Lodi Native winemakers (clockwise from left): Layne Montgomery (m2 Winery), Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery), Ryan Sherman (Fields Family), Michael McCay (McCay Cellars), Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines) and Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers). COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION
Stuart Spencer has worked with the Lodi Winegrape Commission for 16 years.
The Stockton native and Lincoln High graduate also is the owner and winemaker at St. Amant Winery in Lodi. Spencer is one of six Lodi winemakers who has taken part in the Lodi Native project, which recently released its second collection of “naked” Zinfandels, this one from the 2013 vintage.
“We’ve done all sorts of projects to build regional awareness, but this one, which the wine commission didn’t conceive, has created the most buzz of anything we’ve ever done,” Spencer said.
The Lodi Native project was cited by Jim Gordon in his article announcing Lodi had been named Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Wine Region of the Year in 2015.
“This particular project has created a lot of buzz in circles where Lodi had originally been kind of dismissed,” Spencer said. “That was one of our goals with this project when the six vintners got together. I think going back over the last 15 to 20 years, some of the early successes we’ve had in the wine market have been wineries making a style of wine that was very fruit-driven, a bigger style of wine, and it came to define what a Lodi wine was out in the market place.”
Randy Caparoso, noted writer for the Lodi Winegrape Commission, presented an idea to Lodi vintners several years ago of crafting single-vineyard, old-vine Zinfandels following strict measures in an effort to showcase the vineyard rather than the varietal or the winemaker’s style; stripped-down versions that allowed the vineyard to speak. They called the project, Lodi Native.
The first release came last year with the 2012 vintage. It was a roaring success. By not using new oak, fermenting only with native yeast with no tannin or color additions – and following another dozen or so rules – six vintners crafted wines that showcased Lodi’s diverse terroir. The Lodi Native wines possessed more finesse and savory qualities than some of the fruit-driven, heavier styles many typically associate with Lodi. The same is true with this year’s release from the 2013 vintage.
“Some critics kind of draw through the conclusion that that was what Lodi was and that it only made
A bunch of Zinfandel grapes ripens in the sun in Lodi. COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION
these bigger, more alcoholic styles of red wines,” Spencer said. “I think one of the goals of this project was to demonstrate that there is a much greater diversity here.”
Spencer, Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines), Ryan Sherman (Fields Family), Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines), Michael McCay (McCay Cellars) and Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers) have been involved with the Lodi Native project since its inception. Though some in the group might have been skeptical at first, suspecting the “naked” wines wouldn’t stand up to the “normal” versions, the project has been an eye-opening experience. Spencer said most, if not all of the six, have folded aspects of the Lodi Native protocol into their commercial winemaking practices.
The project has brought other benefits, as well.
“Within our group of six, we developed a camaraderie and friendship and shared experience that we all learned from,” Spencer said. “And by kind of baring ourselves in front of each other with these experiments that in some stages weren’t tasting very good, we gained a lot from that. It’s been wildly fun.”
Here is a brief rundown of each wine:
Zinfandel from the Stampede Vineyard in the Clements Hills area is the source of winemaker Ryan Sherman's Lodi Native wine. COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION
Winemaker: Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines)
Growers: Jeff and John Perlegos
The vineyard is located near the Clements Stampede grounds in the Clements Hills sub-AVA and is the only Lodi Native wine from outside the Mokelumne River sub-AVA. The original plantings on this sandy vineyard on the east side of the Lodi AVA date to the 1920s. The wine’s color is the lightest of the bunch and the flavors are delicate.
Winemaker: Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers)
Grower: Todd Maley
The 21-acre planting of head-trained vines on the west side of the Lodi AVA on Ray Road dates to 1958, when the Maley family planted St. George rootstock on fine, sandy loam. The quintessential “west side” elements are present: loamy aromas and rich, lush boysenberry and blueberry fruit.
Winemaker: Michael McCay (McCay Cellars)
Grower: Keith Watts
This vineyard is next to Van Ruiten Winery on Highway 12 and dates to the 1940s. Careful, methodical selection from the tall, almost vertically trained, ladder-like, head-pruned vines produces a wine with a slight herbaceous, tobacco-like quality. There is a little more tannin present than in the previous two wines.
Winemaker: Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery)
Growers: Jerry and Bruce Fry
Planted in 1901 by the Mettler family and now farmed by Mohr-Fry Ranches near Armstrong Road and West Lane on the west side of the Lodi AVA, this 8.3-acre parcel produces lush fruit, the entirety of which goes to St. Amant Winery. Flavors of sour cherries and plums with bright aromatics from the native fermentation.
Winemaker: Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines)
Grower: Ross Schmiedt (managed by Markus Bokisch)
Located on an east side bend in the Mokelumne River off Bruella Road, this 8-acre vineyard dates to 1918 when the Schmiedt family raised dairy cows, grapevines and fruit trees. This wine has all the enticing qualities found in Macchia Wines: lush, voluptuous and earthy. This vineyard is new to the Lodi Native mix.
The Soucie Vineyard on the west side of the Lodi American Viticultural Area is where Layne Montgomery sources his commercial and Lodi Native Zinfandels. COURTESY LODI WINEGRAPE COMMISSION
Winemaker: Layne Montgomery (m2 Winery)
Grower: Kevin Soucie
This 40-acre ranch planted in 1916 on the west side of the Lodi AVA has own-rooted, head-trained vines on fine, silty soil with the consistency of talcum powder. This site is close to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta’s cooling breezes, resulting in a distinctively luscious, pungently earthy, terroir-driven style of Zinfandel.
The differences location and viticulture can make are striking in the Lodi Native wines.
“One of our other goals in this project was to demonstrate the diversity of the vineyards and that it’s not one homogenous region,” Spencer said. “As you taste through these six wines, they’re all distinctly different from each other and that’s one of the things that has amazed me in this whole project from the beginning is how different the wines really were.”
The 2013 Lodi Native wines are available only in six-pack sets at the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center on Turner Road for $180. Only 120 sets were made and they are going fast. They would make a great gift for the wine enthusiast in your life.