Legends of the Pfalz

The 2011 Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir from Pfalz, Germany, is an outstanding, entry-level value play that is worth finding. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Pinot Noir is prized for its softness, elegance and ease of drinkability.

It’s a thin-skinned grape. It’s fussy and only fully expresses itself in certain spots on the globe. Simple supply and demand economics – boosted perhaps by Paul Giamatti’s monologue in “Sideways” – have shot the price of quality Pinot Noir into the stratosphere. But there are values to be had.

Excellent expressions of this noble grape can be found outside Burgundy, France, where the best Pinots in the world are made, such as Oregon, New Zealand and California. During a recent visit to K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco, I found an entry-level, value play that comes from a place you might not expect.

2011 Friedrich Becker Estate Pinot Noir Pfalz ($21)

91 points, Wine Enthusiast

Germany is a cool winegrape growing region that is hot right now on the global scene. In a country best known for its world-class Rieslings, there are certain southern areas, such as Pfalz, where it’s warm enough to ripen Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

Friedrich Becker owns 36 acres of vineyards in the southern portion of Pfalz and into Alsace, and has earned a reputation as one of the top producers of Spätburgunder in Germany.

The Becker Estate Pinot Noir has a clear, pale ruby color with a clean nose of musty, peaty, leather, pine forest and dusty aromas, traits associated with Old World winemaking practices compared to the fruit-forward styles in the New World.

The flavor intensity is medium-plus, with hints of smoke, tobacco, cinnamon spice, rose petals, sour cherries, strawberries and cranberries. The acid is medium-high, the tannin is medium and the alcohol is medium-minus (12.5 percent).

This wine has complexity and allure; it’s soft and romantic and would pair well with salmon and heavier seafood, poultry, duck or even a steak.

Give it a try and see what you think.


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Lodi Native shows off region’s diversity

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

Stampede Vineyard

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.

Wegat Vineyard

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.

TruLux Vineyard

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.

Marian’s Vineyard

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.

Schmiedt Ranch

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.

Soucie Vineyard

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.

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Tempranillo can be awfully tempting

The world celebrated International Tempranillo Day earlier this month.

If you missed it, have no fear. There’s plenty of this ancient red wine to enjoy all year, especially when the temperature begins to dip in autumn.


The 2012 Tormenta Tempranillo from m2 Winery in Lodi. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Though Tempranillo is indigenous to Spain and is the primary grape in Rioja, its love for warm days and cool nights has made it a favorite among growers in the Central Valley. Lodi has at least 25 wineries producing some mighty tasty Tempranillo.

What is Tempranillo? Here are five things Wine Enthusiast magazine says every wine lover should know about it:

1. It’s very, very old. Tempranillo dates before the time of Christ. It’s been grown on the Iberian Peninsula since the Phoenicians settled it in 1100 B.C.

2. It’s an early bird. Tempranillo is derived from the word temprano, which in Spanish means “early.” Among red varieties in Spain, it’s considered an early ripener.

3. It has many monikers. Tempranillo goes by more than a dozen different names around the world, depending on where it’s cultivated. It’s called Tinto Fino in Ribera del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro, Ull de Llebre in Catalonia, Cencibel in La Mancha and Tinto Roriz in Portugal.

4. It’s cloned. There are about 500 clones of Tempranillo in Spain alone; Tinto Fino and Tinta de Toro are the best-known.

5. It has a white mutant. Although rare, albino Tempranillo does exist in Rioja. It’s an approved wine grape; it yields a citrusy, rather simple wine akin to Viognier in weight, flavor and overall style.

Tempranillo largely was ignored outside of Spain until the 1990s when the Gallos began to sing its praises. Tempranillo generally needs a blending partner, such as Garnacha, to plump it up. It takes well to oak, but can be too woodsy if aged too long.

Tempranillo is dry and has savory flavors, hints of leather and tobacco leaves, and stewed black fruit. Some of its most renowned examples come from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year in 2012, a distinction Lodi earned this year. Tempranillo from Lodi tends to be a little more intense than Spanish Tempranillo.

Here are a few to look for:

The 2009 Bodegas Muga Reserva is a fine example of Spanish Tempranillo. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

2009 Bodegas Muga Reserva ($26)

I tasted this wine during the Level 3 award classes with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. It left quite an impression with its flavors of ripe berries and oaky spices.

2012 Harney Lane Tempranillo ($25)

Released in February, this complex, deep-ruby colored Lodi Tempranillo has tobacco notes, leather and other savory components with firm tannin. I’ve powered through a couple bottles this year, but it only would improve with time.

