” cut into a corner of the label showing the bottle. Their hy.brid wine labels have a half-green and half-white grape leaf centered with an “H” in the middle.
The “pop-up” tasting room is bordered by pallet walls, and the bar’s wooden planks are supported by wine barrels. The Peltier Winery collection is on full display throughout the space. In one corner stands their USB dessert wine, as in USB computer port, so-named because “Port” can’t be used to describe any fortified wine not made in Portugal. Nearby is the eye-catching display for The Gala sparkling wine, a blend of classic champagne varietals, chardonnay and pinot noir, made in the traditional method by Rack and Riddle in Healdsburg.
Depending on the year, Rodney and his family will grow up to 15 varietals, with everything from the noble varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, to more experimental varieties, such as teroldego. All of their wines are made from grapes grown on their property.
Though the look and attitude of their winery have changed, the Schatzes haven’t changed their insistence on living up to their motto: “exceptional wine for good food, to share with all.”
Rodney Schatz is particularly insistent on his wines being food-friendly, as he’s an outstanding cook.
“We’re eventually going to build out a more formal facility but for now, people love this and it’s a lot of fun,” Rodney Schatz said. “It took some dollars and effort, but it worked out fine, so it’s a good little spot.”

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Surprising sauvignon blanc from Heritage Oak

Some things just can’t be explained.

Chalk it up to Mother Nature having her way.

Tom Hoffman, owner, grower and winemaker at the tranquil, rustic Heritage Oak Winery along the Mokelumne River in Victor made his recently released 2015 sauvignon blanc from estate fruit the same way he’s made it since he opened his winery in 2007. But for whatever reasons, there’s something different about the 2015 vintage, and he’s excited to let people know about it.

“The flavors are very similar,” Hoffman said, comparing the 2014, which recently sold out, to the 2015 version. “It’s the nose more than anything.”

The 2015 Heritage Oak Sauvignon Blanc ($18) has aromas of grapefruit that leap from the glass to a degree Hoffman previously never had experienced. The intensity of the grapefruit on the nose makes this wine unique, Hoffman said. The grapefruit is there big time on the nose and in my opinion, there also is a hint of fresh-cut green bell pepper, which is pleasing.

On the palate, the grapefruit and other citrus, such as lemons and limes, are at the forefront and the bell pepper softly and gracefully floats in the background. The color is almost clear. The body is light, the acid is medium-high, the flavor intensity and finish are medium-minus. It’s not a complex wine, but one to savor on a hot summer day or with grilled vegetables, fish with a squeeze of lemon, or other light dishes.

Hoffman said the protocol with his 2015 sauvignon blanc was consistent with past vintages of the varietal and similar in approach to all of his white wines: In the field, the canopy was left alone until just before the fruit was picked when some leaves were pulled, so the fruit wasn’t exposed to too much light. The fruit was picked, crushed and immediately pressed. Hoffman takes great measures to keep air away, even as he’s pressing, by adding dry ice to the vats before the juice goes into stainless steel fermentation tanks.

During fermentation, the must releases carbon dioxide naturally but at racking, Hoffman adds more dry ice to keep air out before the wine is bottled.

“I have to go out and take the CO2 out of the bottle, which is not very difficult, but I have to remember to do that, otherwise, it would be very spritzy,” Hoffman said. “That’s one of the things that I do that I don’t think everybody that makes sauvignon blanc does. I work hard to keep the air away from it.”

That’s why the wine’s color is clear and shows no signs of oxidation. The 2015 sauvignon blanc was picked at 23.1 brix on Aug. 10-11. The fruit settled for few days before yeast was added on Aug. 14. The wine was bottled in April and released in May.

Hoffman said 2015 was tough on growers.

“It was very light. Not too much fruit. The vines were really stressed from the dry seasons we had,” Hoffman said. “We had nice quality but as a grower, it was disappointing not to be able to pay all the bills.”

This year, the clusters taking shape right now appear to be abundant.

“It looks nice,” Hoffman said. “Heavy.”

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German and Austrian varietals, a real fest for the senses

LODI — The Koth family hosted several of their best customers and invited guests to a buyers’ party at their unique vineyard Saturday in Lodi.

The party served as a sort of show-and-tell, where winemakers, such as Matthew Rorick with Forlorn Hope in Murphys, spoke about and offered tastings of their creations from the Koths’ Mokelumne Glen vineyard, home to 48 German and Austrian varietals.

