Traditionally styled Champagne is being made in Lodi

LOCKEFORD – Eric Donaldson is making Champagne on a beer budget.
Well, not really.
Champagne isn’t Champagne unless it’s made in Champagne, France. But sparkling wine crafted in the method champenoise, a.k.a. the traditional method, can be made anywhere. And that’s what Donaldson is doing, and he’s only vintner in Lodi crafting sparkling wine using Champagne’s traditional method.
“There’s actually quite a bit of sparkling wine coming from Lodi, but no one else is doing domestic champenoise here, so I said I’m just going to open up shop here in town,” said Donaldson, a 34-year-old native of Oxford, Ohio, and University of Miami (Ohio) graduate. “Since everybody else is using Lodi fruit, why shouldn’t I?”
Donaldson will offer his line of three sparkling wines under the LVVR Sparkling Cellars label at the grand opening of his tasting room from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday in the spot formerly occupied by Stama Winery at Tuscan Wine Village, formerly Vino Piazza, on Locke Road in Lockeford.
Donaldson has been in the wine business since 2005 and has crisscrossed the country making wine in his native Ohio, as well as southern New Mexico, Healdsburg and for the last five years in Lodi. Donaldson has invested his life savings and then some for his startup sparkling wine operation, cutting costs by using refurbished equipment and doing all of the work himself. But Donaldson doesn’t take short cuts when it comes to the quality of his wines.
The brut is bright and clean, as is the rose and the Blanc de Blancs. Each wine starts with a base blend of chardonnay and viognier (12.8 percent ABV). Chardonnay and pinot noir are the classic varieties in Champagne. Viognier is not.
“Viognier offers a little more fruit and complexity on the bouquet,” Donaldson said. “You know there’s something. It’s hard to put an adjective on it but you know it’s not all chardonnay.”
Sparkling wine can be made different ways. All sparkling wines begin with a still wine. The finished product depends on the fermentation method. Weibel Winery in Lodi makes delightful sparkling wines using the Charmat method, where the second fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in a tank. Italian Prosecco commonly is made this way.
With the traditional method, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and the bubbles are trapped inside. The bottles slowly are turned over several days to allow the dead yeast cells to settle at the neck of the bottle. The bottle neck is frozen to stabilize the yeast and the bottle is disgorged. Replacement wine is added in a process called dosage, and the bottle is corked.
Generally, method champenoise creates finer bubbles than the Charmat method, and the wine takes on complex flavors and aromas of yeast, bread and nuts when it’s allowed to age.
The differences between Donaldson’s three sparkling wines are determined by the dosage. The rose, for instance, receives its color and nuanced earthy aroma from a 2 percent dosage of Alicante Bouchet.
Donaldson sources from Lodi growers, who long have supplied fruit to some of Napa’s premier sparkling wine houses. He said he enjoys making wine in Lodi. LVVR Sparkling Cellars wines are priced around $20 retail and are available at Zin Bistro, Brix and Hops and Cheese Central in Lodi.
“I like the community. A lot of people have been willing to help me out,” said Donaldson, who previously worked in the cellar at LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in Lodi. “Also, I like the fruit. You get really good quality here out of Lodi and it’s reasonably priced, so it makes a start much easier versus Napa and Sonoma where the amount of startup capital is outrageous. Here, people can do things to get started.”
There’s no doubt that Donaldson is starting something sparkling.

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Bloggers know best –Masthead will be unveiled at WBC

There’s an awful lot of wine out there.
Brad Gray, Scotto Cellars’ public relations and media manager, had an ingenious idea: Why not have some noted wine bloggers blend a new wine and showcase their creation at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference this week in Lodi?
To his knowledge, nothing like this had been attempted. What a story. And if it worked, Gray had the perfect event to tie in with the release.
“The bloggers have been important to us, and they are a big part of our PR approach,” said Gray, who promotes Scotto Cellars’ 40-some brands of wines and craft ciders. “So, we brought in the four bloggers we’ve been working with and we turned them loose.” Stockton-based wine bloggers Peter Bourget and Nancy Brazil (PullThatCork.com), Chicago’s Cindy Rynning (grape-experiences.com) and Dallas’ Melanie Ofenloch (DallasWineChick.com) sat down with noted Napa winemaker Mitch Cosentino and Scotto Cellars’ head winemaker Paul Scotto on June 8 in a suite above Scotto Cellars’ nearly completed tasting room on School Street in Lodi. For more than three hours, they swirled, sniffed, tasted, blended and shared notes in the hope of creating a sensational blend or single varietal.
“We said to them your goal is to create a really outstanding wine that people will enjoy and it can be a varietal, it can be a blend,” said Bob Walker, marketing manager for Scotto Cellars, who helped with the project. “Here’s what you have to work with.” The panel was given 11 total barrel samples of sangiovese, syrah, zinfandel, petit sirah, petit verdot and barbera. After contemplating myriad possibilities, the bloggers agreed that a 50-50 blend of sangiovese from Hungarian and French oak barrels would be the ticket. The fruit came from Block 433 on the Mohr-Fry Ranch in the Mokelumne River sub-American Viticultural Area in Lodi.
Gray and company named the wine Masthead, a clever nod to newspapers and traditional printed wine reviews. The release of the 2014 Masthead Sangiovese Mohr-Fry Ranch, Block 433 by Scotto Cellars already has created quite a buzz in the blogosphere. The buzz surely will grow once the bloggers get their palates on it. After tasting Masthead recently, I can say only that the growers, vintners and blenders did a heck of a job.
“The whole thing was really an experience,” Bourget said. “(Cosentino) was very patient and really wanted to guide us as to how to get to the finished blend. It was really fascinating.”
The “bloggers blend” as it has been nicknamed, is a small lot of 568 bottles. The wine is ruby in color, spicy, well-balanced and approachable. What’s left of Masthead after the conference will be available at Scotto Cellars’ tasting room, slated to open later this month.
“This should be a good food wine,” Walker said. “It has some nice acidity to it and there is something in the front palate, the mid-palate and it has a nice finish. They did a good job.”
The WBC is being held for the first time in Lodi. Participants will spend Thursday through Sunday experiencing much of what Wine Enthusiast’s 2015 Wine Region of the Year has to offer.
Follow the conference on Twitter @bobhighfill, @winebloggerscon and #WBC16, as well as Facebook.com/WineBloggersConference.