2012 m2 Wines Tormenta Tempranillo ($22)

From the Kirschenman Vineyard in Lodi, the m2 Tormenta shows tell-tale Tempranillo tendencies: tobacco, plums and violets on the nose, firm tannin, black cherry and vanilla on the palate, and a long finish.

Good by the glass with a blanket wrapped around you by the fire or with a plate of pot roast, Tempranillo is a great varietal for the full-bodied red wine lover.

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Thanksgiving wine tips are G-rated

During a recent visit to Oak Farm Vineyards in Lodi, I tried two exciting wines that would go well with your Thanksgiving dinner.

2014 Grenache ($28)

What makes Oak Farm’s 2014 Grenache so enticing for Thanksgiving is its softness and elegance. This 100 percent Grenache isn’t overpowering, but has enough structure to

The pale ruby 2014 Grenache from Oak Farm Vineyards is almost like pinot noir in its softness and elegance, though it has enough structure to stand up to Thanksgiving dinner. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

stand up to turkey, ham and savory side dishes that can be difficult to pair with wine.

The color of the 2014 Grenache is pale ruby, almost blush, and could be mistaken for pinot noir in a blind taste test. It has a light body, medium acid and medium aroma intensity of fresh-sliced strawberries and rose petals. The flavor intensity is medium, with a profile that includes roses, red fruit, blue fruit and some earthiness. The finish is medium. It’s ready to drink now, with about 3 to 5 years of aging potential.

The grapes were grown at the Silvaspoons Vineyard farmed by Ron Silva in the Alta Mesa-Lodi American Viticultural Area. The fruit was light in color, the juice was fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in French Oak barrels. Oak Farm’s cellar master Randy Ziegler and winemaker Chad Joseph allowed the varietal to naturally express itself.

“It would be a good pairing with Thanksgiving, particularly on the meat side of things because it’s not real big, rich or heavy,” said Dan Panella, managing general partner of Oak Farm Vineyards. “But at the same time, it has some character to it. It has good structure, a nice rounded-out mouthfeel. It’s not thin or anything like that.”

2014 Gewurztraminer ($19)

From the Lost Slough Vineyards in Rio Vista, this award-winning rendition of the German white varietal is fragrant and interesting. Pale gold color, almost watery, it just looks clean and crisp. The medium-plus aroma intensity is evident immediately. The descriptors for the nose are vast: sweet lychee, kiwi, green apple, white pear, ginger, coconut water, yellow roses, white nectarine, allspice and honey.

Oak Farm Vineyards' 2015 Gewurztraminer won a gold medal at the 2015 Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition and would be a nice pairing with Thanksgiving. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

The flavor intensity is medium with a light body. Again, honey, ginger, stone fruit, roses, cantaloupe, kiwi and lychee on the palate. The acid is medium-plus, as is the finish.

The fermentation was stopped before it went all the way dry, so it’s semi-sweet but not cloying, with about 3 percent residual sugar.

“For us, that seems like a balance between being off-dry, semi-sweet and not being over the top, like saccharine sweet,” Panella said. “The aromas of that grape just jump out at you. It has a lot of floral character to it, and it’s just really pleasant, really fun.”

The 2014 Oak Farm Gewurztraminer, which took a gold medal at the 2015 Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition, would pair with dessert, such as pumpkin pie, or with dinner, because the acidity would cut through the richness of the meal. This is ready to drink now.

Oak Farm Vineyards’ new tasting room and production facility is located on DeVries Road in Lodi on the Panella family’s resplendent estate, which is worth a visit alone. But the wine will keep you coming back.

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Old Ghost is nothing to be afraid of

Like scary stories and trick or treat, the release of Klinker Brick’s Old Ghost old vine zinfandel is a Halloween tradition.

Klinker Brick Winery owner Steve Felten, left, and his daughter Farrah were in the Halloween spirit during their October Wine Club Release Party on Oct. 25 in Lodi.

At its recent October Wine Club Release Party, the Feltens (Steve, Lori and Farrah) and their staff wore festive Halloween costumes and handed out bottles of their 2013 Old Ghost to their wine club members. Party goers could sample the Old Ghost and Klinker Brick’s other outstanding wines: Farrah Syrah with its smoky character, 1850 Cabernet blend (60 percent Cabernet, 30 percent Petite Sirah, 10 percent Zinfandel), Old Vine Zinfandel from 16 different blocks averaging 85 years in age, Marisa Vineyard Zinfandel produced from an 88-year old single vineyard block, Petite Sirah and Albarino, as they enjoyed live music and food from Tin Roof Barbecue in Lodi.