Rorick brought along Forlorn Hope’s 2014 Gemischter Satz, which means “mixed set” in German, a white field blend comprised of some 35 varietals, of which many aren’t grown elsewhere in the United States.

“I was so excited about the prospect of making something out of that combination of grapes,” said Rorick, “something completely unique in the world.”

Saturday’s event might have seemed unthinkable to the Koths some 20 years ago. Their collection of grapes with hard-to-pronounce names like Gewurztraminer, Blaufrankisch and Spatburgunder, was a tough sell at first. As recently as five years ago, some of the Koths’ fruit hung dormant on the vine.

Business began to pick up when Swiss-born winemaker Markus Niggli caught wind about the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard. He was excited someone was growing grapes indigenous to his native continent. Niggli was among the Koth’s first big commercial buyers and for several years, he has crafted their fruit into expressive white blends for Borra Vineyards in Lodi and his own label, Markus Wine Co.

Niggli’s success attracted more winemakers looking for something different, including Rorick, Jason Holman from Holman Cellars in Napa, Dan Fishman with Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars in Santa Rosa, Drew Huffine and Emily Virgil with Trail Marker Wine Co. in Mendocino County, Layne Montgomery of m2 in Lodi and David Ramey with Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg.

Now, the Koths sell almost every grape they grow, and there is a waiting list of potential buyers.

“What’s going on here is what was going on in Napa 30 years ago,” said Phil Silver, who helps in the vineyard along with Bob and Mary Lou Koth and their grown children, Ann-Marie and Brett.  “We’re drinking the future. We’re drinking what our grandchildren will be drinking.”

In general, the wines were beautifully aromatic, refreshingly high in acid, low in alcohol and great with food – factors that appear to fall in line with established wine drinkers searching for something new and millennials carving their path in the wine world.

Here are only a few of the eight or so wines presented at Saturday’s party:

2013 Markus Nimmo ($22)

Niggli’s first offering from his label is this remarkable white blend of 69 percent Kerner, 11 percent Gewurztraminer, 10 percent Riesling and 10 percent Bacchus. The palate is dry, the nose is medium-plus of honeysuckle and lime. The flavor intensity is medium with lemon zest and lychee. The body is medium with some oak influence but not too much. The acid is high, the alcohol is medium (13.8 percent) and the finish in medium-plus. This is ready to drink now but could sit for 3 to 5 years.

2014 Forlorn Hope Gemischter Satz (N/A)

The fruit for this “mixed set” was picked on a single pass at 20-21 brix. The berries were foot-tread to break the skins then pressed with 100 percent stems. The fermentation was done in an open-top vessel with no temperature control on the tank. The nose is thought-provoking with citrus and stone fruit and damp stones. The palate is dry with citrus, white peach and mineral flavors. The acid is high, the alcohol is medium-minus (12.95 percent) and the finish is medium-plus. It’s truly remarkable, a beautiful wine to enjoy now.

2015 Uncharted Bacchus (N/A)

Holman became enamored with German varietals during his travels through the Rheingau. This 100 percent Bacchus from Holman Cellars is dry but has tons of apricot on the nose and palate with mineral notes. The acid is high and vibrant, and the alcohol is medium at 14 percent. The grape physically resembles Riesling with black specks on the skins, but the flavor profile is different. Though it hangs on the vine longer than any varietal at Mokelumne Glen, the high acid balances the sugar.

The Koths are among only a handful of German and Austrian grape growers in the country. For instance, the Koths believe they are the only producers of Kerner west of the Mississippi River. So, their wines can be hard to find. The best bet is to contact the aforementioned wineries directly and find out what they might have available.

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Food and wine pairing tips

Paul Marsh, owner of Mile Wine Company, a wine and beer bar and restaurant on the Miracle Mile in Stockton, has a general rule when it comes to food and wine pairing.

“Don’t second guess yourself,” he said. “Drink what you like. Eat what you like.”

Point being, if Chardonnay is your cup of tea with a slab of prime rib, though not a classic pairing, by all means go for it. But remember, flavor and aroma compounds in food and wine can fight each other like cats and dogs, or complement each other like finely-tuned instruments in a symphony orchestra.

Marsh and his chef since 2014, Justin Good, go over their menu almost daily at Mile Wine Company, with Marsh making certain he has wines that pair with Good’s culinary creations. The pair previously worked together at the Firehouse in Old Town Sacramento when Marsh managed the dining room and the restaurant’s 25,000-bottle wine cellar and Good was a chef.

