Masthead project provides glimpse into art of blending

LODI — The bar had been set high.

The 2014 Masthead by Scotto Cellars, released at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, received 93 points from Tasting Panel and 90 points from Wine Enthusiast.

Impressive scores indeed.

Wine bloggers Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget from Stockton (PullThatCork.com), Cindy Rynning from Chicago (grape-experiences.com) and Melanie Ofenloch from Dallas (DallasWineChick.com) created the 2014 Masthead ($30) with guidance from wine industry veterans Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto. From 11 barrel samples, the bloggers crafted a 50-50 blend of Mohr-Fry Ranches Block 433 Sangiovese aged in separate French and Hungarian oak barrels.

What to do for an encore?

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Brad Gray opens samples that were used in the blending of the 2015 Masthead at the Scotto Cellars tasting room in downtown Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Recently, Brad Gray with Scotto Cellars asked me to join wine bloggers Kim Johnson, a former Manteca resident now living in Napa (dvinewinetime.wordpress.com), and San Francisco-based business consultant Thea Dwelle (lusciouslushes.com) to create the 2015 Masthead for release at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference on Nov. 9-12 in Santa Rosa. It was an honor to be included, and the experience proved to be fun and educational.

On the morning of June 20, the group met at the Scotto Cellars tasting room on School Street in downtown Lodi and drove to Mohr-Fry Ranches on North West Lane in Lodi for a tour of some mighty gorgeous grape vines managed by Jerry Fry and his son, Bruce. Jerry Fry took us out into the vineyard and spoke about the history of the ranch, which previously was owned by the J.J. Mettler family dating to 1899. Fry’s family has owned the 225-acre parcel since 1965.

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From left to right: Mitch Costentino, Kim Johnson and Jerry Fry check out a Zinfandel vineyard planted in 1945 at Mohr-Fry Ranches in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Mohr-Fry Ranches is an iconic producer whose fruit consistently has made its way into some of Lodi’s top bottles. One particular block, the 8.2-acre Marian’s Vineyard, planted in 1901, still is going strong, yielding about 3 to 4 tons of head-trained Zinfandel each year. Eleven wine grape varieties from Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel, as well as heirloom beans and some of the last Tokay Flame grapes in Lodi grow in Mohr-Fry’s sandy loam soils.

“The soil here is so good in the Lodi area,” Fry said. “It’s just wonderful. It’s deep, and it doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, but it has enough especially for grapes to grow and for good root growth.”

Following the tour, we drove east of Highway 99 and checked out Scotto Cellars’ wine and cider production facility on South Cluff Avenue. The family-run operation dates to the late 1800s in New York and has blossomed in recent years by filling niche markets with keg and bottled wine and hard cider. Scotto led us through the plant and allowed us to sample his mango-jalapeno cider — cool and refreshing with a nice bite.

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Paul Scotto, center, leads a tasting of his mango-jalapeno cider at Scotto Cellars' winemaking facility in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

After lunch at Lodi Brewing Company, the “work” began. The mission: Blend as many as nine barrel samples of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon into a singular wine — the 2015 Masthead. The goal (with tongue-in-cheek): Knock the socks off the 2014 Masthead, a beautiful wine available in limited quantity at Scotto Cellars’ tasting room.

We evaluated each barrel sample separately, noting its color, aroma and flavor characteristics, and began the blending process, taking some of this and a little bit of that to create a wine greater than its individual parts. Cosentino lent more than 30 years of wine blending expertise as we poured samples into beakers, keeping track of the barrel numbers and the amounts used. It was interesting how the flavors and aromas were lifted or muted in the blending process.

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Mitch Cosentino pours the first barrel sample of Sangiovese with blogger Kim Johnson in the background. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Tough duty but after more than two hours of experimentation, we were confident we had created a food-friendly wine with structure and balance: The 2015 Masthead — a blend of 90 percent Mohr-Fry Ranches Sangiovese from three different barrels (two French oak and one American oak) and 10 percent Zinfandel aged in once-used French oak from Tony Martin’s vineyard on DeVries Road in Lodi.

It will be interesting to see how the 2015 Masthead is received at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference, and by wine critics and the public.

The project provided an education in the art of blending and a window into the passion and dedication of winemakers Paul Scotto and Mitch Consentino. My thanks to them, the entire Scotto team, and Kim and Thea for a great experience.

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The 2015 Masthead team (left to right): Paul Scotto, Bob Highfill, Mitch Cosentino, Thea Dwelle and Kim Johnson. [BRAD GRAY/COURTESY

— Contact reporter Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8282 or bhighfill@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/FromTheVine and on Twitter @BobHighfill.

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Liquid Learning makes education fun

ESCALON — On a warm and pleasant Saturday afternoon in Escalon, about two dozen wine enthusiasts figuratively were whisked away to the Iberian Peninsula.

Stockton’s Lynn Rich and Escalon’s Michelle Franzia, partners with Liquid Learning, offer experiential wine education packages. Last weekend, they presented an array of Spanish wines matched with their Lodi counterparts, and paired them with delectable tapas made by Franzia’s sister, Napa chef Maurine Sarjent.

We all learned about Spain’s diverse wine styles and what foods pair with them.