The 2013 Old Ghost falls in line with past vintages, delivering rich brambleberry fruit aromas intermingled with anise, clove and exotic spice.

From some of the oldest head-trained vines in Lodi’s Mokelumne River sub-appellation, Old Ghost comes on like a spirit possessed only to soften into something more friendly, like “Casper.” It is a blend of the best old vine zinfandel Klinker Brick produces each year.

Smaller berries from their harvest block tend to provide a higher skin to flesh ratio, creating a greater level of smooth yet firm tannin and structure. The wine aged 18 months in 40 percent French and 60 percent American oak. The harvest date was Oct. 11, 2013 at 26.5 brix. The alcohol is a hefty 15.9 percent with a pH of 3.72.

For fans of Lodi’s full-bodied zins, Old Ghost never disappoints. Pair with steaks, short ribs or grilled lamb.

An advantage Lodi has for the long term is many of its wineries are family-owned with generations of grape growing experience. The Feltens are no exception. Like many of their Lodi colleagues, the Feltens know the land, the vines and they know how to make wine.

Owner Steve Felten, a fifth generation grape grower, got into the winemaking business in 1995 by necessity when Gallo canceled a contract. The Felten’s haven’t looked back. Steve and Lori’s daughter, Farrah Felten-Jolley, is their vice president of marketing and sales, so the family touch and attention to detail is evident from start to finish.

Kim, left, and Chris were in the Halloween spirit behind the tasting bar at Klinker Brick Winery's October Wine Club Release Party in Lodi.

Stop by their tasting room at 15887 Alpine Road and experience some of the best of what Lodi has to offer.

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Taste the World at Fine Wines of Stockton

Gail and George Herron host tastings at their Fine Wines of Stockton shop on Thursday evenings.

Each tasting centers around a different theme. The tastings are always fun and interesting, and draw a nice group of wine lovers. The Herron’s and many who take part are well-traveled and incredibly knowledgeable. There’s always something new to learn from them.

Last Thursday’s tasting was titled “West Coast Whites.” George told us we would be tasting white wines, excluding Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, from the West Coast of the United States.

It was an exciting opportunity to taste some out of the ordinary white varietals.

George put each wine in its own bag. This was a blind tasting. George instructed us to swirl, sniff, taste, evaluate and guess what was in our glass — six wines in all, one at a time. After the guesses, George revealed the wine.

Here’s how it went:

• Wine No. 1 was watery in color with gold flecks and had a light aroma intensity of grapefruit pith and green apple, which carried over on the palate with minerality, a speck of bitterness and a floral component; refreshing medium-high acid, light body and a medium finish.

Guesses: Viognier, Torrontes, Semillon, Chenin Blanc.

Reveal: 2014 Bokisch Garnacha Blanca ($18)

Notes: From Lodi’s Vista Luna Vineyard, which is organically farmed and green certified. Six months in stainless steel and neutral French oak. Suggested pairings: cheese, fruit, tapas and grilled shrimp with chili lime butter.

• Wine No. 2 was pale gold in color with a medium aroma intensity of stone fruit and honeysuckle. The palate was dry with some sweetness. The flavors included peaches, nectarines and orange blossoms with medium acid, medium body (there was a creaminess to it) and a medium finish.

Guesses: Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Albarino, Viognier.

Reveal: 2012 Cline Estate Sonoma Coast Viognier ($20)

Notes: Fred Cline first planted Viognier in his Sonoma Coast and Carneros vineyards in 1990. The grapes were hand-picked, gently pressed and pumped into stainless steel tanks and then neutral barrels. The creamy mouth feel and stone fruit aromas and flavors pair well with spicy stir-fry and Thai curry dishes, and grilled fish topped with fruit salsa.

• Wine No. 3 had a pale gold color with green flecks, the nose had minerality, the flavor was slightly floral with medium-high acid and a light body.

Guess (unanimous): Chenin Blanc.

Reveal: 2012 Blue Plate Dry Chenin Blanc ($11)

Notes: From Clarksburg, Blue Plate’s first 100 percent Chenin Blanc would pair with cheese, roasted nuts, oysters or steamed fish. The juice cold-fermented for 45 days to complete dryness in stainless steel.

• Wine No. 4 had a pale gold color with a big, sweet nose of stone fruit — peaches, nectarines and apricots. The palate was dry with citrus flavors, like lemons and tangerines; medium-high acid and a medium finish.