“Usually, I just kind of tell Paul what dish I have,” Good said. “Most of the time you taste the wine and try to find flavors that complement what already is there.”

Good strives to make dishes with fresh, clean flavors from locally-sourced ingredients. His summer menu includes lighter fare with flavors that strike a balance of taste sensations and textures.

Marsh suggests pairing Good’s Tombo Ahi served on a black bean and fresh corn relish over a sweet corn puree with a red wine, which might surprise some who believe fish goes best with white wine.

“I like the Tombo Ahi with a red wine because it’s a bit of a meatier fish and not flaky, with the sweet corn puree,” he said. Marsh suggests the 2013 Mischief and Mayhem Grand Vins de Bourgogne Pinot Noir.

“It’s a summer dish that carries a little spice, so I would go Burgundy as far as Pinot Noir.”

With Good’s colorful Tropic Thunder salad of mixed greens, chicken and cashews tossed in a pineapple, chipotle dressing, Marsh suggests the Pol Clement Rose Sec, a non-vintage blush sparkling wine from France. The fine bubbles and delicate red fruit aromas and flavors refresh the palate and tame the dish’s chili heat.

And with Good’s braised pork belly topped with mustard and peach compote on an arugula and spinach pesto with a drizzle of chive oil, Marsh suggests the 2015 Xiloca Garnacha from the Aragon region in northern Spain.

“This Garnacha has this wonderful white pepper in the background,” said Marsh, a certified sommelier. “Even though it’s very big and brooding with black fruit, I knew it would play off the sweetness from the compote, and the smokiness of the Garnacha comes through off the fat of the pork belly.”

Marsh said food and wine pairing never has been easier.

“Everybody’s got a Smart phone, so look up a basic Pinot Noir and see what goes well with it,” he said. “What Pinot would go well with tri-tip or bouef bourguignon?”

Marsh said the backs of wine bottles also can be a valuable resource.

“A lot of times the winemakers and marketing departments are really good helping you along the way and what they suggest,” he said. “Most of the time, they get it right.”

If all else fails, here are some simple guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Dishes high in sugar should be paired with a wine that has at least as much sugar.
  • Dishes high in umami should be paired with wines that are more fruity and less tannic.
  • Dishes high in bitterness or chili heat should be paired with white wines or low-tannin reds.
  • Dishes high in salt, acid or fat pair well with high-acid wines.

Everyone’s palate is different and there really are no rules when it comes to food and wine pairing. But when food and wine strike a perfect chord, it can be sublime.

“You never know what’s really going to pop until you take a bite and take a sip,” Marsh said. “Next thing you know, you either hit gold or not.”



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Family hobby has turned into thriving business

LODI – In Scotland and Northern England, the word prie has several definitions.

Loosely translated, it can mean three, a test, or taste. Its definitions fit perfectly with Prie Winery in Lodi.

Owner, John Gash III, has three jobs, naturally. In addition to his duties at Prie, Gash works full-time at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and teaches graduate courses in computer programming at San Jose State. John and his wife, Lisa, along with their children, Paige and Forrest, and Lisa’s father, Gordon Evenson, represent the three generations that put the winery together.

And behind the Gash’s gorgeous home on Alpine Road sits a small building where visitors can taste-test Prie’s award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon and other single-vineyard varietals.

“What we like to emphasize are the single-vineyard designates and really focus on bringing out the characteristics of that vineyard,” John said. “Our goal is not to over extract or over process or create real heavy wines. We want them to be more expressive of the fruit, and that seems to suit a lot of the Lodi styles as well.”

John speaks like a lifelong wine guy, but he’s a new player to the game. In fact, Lisa is the one whoexposed him to winemaking.

“It’s all my fault,” she said.

John and Lisa, who works full-time for Golden One Credit Union in Sacramento, raised their family in Livermore. Several years ago, Lisa became interested in winemaking as a hobby. She took two home winemaking courses from the late Thomas Coyne, a Livermore winemaking legend. John, more of a beer drinker at the time, became interested in winemaking as a result of Lisa’s interest in the craft.

John, being the analytical guy he is, researched winemaking practices and soon, he and Lisa were making wine in their garage with fruit from the Livermore Valley and Lodi. At first, John and Lisa would give their wine as presents around the holidays. Their friends’ desire to buy their wine and their positive feedback spurred John and Lisa to begin making wine commercially.