The experience took place at Franzia’s estate in Escalon, a gorgeous two-story home with an outdoor swimming pool surrounded by immaculate grounds: flowers, trees, shrubs and dozens of acres planted to Chardonnay.

The afternoon began with a brief presentation by Rich about Spain’s rich winemaking history dating to the Phoenicians before the birth of Christ through Roman occupation into modern times. Spain’s varied climate, topography, and cultural traditions make it one of the most diverse wine regions in the world. Rich explained Spanish wines also can be a great value with price points below $20 per bottle.

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2013 Tarima Hill Monastrell, Alicante, left, and 2014 Bokisch Monastrell, Lodi are paired with an eggplant empanada, romesco and Spanish chorizo at a recent Liquid Learning Spanish Wine and Tapas Tasting in Escalon. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

The group assembled in fours around tall tables and tasted white wines from Rueda and Rias Baixas, then sat at a long table and sampled red wines from Calatayud, Rioja and Alicante. Each Spanish wine was placed next to a wine of the same varietal from the Lodi American Viticultural Area, which has a Mediterranean climate suited to Spanish varieties.

Up first was Bodegas Aranleanon Deshora Cava, Requena ($14) and a bite of Jamon Iberico. Cava is an everyday Spanish sparkling wine made in the traditional method like Champagne. It’s crisp and light and bubbly, super refreshing and perfect with the fatty, salty ham from Spanish pigs raised on a diet of acorns.

Next were the 2015 Marques de Caceres Verdejo, Rueda ($9) and the 2016 Bonny Doon Verdejo, Lodi ($24) with a fava bean puree, manchego and micro greens. Both wines were clean and crisp with high acid; light-bodied and refreshing, perfect with the spring-like, bright flavors of the puree.

The 2015 Martin Codax Albarino, Rias Baixas ($14) takes on some of the influence from the Atlantic Ocean near where it’s grown in Galicia, giving a touch of salinity to this light white that goes so well with oysters and seafood. The 2016 Oak Farm Albarino ($24) is more floral and lush. Both went beautifully with the tapas of saffron rice in endive with shrimp.

As an aperitif, the 2015 Albero Bobal Rose, Utiel-Requena ($7) helped highlight Bobal, the second-most planted grape in Spain. Such an easy sipper with gorgeous strawberry and cherry notes and dry on the palate.

On to the reds, starting with the 2014 Los Rocas Garnacha, Calatayud ($15), the third-most widely planted grape in Spain noted for its peppery earthiness, high alcohol and complexity. Mike McCay’s 2013 McCay Cellars Grenache, Lodi ($35) had aromas and flavors of juicy red fruit, baking spices and oak. Each had the hardiness to complement a tapas of smoked duck slices with grilled Lodi cherries.

Tempranillo is Spain’s king red grape and Rioja is the region where it’s best known. The 2012 Glorioso Rioja Reserva, Rioja Alavesa ($10) was gorgeous, elegant and plush. So was the 2015 St. Amant Tempranillo, Amador ($18): juicy and more extracted. The aged steak with balsamic reduction was splendid with both.

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Garnacha from Spain and Grenache from Lodi are paired with tapas at a recent wine and tapas tasting offered by Liquid Learning in Escalon. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Next, a trip to Alicante, home of the gamey, peppery red variety Monastrell. The 2013 Tarima Hill Monastrell, Alicante ($15) and the 2014 Bokisch Monastrell, Lodi ($23), the last vintage from the Belle Colline Vineyard went beautifully with an egglplant empanada on a swath of romesco studded with Spanish Chorizo. Both wines had elegance and earthy, savory qualities.

Liquid Learning offers several tasting and education experiences. Information: higherliquidlearning.com or (209) 650-5570.


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Get in the pink this summer

When the weather heats up, rosés are so appealing.

Fresh and fruity, dry and crisp, lightly sweet — great on their own or with food or as the base for sangria, this versatile wine style should not be overlooked.

Only red wine grape varieties can be made into rosés — also called blush wines. Their light color and light to medium body come from limited contact, usually one to three days, between the red grape skins and the clear juice. Colors can range from light pink to salmon to bright red, depending on the duration of skin-juice contact and the base grape varietal(s).

Almost any red grape varietal can be made into rosé, but some of the more typical varieties include Zinfandel (White Zinfandel), Grenache, Carignane, Syrah, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Rosés are popular in Provence, where they are almost all bone-dry, but they are made all over the world. Perhaps the most popular blush wine in the U.S. is Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel, which is on the sweet side.

Generally, rosés are lower in alcohol than red wines and are floral with lavender and rose petals, and resplendent with red fruit, such as cherry, strawberry, watermelon and cranberry. They tend to be easy on the budget and are meant to be consumed while they are young and fresh.

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Blush wines have been trending for some time. They are great in the summer. Lodi has many to choose from, including from left to right, Rose of Carignane from m2, Sorrelle's Bella e Rosa (Barbera, Sangiovese), LangeTwins Sangiovese Rose, Estate Crush Rose, and a'Campo Rose of Old Vine Cinsault. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Here are some rosés that might make your summer picnic or lounge time even more pleasant:

2016 Tenuta dell’ Ammiraglia Alie Rosé ($18)

Produced in the heart of the coastal Maremma region of Tuscany, Alie Rose is a blend of Syrah (98 pecent) and Vermentino (2 percent). This wine is immediately pressed off the skins and blended with no maceration. It sees four months in stainless steel and one month in bottle. The wine is elegant and refined, pale in color with subtle peach notes.