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Anderson Valley worth the drive

MENDOCINO COUNTY— Ted Bennett made a fortune in the stereo industry and “retired” in his 30s.

He and his wife wondered what they should do next, so they sought a spot where they could make their favorite styles of wine. That spot ended up being the gorgeous Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, which at the time, in the early 1970s, was not much more than sheep farms and fruit orchards. Some 40 years later, the Bennetts and their company, Navarro Vineyards and Winery, are going strong, and so is the area around them.

Take the four-hour drive north toward the coast in Mendocino and discover a burgeoning wine scene with some of the most delicate pinot noirs and Alsatian white wines you’ll find this side of Europe. My wife, Christiane, and I found the Anderson Valley well worth the drive after visits to four outstanding wineries on Highway 128 in the tiny town of Philo.

Balo (BAY-low) Vineyards is surrounded by lush gardens and an immaculate bocce court with wines crafted by Alex Crangle, who took over after noted winemaker Jason Drew helped the winery get its start. Balo’s portfolio is outstanding, but its whites are particularly captivating: The 2015 Pinot Noir Blanc ($32) grown on the estate and fermented in stainless steel, is a symphony of peaches and citrus on the nose with stone and minerals on the palate; the super-dry 2014 Riesling ($24) from 40-year-old vines, some of the oldest in the Anderson Valley, has a faint, textbook petrol aroma with baking spices; and the 2014 Pinot Gris ($26) from Filly Green Farm, the first biodynamic vineyard in the Anderson Valley, is floral with citrus fruit flavors. Among their pinot noirs is the 2014 Suitcase 828 Estate ($38), so named because the clone (828) was smuggled from Oregon. The spice and bright red fruit aromas mingle with the cherry bubblegum and strawberry flavors found in gamay. Beaujolais drinkers would enjoy this wine.

Across the street in The Madrones, a tiny enclave of shops, tasting rooms and the Stone & Embers restaurant, is the tasting room for Drew Family Cellars, Jason and Molly Drew’s showplace for their albarino, pinot noir and syrah. The 2014 Gatekeeper Pinot Noir ($32) from three vineyards that ring the Anderson Valley is flavorful with nice acid and fruit with medium body. The 2014 Fog-Eater Pinot Noir (N/A) from the Balo vineyard and Filly Green Farm is light-bodied with tart cherry flavors, and the 2014 Syrah ($48) from Valenti Ranch in the Mendocino Ridge AVA is a cool-climate syrah with 5 percent viognier in the Côtes-Rotie style.

Just a couple of miles north stands a wood-shingled apple dryer dating to the 1880s where Phillips Hill Winery offers its splendid array of pinot noir. Owned by partners Natacha Durandet from the Loire Valley in France and California native Toby Hill, who also is the winemaker, Phillips Hill’s wines are made from 100 acres of estate fruit and trusted sources. Hill’s first vintage was the 2002 Oppenlander Pinot Noir and the winery’s production still is a scant 1,700 cases. The entry-level pinot noir, 2014 Bootling Anderson Valley ($28), is from a Beaujolais clone of pinot noir. Phillips Hill’s vineyard-designated pinot noirs are remarkable, especially the 2013 Valenti Mendocino Ridge ($45) which exemplifies Hill’s commitment to terroir-driven wines with minimal intervention. The fruit is there, but the gravel and mineral notes take center stage.

Head south to Navarro Vineyards and sample their lineup of terrific Alsatian whites and pinot noirs. The 2014 Gewürztraminer ($19.50) from Anderson Valley, Navarro’s flagship wine, has a classic nose of spice, rose petals, lychee and papaya. The 2014 Riesling ($29) has 1.6 percent residual sugar, making it semi-dry, with apricot, pear, papaya and white pepper aromas and flavors. The 2015 Edelzwicker Anderson Valley ($16) is a semi-dry blend of pinot gris, gewürztraminer, Riesling and muscat with floral and stone fruit flavors and aromas. The 2015 Rose of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($19.50) is dry with strawberry, cherry and cinnamon aromas and flavors. Among their pinot noirs, the 2012 Anderson Valley Methode a l’Ancienne ($32) has a light ruby color and flavors of ripe raspberries, white pepper, cedar and plums.

Anderson Valley not only is beautiful, but it’s laid-back and relatively unspoiled, a secret worth sharing near the Pacific Coast.

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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)
Ingredients
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
Method
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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      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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