“We originally started making wine as a hobby in the garage,” said Paige Gash, who manages the tasting room and is studying to be a nurse at Chabot College. “My dad didn’t even like wine. He liked beer. A lot of friends came over and said, ‘Can we buy your wine?’ He started really getting into wine after that. So, after having so many years of people asking if they could buy his wine, he thought it would be a great idea to open a winery. It went from not interested at all to hey let’s open a winery.”

The Gash’s started making wine in a warehouse in Livermore. In time, they decided to branch out. Having enjoyed their frequent visits to Lodi to buy fruit, they decided to purchase Lodi farmer Cliff Mettler’s estate when it went on the market and opened Prie Winery. In 2012, John and Lisa opened the tasting room.

John and Lisa said they chose to move to Lodi because of its nurturing winemaking community.

“We were trying to find a location that met the kinds of things which we thought were important both in the community and in the vineyard,” John said. “And Lodi exemplifies those traits that we thought were important: The community and the quality of the wines.”

The Gash’s have 8½ acres under vine. Cabernet Sauvignon occupies 7½ acres with a ½-acre each of Cabernet Franc and Grenache. The Cab Franc and Grenache eventually will be used in blends and as stand-alone wines. John uses combinations of new and neutral American and French oak barrels.

Prie’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the 2015 Vermentino won a silver medal at the 2016 West Coast International Wine Competition, the 2013 Petit Verdot took home a gold medal from the 2016 West Coast International Wine Competition, and the 2012 Zinfandel from Kevin Soucie’s vineyard in west Lodi won silver medals at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the 2015 Grand Harvest wine competition. In addition, Prie has a 2013 Petit Verdot from the HUX vineyard in Lodi, a 2011 Pinot Noir Reserve from Livermore Valley, a 2011 Merlot and 2010 Merlot Reserve from Thatcher Bay Vineyard in Livermore Valley, and a 2011 Syrah Reserve from Livermore Valley. Their 2011 Pi, a blend of Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah and Syrah, has sold out. Prie produced 1,200 cases last year and plans to make as many as 2,000 per year in the near future.

John said making wine appeals to his scientific and creative sides.

“The spectrum of what you do with the fruit from year to year is just amazing,” he said. “There are so many variables that come into play and understanding how to manage them and emphasize certain characteristics. It’s a creative outlet.”

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Rhone lovers benefit from unique partnership

PASO ROBLES – The signpost pointing to the entrance of the tasting room reads 9 yards away. Pointing in the opposite direction, the sign reads Domaine de Beucastel, 9,009 kilometers away.

The two locales seemed much closer in proximity after sampling some of the Rhone varietals at Tablas Creek Vineyard in West Paso Robles. One of Paso’s most renowned wineries sits high in the Santa Rita Hills, and the drive along the tree-lined, winding and undulating Adelaida Road offers some spectacular views.

“French connection to a California wine,” is how Tablas Creek’s Russ Frank describes the goal behind the partnership of Robert Haas and his family from California and the Perrin family from Chateau de Beaucastel in France. In 1989, the families purchased a 120-acre former alfalfa farm and cattle ranch after searching four years for a site similar in composition to Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone Valley in France.

Their dream was to create in California the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which roughly translated means “the Pope’s new castle.” Chateauneuf-du-Pape is one of the most renowned wine appellations in southeastern France and its top wines are some of the most sought-after in the world with prices to match. Most of the wine produced in Chateauneuf-du-Pape is red and Granache Noir, which can be sweet and jammy, takes the lead in many of the blends with Syrah adding color and spice and Mouvedre supplying structure and elegance.

Paso’s combination of limestone-rich, calcareous clay soils that retain water, large diurnal temperature swings and hilly terrain have proven suitable for Tablas Creek to grow many of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s 18 permitted grape varieties, including Mouvedre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne.

Tablas Creek has been organically dry-farmed farmed since its inception. Dry-farming limits yields and emphasizes character of place, elements essential to winemaker and vineyard manager Neil Collins.

“I just do as little as I can to make those wines be an expression of the soil,” said Collins in a video by Marc Weisberg, “so when you taste a Tablas Creek wine you’ll taste minerality but every wine will be different from the previous wine, but there will be a thread of similarity.”

Here are a few Tablas Creek wines that stood out:

Grenache Blanc 2014 ($27)

This important variety in Chateauneuf-du-Pape white wines has crisp acidity with green apple and fennel flavors. The minerality is super pleasing in this easy-to-drink alternative to over-oaked Chardonnay.