2016 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé ($13)

Made using 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, this South African rosé is made in a richer, more flavorful style than its more delicate counterparts from Provence. Sweet watermelon flavors, floral aromas and refreshing mineral notes combine with a savory quality and fresh acidity.

2016 Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses Rosé ($14)

This blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah from Languedoc along France’s Mediterranean coast has mineral nuances from the hard limestone and schist soils with delicate rose petals, orange peel and grapefruit on the nose and palate.

2016 Acquiesce Grenache Rosé, Lodi ($24)

Light strawberry nose with watermelon and lime on the palate, this dry rose pairs with most any food and is great to sip outside on the patio.

2016 Markus Zeal, Lodi ($22)

This blend of Syrah (64 percent) and Carignane (36 percent) is winemaker Markus Niggli’s tribute to the hard-working vineyard crews of South Africa where he used to work. Watermelon, tangy grapefruit and strawberries are up front on the nose and palate, with a mineral-driven mid-palate, leading to a soft, creamy finish.

Some time this summer, catch the view from behind rosé-colored glasses.

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How do Lodi wines stack up?

For wine grape diversity and winemaking talent, Lodi is pretty hard to beat.

Thanks to growers and winemakers embracing all that this region has to offer, Lodi is the most diverse wine growing region in the state. Though Zinfandel still is king, some 100 other wine grape varieties are planted on a total of more than 100,000 acres in the Lodi American Viticultural Area, with its Mediterranean climate and sandy loam soils.

Want Italian wines? Lodi makes them. Want Spanish wines? Lodi has them too, as well wines grown in France, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Germany, Austria and Portugal.

But how do Lodi’s wines stack up against the best wines in the world? The answer is: quite favorably.

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Randy Caparoso, left, Fred Swan, center, and Deborah Parker Wong were panelists of the Lodi Wines vs. Best in the World (A Blind Tasting) last Friday at Wine & Roses in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Last Friday, Randy Caparoso with the Lodi Winegrape Commission led a panel discussion and blind tasting with noted wine educators and scribes Fred Swan and Deborah Parker Wong before an audience of winemakers, growers and wine enthusiasts at Wine & Roses in Lodi. The event helped kick off the 13th annual ZinFest, which took place Saturday at Lodi Lake.

“We wanted to give people a good idea where Lodi stands in the world of wine, not just compared to wines grown in Sonoma or Santa Barbara or Oregon, but South Africa and Spain and all over France,” said Caparoso, who writes an award-winning blog at LodiWine.com. “Ultimately, the Winegrape Commission wanted to demonstrate the fact that Lodi wines can compare favorably.”

Tasters knew the variety in their glass but the wine’s place of origin was kept secret before the big reveal.

Round 1: Picpoul.

Nicknamed “lip stinger” for its screeching acidity, this white varietal from the South of France is a must with oysters. The 2016 Acquiesce Winery, Lodi Picpoul Blanc ($22) from the Mokelumne River sub-AVA went up against the 2015 Cave de Pomerols, HB Picpoul de Pinet ($13.99) from Languedoc-Rousillon, France. Both wines are high in refreshing, citrusy acid, but the Acquiesce had more fruit, such as green apples and peaches with mineral expressions and tropical fruit on the finish.

Round 2: Albarino

This Spanish white varietal can be floral and perfumed, or salty and savory. Bokisch’s 2015 Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills-Lodi Albarino ($18) is a wine for Sauvignon Blanc drinkers because of its grapefruit and peach notes, Swan said. Its counterpart from Rias Baixas, in Spain’s northwest corner, the 2015 Palacio de Fefinanes Albarino ($26), was floral and perfumey.

Round 3: Vermentino

PRIE Winery’s 2015 Delu Vineyard Lodi Vermentino ($21) from the Alta-Mesa sub-AVA has gorgeous citric, stone and mineral notes with pear and banana; a nuanced wine that would go beautifully with sushi, Swan said. The 2014 Antoine Arena, Patrimonio Blanc “Carco” ($45) from Corsica, France, was more forceful, more fruitful and just as wonderful. Either wine would be respectful of food.

Round 4: Cinsaut

This polarizing variety has graced Lodi for more than 130 years in the 25-acre Bechthold Vineyard, the state’s best source for this spicy, perfumed wine. The 2012 Onesta Wines, Bechthold Vineyard Lodi Cinsault ($29) has good impact in the mouth with lots of fruit and light tannin. The 2014 Waterkloof “Seriously Cool” Cinsault ($25) from Stellenbosch, South Africa, was whole cluster fermented and is light in color with flavors consistent with Pinot Noir. Parker Wong described its aroma as “patchouli spice.”

Round 5: Grenache

Grenache in France, Garnacha in Spain this red variety is blended with Syrah and Mouvedre in the famous GSM wines of the Southern Rhone Valley. As a single varietal, it can be juicy, floral or gamey. McCay Cellars’ 2013 Lodi Grenache ($35) from the Abba Vineyard in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA has a pure, fresh and fruity approach with a cherry focus. The 2014 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge “La Sagesse” ($39) from 60-year-old vines in the Southern Rhone has much more spice, tobacco and tannin.

Round 6: Carignan

Ripe fruit, more oak, more tannin, juicy, delicious and very new world in style were descriptors bandied about for the 2014 Klinker Brick, Lodi Carignane ($25) from the 108-year-old Rauser Vineyard in the Mokelumne River sub-AVA. Darker spices, dark fruit and light tannin dominate the 2015 Domaine Maxime Magnon, Corbieres Rouge “Campagnes” ($47) from 100-year-old-plus vines in Languedoc-Rousillon, France.

Round 7: Zinfandel

It can’t be a Lodi wine tasting without Zinfandel. In this round, two zins from California were featured: the 2014 Lodi Native, Maley’s Lucas Road Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi Zinfandel ($35) by Macchia Wines, and the 2015 Ridge Geyserville ($40). The Lodi Native is Zinfandel in its natural state with a wide spectrum of aromas and flavors. The Ridge, sourced from vines up to 130 years old in the Alexander Valley, is a fruit forward, jammy wine, though the alcohol is dialed down.

Round 8: Syrah

Pretty, bright fruit, lean, herbal and floral (violets, big time!), the 2015 Domaine Faury, Saint-Joseph Rouge ($36) from newer vines planted between 1979 and 2007 in the Northern Rhone Valley is a gorgeous wine. Ripe, rich, smooth on the palate with great presence in the mouth describe the delicious 2014 Fields Family Wines, Estate Mokelumne River-Lodi Syrah ($25).

Each wine is beautiful in its own way. What I learned from this exercise is Lodi’s wines are every bit on par with some of the best wines in the world. A trip to another part of the world is just a short drive away.


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Barefoot marketing genius says Lodi’s the “un-Napa”

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Randy Arnold gave an interesting presentation about building a wine brand at the first meeting of the Lodi Association of Wineries. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Mike McCay took the microphone and opened the first official meeting of the Lodi Association of Wineries last Thursday at the Lodi Grape Festival grounds.

In his opening remarks, McCay mentioned how pleased he was with the range of Lodi winery owners and winemakers in the audience.

“We have young Lodi, medium Lodi and experienced Lodi here,” said McCay, owner and winemaker at McCay Cellars. “It’s very important for LAW to be a cohesive group.”

LAW was formed last year to give winery owners a voice regarding the San Joaquin County Wine Ordinance. The Wine Ordinance, in part, limits the number of events a winery can hold in a year, as well as the number of guests who can attend, depending on the property size.

“We want to bring value to Lodi wineries,” McCay said. “We all realize Lodi is about to explode. We’ve come a long way and there’s a lot more road to go down.”

LAW also was formed to give wineries an opportunity to exchange ideas and receive education. On Thursday, Randy Arnold, brand ambassador with Barefoot Wine and Bubbly, was the guest speaker and shared some of his knowledge about building a wine brand. Arnold helped Barefoot grow from humble beginnings (Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey started Barefoot in their laundry room in 1985) into the world’s No. 1 wine brand, with a portfolio of 35 different wines and sales in 74 countries on six continents.

In 2016, Barefoot’s sales in the U.S. exceeded $660 million, almost twice that of Sutter Home.

Arnold has been central to Barefoot’s marketing and sales strategies over his 30-plus years with the company. Among its core values is engagement with the community. Arnold has spearheaded events from global beach cleanups to partnering with local nonprofits in order to build brand recognition and customer loyalty. Barefoot has little need for traditional means of advertising.

Arnold said every year, Barefoot donates products to different nonprofit benefits. In the past decade, Barefoot, which was purchased by E&J Gallo in 2005, has raised more than $250 million for nonprofits in North America.

“We want to make the world a better place through wine,” Arnold said. “That’s the basis of how the largest wine brand in the world got established. And we have hundreds and hundreds of causes.”

For the past five years, Arnold has put together “Lodi Insiders Tours” for nonprofits to auction at fundraisers. Recently, the East Bay SPCA fetched $2,000 for one of Arnold’s Lodi tours. Guests usually are taken on a walk in the vineyard and taste wine and cheese with a grape grower. Arnold said he likes bringing guests to Lodi because of the area’s hospitality, history, diversity and affordability. He calls Lodi the “un-Napa.”

“It’s always interesting and we always just have a totally great time,” Arnold said. “They feel they are getting a very unique experience.”

Arnold has seen the Lodi wine scene grow and predicts more growth in the future.

“In five years of doing the Insiders Tours, I’ve seen the amount of people in the wineries increase dramatically,” he said. “The weekends are getting really busy, and it’s fantastic to see because you deserve that attention.”

 

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The Ladies of the Lodi Wine Scene

Several years ago, Susan Tipton celebrated Mother’s Day with guests at her Acampo winery, Acquiesce, in a special way.

She hired an actress who impersonates Julia Child. The actress spoke in character, for the most part, about Child’s life in Paris. The performance was so convincing, a woman in the audience approached the actress believing she actually was “the French Chef,” though Child had passed away more than a decade earlier.