Cotes De Tablas 2014 ($35)

Tablas Creek’s showcase for Grenache Noir has cherry lollipops on the nose with high acid and medium-plus tannin. This has nice fruit character but enough structure to lie down for a while. Grenache Noir (44 percent) is dominant in the blend with Syrah (36 percent), Counoise (12 percent) and Mouvedre (8 percent) filling it out.

Esprit De Tablas 2013 ($55)

Tablas Creek’s flagship red has Mouvedre (40 percent) as the dominant grape in the blend with Syrah (28 percent), Grenache Noir (22 percent) and Counoise (10 percent). The Mouvedre gives off meaty aromas and flavors. This is an intense, lush wine with pleasing minerality and ample structure.

Tablas Creek brings the Rhone to California and is popular on restaurant wine lists and available in fine wine shops and markets with good wine sections.

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Rias Baixas Albarino is a vacation in a glass

Rías Baixas is an area tucked away in the region of Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain.
The climate there is much different than the arid plains many associate with Spain. Rías Baiaxs’ proximity to the Atlantic Ocean means it receives plenty of humidity and rainfall, but it also soaks up gobs of sunshine during the critical growing and ripening phases.
As for the landscape, think Ireland’s Emerald Coast.
Rías Baixas is renowned for the Albariño grape, a thin-skinned white variety that comprises 90 percent of the plantings in the region, which formally received Denominación de Origen (DO) status in 1988. Rías Baixas has five sub-zones each with unique characteristics. The soils are fairly uniform with granite being the mother rock beneath mineral-rich alluvial top soil.
Many vineyards in Rías Baixas are pergola trained. The vines are suspended above the ground to allow better air circulation in an effort to prevent rot. It’s an especially necessary practice in areas like Rías Baixas that receive a hefty amount of rainfall.
Albariño is delightfully crisp, aromatic and easy to drink. It’s perfect when served chilled on a warm day or paired with chicken, paella, shellfish, seafood, salads, cheese or tapas.
Lodi growers are planting Albariño, and several area wineries are putting out really nice expressions of the varietal, including Oak Farm, Klinker Brick, Harney Lane, Jeremy, and Bokisch. Lodi’s climate and soils make a nice home for the varietal. I’ve enjoyed many Lodi Albariños over the years but had not played with any Spanish versions until recently when I sampled two from Rías Baixas.
Sin Palabras 2014 (SRP $13)
Sin palabras translated into English means astonished, speechless or amazed. Castrobrey Adegas (Cellar) crafted this special selection of Sin Palabras to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the winery founded by Jose Castro Brey and Isabel Pereiro. The grapes were carefully selected from old vines situated in the high area of the Ribera de Ulla sub-region, and the wine was aged in stainless steel and bottled late, so it could age well.
This 100 percent Albariño is pale lemon green in color and slightly frizzante. The aroma intensity is medium with citrus fruit, especially lemons. There also is salt spray, suntan lotion and minerality on the nose, aromas that take you to the beach, where you’re kicking back in a folding chair, digging your toes in the sand, breathing the sea air.
The palate is dry, the flavor intensity is medium, again with citrus fruit, salinity and minerality; but now there is a definite pineapple, apricot and white peach thing coming through. The acid is high, mouthwatering, and the body is light, as is the finish.
Sin Palabras could pair with tidbits such as olives, Marcona almonds, manchego cheese and roasted red bell peppers drizzled with olive oil, or main dishes like yellowtail, oysters, crab or chicken.
Albariño Tomada de Castro 2014 (SRP $14)
The color is pale lemon, slightly lighter than the Sin Palabras. It’s a bit fizzy, too. The Atlantic Ocean influence is evident on the nose in the form of salt air, sand and minerality. The overwhelming fruit characteristic initially on the nose is lemon. But after a few swirls, the wine reveals white peaches, pineapples, salt water taffy, caramel candy and Juicy Fruit gum.
The palate is dry, the acid is medium-high and the body is light. The flavor intensity is medium. The saline, sand, citrus fruit and pineapple flavors hung around and found room on the couch for green apple and pear. The caramel candy, taffy and gum got tired of watching TV and took a hike.
The finish is longer than the Sin Palabras but would best be described as medium with the pineapple lingering like the house guest who wouldn’t leave.
This wine really whets the appetite. It would be fantastic as an aperitif and would go well with shellfish, oily fish and lighter dishes.
The Rías Baixas Albariños have more salinity and minerality than Lodi Albariños, which only makes sense given Rías Baixas’ relationship to the Atlantic Ocean. Stock this varietal for your next springtime party or picnic. You and your guests might really enjoy it.

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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