“She went up to her and said ‘I watch you all the time on TV,’ ” said Tipton, “and Julia kept along with the program and said ‘thank you very much.’ ”

Whatever makes moms happy on their special day.

Tipton is among hundreds of women in Lodi who make people happy as winemakers, hostesses and business people. Many of these women have raised families, passing their examples of hard work and perseverance on to their children. With Mother’s Day coming Sunday, I wanted to salute some of the women of the Lodi wine scene.

In keeping with the “French Chef” theme, Tipton said her favorite food as part of a Mother’s Day brunch is quiche (here is the link to Susan’s favorite quiche recipe http://sonoma-figgirl.com/2013/11/18/quiche-lorraine/).

“It’s kind of my treat to myself and it goes really well with our wines,” she said. “I really think that’s kind of a spring, summer, Mother’s Day brunch item.”

Susan and her husband of 40 years, Rodney Tipton, rarely spend Mother’s Day with their three boys and three granddaughters, who all live in the Pacific Northwest. But they plan to share a conversation Sunday.

“I’ll definitely talk to the kids and grandkids on the phone,” said Tipton, who has three sons: Randy, J.R. and Marshall, and three granddaughters, Georgia, 2, Saya, 8, and Frances, 11.

Mother’s Day can evoke strong memories.

Elyse Perry, winemaker at Bokisch Vineyards, and her three older brothers always tried to give their mother, Phyllis, some time to herself on Mother’s Day growing up in New York. Perry said her father always presented Phyllis with a bouquet of roses.

Perry rarely has the opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day with her mom, who still lives in New York. But they are close in their hearts and thoughts. Perry said her mother’s faith in her has been a huge positive in her life, especially when she left 22 years ago to begin a new life in California.

“Whatever I put my mind to she would always say, ‘you can do it,’ ” said Perry, whose husband, Jeff, is the wine club and tasting room manager at Bokisch. “She has always remained really positive. She has this warmth and light about her.”

Heather Pyle-Lucas also has warmth and light about her, especially when growing grapes and making wine at The Lucas Winery, which she owns with her husband, David. She has been a stepmom to David’s grown children, Brandon “Buck” Lucas and Mitra Lucas, who runs the winery, and a grandmother to Mitra’s boys: Luc, 5, and Beau, 3.

Heather learned valuable lessons from her mother, the late Ann Pyle, who was born and raised in Australia and became an Olympic swimmer. Ann was the first woman to graduate from Sydney University with a medical degree and practiced medicine in Great Britain. Heather said her mother gave her the courage to follow her convictions. Heather was studying to be a veterinarian at University of California, Davis before taking an “introduction to wine” course her final semester. She was hooked. Heather changed her career path to winemaking and started with the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa.

“I decided agriculture was a great choice for me,” Heather said. “My brain started engaging instead of being on this track of this is what I want to be when I grow up and never changing.”

Marissa Lange also followed her mind and heart when she opted out of the medical field after obtaining a degree in neuroscience from Brown University in Rhode Island. She returned to California to work in the family business, LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in Acampo. A busy working mom to son Lincoln, 10, and daughter Jane, 8, and wife of Matthew Janopaul, Lange started working in marketing at LangeTwins and now is the company president.

“My mother (Charlene Lange) is full of wonderful advice,” Lange said. “But one of the best is showing a level of persistence, a level of commitment, a level of dedication to whatever you are doing. That notion that you really need to persevere to thrive in anything you do in life, whether personal or professional.”

Elyse Perry, left, Barbara Spencer, Heather Lucas, Lani Holdener, Bettyann Spenker, Jorja Lerner, Marissa Lange and Susan Tipton represent women in the Lodi wine industry. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD.

Jorja Lerner has two teenage children — Kirsten, 17, and Ian, 15. She and her husband, Kyle, run Harney Lane Winery in Lodi. Jorja said Mother’s Day usually involves something relaxing at home with the family after a day hosting guests at their tasting room.

“We’ve kind of rearranged when we celebrate,” Jorja said. “We’ve tried to create a space here where people kind of enjoy relaxing and hanging out. That’s what we’re here for.”

Barbara Spencer is seemingly always busy at St. Amant Winery, which she opened in 1990 alongside her late husband, Tim. Barbara has passed her strong work ethic on to her children, Stuart and Lori, who help at the winery. Stuart is the winemaker and also the program manager with the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Lori is a school teacher and assists any time she’s needed.

“There’s always something going on,” Barbara said. “My kids have always been hard workers and very disciplined, so that’s been good.”

Bettyann Spenker also is a hard worker. She studied biological science and started teaching before she met her husband, Chuck, started a family and opened Spenker Winery in Lodi. She and Chuck have two grown daughters, Kate and Sarah, who help at the winery, which opened in 1994. Bettyann is the winemaker and is immersed these days in overseeing construction of a new tasting room and goat cheese creamery on the property. Bettyann said she has learned to balance her hectic work schedule with being a wife and mother.

“For working moms, you have to figure out what works for you and not compare yourself to what other moms do,” she said. “There’s a wide spectrum of things that do work. There’s a lot of pressure that moms put on themselves. I know I put a lot of pressure on myself to do as well as what I perceived somebody else was doing, and that can really frustrate you.”

Lani Holdener wears many hats at Macchia Winery in Acampo.

“This morning I was mowing three acres of lawn, and yesterday I was loading seven pallets of wine on the UPS truck,” she said. “You just have to wear the hat that’s called for that day or that moment.”

Lani’s engery and drive have helped Macchia thrive since it opened in 2001. Lani said Mother’s Day plans can depend on what hat she’s wearing that day. Her children, Tanya McMahan, Jonathan McMahan and Tyler Holdener, work at the winery. Her three grandchildren, Sierra McMahan, 15, and 17-month old twins Kayla and Asher McMahan, and her parents, Mona and Bill Bassler, are all relatively close by.

“It’s fine, because you know every time I’m with my mother it’s Mother’s Day and every time I’m with my kids it’s Grandkids’ Day,” Lani said. “I try not to hold one day bigger than the next.”

But Mother’s Day is a big day. So, thanks to all of the moms for everything they do, including my mother, Barbara Highfill, and my mother-in-law, Teresita Roceli.


 

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Chenin Blanc is Clarksburg’s calling card

Chenin Blanc is a light-bodied, dry white wine that’s perfect in the spring and summer.

Chenin Blanc goes well with sushi, Mediterranean cuisine and hearty fare like veal. The variety is widely planted in South Africa and the Loire Valley in France, and even has found its place in California.

Chenin Blanc is the primary white wine grape grown in the Clarksburg American Viticultural Area near Sacramento. If you’re not familiar with Chenin Blanc or equate it with the sweet stuff your parents used to drink, take the beautiful drive along the Sacramento River through Walnut Grove and Locke (stop at Al the Wop’s for a cheeseburger) to the Old Sugar Mill. There, you’ll find 11 tasting rooms under one roof, some offering nice examples of one of the world’s most versatile wine grapes that can be made into dry, off-dry, sweet or sparkling wine.

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The Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg is home to 11 tasting rooms. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Rendez-vous Winery’s 2014 Chenin Blanc ($18) won double gold and best of region at the 2016 California State Fair. The wine has an almost clear core that deepens to light gold near the rim. The nose is clean and fresh. There’s a pleasant floral note and even a little damp concrete. The initial attack is off-dry, but the finish is crisp, clean and dry. The flavors are tropical and citrus with ripe honeydew melon and a mineral undertone.

Rendez-vous Winery has been at the Old Sugar Mill for about five years. All of the fruit in its eclectic lineup hails from Clarksburg, home to more than 35 varietals. Check out the Rendez-vous 2016 Grenache Rose ($19), another double gold and best of region winner at the 2016 California State Fair. The wine has a faint, pinkish hue with a flinty nose and subtle floral and strawberry components. The flavors match the aromas. The finish is slightly sweet, though the wine is dry, light-bodied and refreshing.

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Heringer Estates in the Old Sugar Mill offers an eclectic lineup that includes award-winning Chenin Blanc and an intriguing Nebbiolo. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Heringer Estates’ 2015 Chenin Blanc ($16) won double gold at the 2016 California State Fair. This wine hits the mark, because minerals and dry stones are at the forefront and the fruit takes on more of a supporting role. Gold flecks along the rim twinkle when the glass is held up to the light, making one think of prospectors striking it rich in the Sierras. Believe it or not, fresh-popped popcorn comes through on the nose. Dry, light-bodied, high acid.

Heringer Estates boasts six generations of grape growing know-how. Michael Heringer took the reins and expanded the family business from primarily growing Chardonnay to some 20 varietals, with Petite Sirah, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Teroldego serving as the core varieties. Heringer Estates wines also are 100 percent Clarksburg.

When you go, try the 2013 Heringer Nebbiolo ($27). Does it measure up to a Barolo or Barbaresco from Piedmont, Italy? Not quite. But Heringer’s Nebbiolo has elegance and the firm tannic grip Barolo and Barbaresco lovers love, just not to the same degree. Roses, white pepper and cherry-covered concrete are on the nose with copper, cherry and strawberry on the palate. It’s a nicely integrated, well-balanced wine.

Chenin Blanc is a worthy drawing card to Clarksburg. But there are other interesting wines to try.

 

 

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Lodi building food and wine culture

Some exciting news on the food and wine front was released recently.

Lodi’s Wine & Roses Hotel, Restaurant and Spa has secured the services of celebrated chef Bradley Ogden, who will work with executive chef John Hitchcock to oversee all culinary aspects of the property, including the Towne House Restaurant and Lounge.

Ogden had been consulting with Wine & Roses the past six months.

Ogden is a two-time James Beard Award winner who has opened some of the more acclaimed restaurants in the country. Ogden’s culinary vision using the freshest, high quality ingredients is in step with the Central Valley’s bounty and Lodi’s status as a first-rate wine region.

Renowned chef Bradley Ogden has joined the culinary team at Wine & Roses in Lodi.

“Lodi reminds me of the way wine regions like Sonoma and Napa were like when I first came to California in the early ’80s,” Ogden said in a blog post by Randy Caparoso for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. “Back then, there was a sense that we had everything we needed at our fingertips — the best and freshest ingredients, the finest wines made from the best grapes — and all we had to do was take advantage of it. Lodi has all of that, and it’s just a matter of bringing it further out into the open.”

Ogden graduated with honors in 1977 from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park in New York and worked at the American Restaurant in Kansas City for his mentors, Beard and Joe Baun. Ogden rose to national prominence as executive chef at Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco. He then opened The Lark Creek Inn in Marin County, acclaimed by critics as one of the best restaurants in the country.

Ogden’s empire also includes One Market in San Francisco, Lark Creek in Walnut Creek and San Mateo, Yankee Pier in Larkspur, Parcel 104 in Santa Clara, Arterria in Del Mar, and his namesake restaurant, Bradley Ogden, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

“Lodi as a whole will benefit from his presence,” Wine & Roses Managing Owner Russ Munson said, “and we cannot wait for the community to welcome Chef Ogden.”

Noted chef highlights LangeTwins’ dinner

James Beard Chef Molly McCook, co-owner of Ellerbe Fine Foods of Fort Worth, Texas, will be the guest chef at the LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards’ annual ZinFest kickoff dinner on May 18 at the Acampo winery. Chef McCook will prepare a menu that will be paired with 10 different LangeTwins’ wines, including a four-year library tasting of their California Bordeaux blend, Midnight Reserve, and their newly released chenin blanc. McCook and Ellerbe Fine Foods co-owner and wine aficionado Richard King, who also will be at the dinner, were childhood friends on Ellerbe Street in Shreveport, Louisiana. They joined forces and opened their award-winning restaurant in 2009.

McCook’s commitment to sustainable dining is in line with LangeTwins’ sustainable farming practices.

“Chef McCook has trained in sustainable dining practices at some of the country’s finest restaurants, including Gary Danko, Stars and Luques, and her commitment to family farmers aligns with our hands-on agricultural focus,” LangeTwins co-founder Randy Lange said in a statement.

The dinner is $150 per person. Reservations: jmulrooney@langetwins.com or (209) 334-9780.

To the victors

Linda Neal, who was featured in a January column for her Tierra Roja Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, won double gold and Best of Sierra Foothills Red for her 2014 Mellowood Vineyard Fairplay Syrah at the 2017 California State Fair Wine Competition, which included 2,663 wines from 711 California wineries.

Area wineries that received Best of California accolades were Andis Wines 2013 Painted Fields Amador County (Best Bordeaux Varietal Red Blend), Macchia (Lodi) 2015 Flirtatious California (Best Other Fortified Desert Wine), Bella Grace 2016 Vermentino Shenandoah Valley Amador (Best Other White Varietal), Deaver Vineyards 2015 Primitivo Amador County (Best Primitivo), and Peirano Estates (Lodi) 2015 Heritage Collection Viognier San Joaquin County (Best Viognier). For the list of winners: CAStateFair.org/California-Commercial-Wine.


 

 

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Newcomer Klouda brings a fresh perspective

Michael Klouda is a newcomer to the Lodi wine scene.

But he’s become enamored with Lodi’s glorious past and believes it must survive.

The gnarly, single-head trained zinfandel vines, some dating to the 1800s that are synonymous with Lodi, are disappearing, perhaps not in alarming numbers but enough so that Klouda is concerned.

“It’s going away because of the cost of labor,” Klouda said on a recent misty morning standing in Roland Hatterle’s head-trained zinfandel vineyard off Turner Road. “People are ripping out old vines and planting stuff for either high wire, which can be mechanically pruned or other systems that can be machined more efficiently.”

Head-trained vines resemble bushes. Harvesting must be done by hand. It’s hard work to keep them going. But when done right, old vines produce lower yields of intense, complex fruit — the kind Klouda likes to work with for his outstanding wines.

“It’s like a true expression of zinfandel,” Klouda said as he thinned burgeoning shoots from a head-trained vine showing tremendous vigor from the heavy winter rains. “On sandy loam soil, this is Lodi.”

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Lodi viticulturist and winemaker Michael Klouda thins shoots from a head-trained vine at the Hatterle Vineyard in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Klouda didn’t know Lodi existed until he accepted an interview with Michael David Winery in 2009. Klouda, then 22 years old, left behind his life in agriculture and as a chef in Ohio to chase his dream of making it in the wine business. He flew to Los Angeles and bought a baby-blue 1982 Subaru hatchback that leaked oil whenever he made a left-hand turn.

“The car had survived four earthquakes, the owner told me,” Klouda said. “I drove up Highway 99. If I went up I-5, I don’t think I ever would have made it. There are fewer places to stop on I-5.”

Klouda made it to Lodi and he’s made his mark at Michael David, where he now is the viticulturist and northwest grower relations representative. And he’s making critically acclaimed wines for his own label, Michael Klouda Wines, a brand showing solid growth in its infancy.

“I’m very grateful people like my product and it’s selling and it’s moving,” said the 30-year-old Klouda, who’s married (Katie) and has two children: daughter Juniper, 7, and son Logan, 4. “I’m starting to get a lot of traction.”

Klouda has developed relationships with Lodi growers and winemakers such as Hatterle, who has farmed a 90-year-old, own-rooted plot of head-trained zinfandel behind his home for nearly 50 years, Bob Schulenburg, who has a 60-year-old zinfandel vineyard, Ron Silva in the Alta Mesa sub-AVA, Layne Montgomery at m2 Winery, and of course, Kevin Phillips with Michael David Winery. Klouda’s style is down to earth, not pretentious in any way.

“He really is an up-and-coming superstar in Lodi,” said Lodi winemaker Chad Joseph during a recent Facebook Live virtual tasting showcasing Lodi Rules sustainable wines including Klouda’s Broken Vine Zinfandel from Schulenburg’s vineyard. “He’s definitely an up-and-coming great winemaker in this area showcasing Lodi wines.”

In addition to the Hatterle and Broken Vine zinfandels, Klouda’s lineup includes Stem Theory (a blend of cab, cab franc and petit verdot), carignane and mourvedre to name a few. Nugget Stores in Elk Grove, the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center and select restaurants carry Michael Klouda Wines. If traveling to England, Klouda’s wine is on celebrity chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver’s list.

Klouda’s pretty excited about that. But mostly, he’s excited to be in Lodi working with its grand old vines, a passion he wants to continue pursuing for a long time.

“Hopefully with buyers like me, winemakers like me who are willing to pay a little bit extra,” said Klouda, “these vines can stay in the ground a little bit longer and we will be getting some heritage wines out of them.”


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Lodi’s growers live by their own rules

LODI — Many industries await calamity before adopting altruistic processes to achieve long-term success.

Not Lodi’s wine grape growers.

In 2006, some of the 750 growers in the Lodi American Viticultural Area adopted California’s first sustainable viticulture program, the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing.

And it’s not a fuzzy, feel-good joke of a program.

To be certified, a grower must meet rigorous standards pertaining to 100 sustainability practices organized into six chapters: business management, human resources management, ecosystem management, soil management, water management and pest management.

When first created, just five growers and about 1,200 acres were certified sustainable by Lodi Rules. In 2016, more than 100 growers and 36,000 acres, about 22 percent of the appellation, had become certified sustainable. More than 25 wineries have wines bearing the Lodi Rules seal.

“Sustainability is the future,” grower Aaron Shinn said during a recent Facebook Live virtual tasting that also was hosted by St. Amant Winery owner and winemaker Stuart Spencer and noted winemaker Chad Joseph. “Becoming part of a program that allows you to be certified through rigorous standards is kind of a way to adapt to the market. It’s something that people are looking for. It’s something that people care about.”

The Lodi Rules were not created to comply with a bureaucratic edict. They were a proactive measure created voluntarily by Lodi’s farming community, which includes many multi-generation families, to ensure a healthy wine grape business for years and years to come. Lodi Rules has become a benchmark program for other regions in California and elsewhere to follow.

Grape quality has improved as a result of the Lodi Rules.

“You know that if a grower is going through these steps and processes, they are paying a lot more attention to what’s going on in the vineyard,” said Spencer, who also is the program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. “It’s ultimately going to end up in a better quality product. What it says is our vineyard is a better vineyard because of the attention we are giving it.”

To illustrate how sustainable vineyard management pays off in the bottle, four Lodi Rules certified wines were featured in the virtual tasting attended by a cyber audience of wine writers and bloggers. Each wine carries the Lodi Rules seal indicating that at least 85 percent of the juice came from Lodi Rules certified vineyards.

“When you buy that product with that seal on it, your money is going to people that care about future generations and about taking care of the land and the people that work the land,” said Joseph, winemaker at Oak Farm Vineyards, Harney Lane Winery and Dancing Coyote Wines. “That’s a great selling point for me right there.”

2015 Bokisch Vineyards Albarino, Terra Alta Vineyard ($18)

Liz and Markus Bokisch generally are credited for bringing this Spanish white varietal to Lodi. Albarino is an early-harvest grape that creates a light-bodied wine with a beautifully fresh acidity. The citrus fruit expression from the Terra Alta Vineyard in the Clements Hills sub-AVA is gorgeous, and the wine has a mineral, almost flinty texture.

2016 Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($20)

Joseph has made a pure sauvignon blanc with aromas of lemongrass, grapefruit and pear with refreshing acidity and honeydew melon and citrus flavors. There is an underlying grassy element but not too much. The grapes are from the venerable Mohr-Fry Ranch.

2014 Michael Klouda Broken Vine Zinfandel ($26)

This is Klouda’s third vintage from Bob Schulenburg’s vineyard, which has 60-year-old vines that produce small clusters with small berry size. Just more than a third of the juice was fermented with native yeast. The wine spent 16 months in second-year barrels that had been used for pinot noir.

2014 Michael David Winery Inkblot Cab Franc ($35)

Michael David Winery was among the first that signed on with the Lodi Rules, and they incentivized their growers to comply with the program. Among their eclectic lineup is this cabernet franc, a Bordeaux varietal noted for its black cherry flavor and touch of graphite on the finish. A beautifully structured wine that represents the wide range of styles Lodi has to offer.

The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing are a credit to the Lodi wine community. The rules help ensure that Lodi will be a vibrant wine region for years to come.

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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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