Guesses: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Semillon, Torrontes, Viognier.

Reveal: 2014 St. Amant Verdelho ($15)

Notes: Verdelho is a Portuguese varietal that has prospered through 13 vintages at St. Amant’s Amador County vineyard. Aromatic, light, lemony, and an ideal companion to Asian cuisine or on its own.

• Wine No. 5 was pale gold in color with lemon and clove spice on the nose. The palate was semi-dry with a lush floral component, as well as white peach, orange blossom and ginger. The acid was medium-high, but balanced with the fruit. The body and finish were medium. Clean and expressive.

Guesses: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat.

Reveal: 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer ($12)

Notes: From the cooler regions of the Columbia Valley in Washington, the wine was 100 percent stainless steel fermented at cooler temperatures for three to four weeks. The floral quality comes from a splash of Muscat. Suggested food pairing is Thai food or any cuisine with a little “bite” to it.

• Wine No. 6 had a light green hue and a pale gold rim. The nose was aromatic and reminded me of Honey Nut Cheerios. It was a bit musty and toasty, with some freshly cut grass thrown in there. There were mineral- and herbal-driven flavors and it had, by far, the highest level of acid of any wine in the tasting.

Guesses: Pinot Gris, Semillon, Albarino, Chenin Blanc.

Reveal: 2014 Tenuta Rapitala Grillo ($13)

Notes: George pulled a fast one on us! This wine hails from Sicily. George said he included this wine to remind us what acid REALLY is. From vineyards sitting between 900 and 1,300 feet on soils comprised of clay, small pebbles and sand, this 100 percent Grillo is harvested before ripeness in order to retain a balance between sugar levels and acidity. This would go well with light pastas, vegetables, shellfish and grilled white meats.

George put the wines in order from the least intense to the most intense. Much like red wines, white wines offer different flavor profiles and complexity.

“Don’t forget they’re out there,” he said.

Fine Wines’ tastings are at 6 p.m. most Thursdays and reservations are not required. There is a $10 charge, except for special, selected tastings. This Thursday, Jeff Walters will present wines from Italy and Spain. Sign up for the newsletter at FineWinesofStockton.com or call (209) 478-2589 for more information.







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Lucas ZinStar stands the test of time

 The aging potential of classic zinfandel picked early and crafted with minimal intervention was an eye-opening experience at The Lucas Winery’s biennial ZinStar Retrospective last Sunday at the Lucas Winery on Davis Road in Lodi.


The ZinStar Retrospective at Lucas Winery in Lodi gave tasters an opportunity to sample (from left to right) the 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 vintages, with small bites (center). BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

The ZinStar vineyard, a 3.5-acre parcel standing behind Heather and David Lucas’ winery and tasting room, recently celebrated its 37th harvest. Tasting wines from the ZinStar vineyard from eight vintages spanning three decades, examining the effects growing conditions, winemaking practices and bottle age had on each wine, was interesting and a lot of fun.

The tasting included small bites paired with Lucas ZinStar Zinfandel from 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 (reserve), 2003, 2004, 2009 (reserve) and 2010. Heather and David shared their notes from each vintage and invited guests to reveal their favorite memories and accomplishments from that particular year with the person with the best story receiving a gift. The stories grew more colorful as the tasting progressed.

Each wine was outstanding in its own way. But I had three favorites:

• The 1998 ZinStar was the lightest of the eight in color, as time has softened the deep ruby hue typical of young zinfandel into pale ruby. Blackcurrants were evident on the nose up front, giving way to leather, soy and spice. The palate carried those earthy, leathery and spice flavors, with medium tannin and light-medium body. The skin contact was 27 days and the wine aged 14 months in French oak.

“This wine to me, and I don’t know if you’d agree, was the most distinct in showing the age qualities of soy aromas, leather, certainly more spice driven,” Heather Lucas said.

In 1998, the ZinStar vineyard fared well during the El Niño spring and cool year that extended the harvest into October. Summer heat hit in mid-July, the leaves were tender, like lettuce, and some leaf scorching occurred and the berries were small. The vines were thinned three times because of uneven ripening and harvested, as always, by hand.

• In 1999, the winter was long and icy with average rainfall, followed by a long, cool spring with only two days in the 90s. May had near-record low temperatures in the 35-45 degree range and summer was cool. The result is a wine that has the classic blackberry, dark cherry and spice flavors with firm tannins and balanced acidity.

“This vintage, at that time, reminded me of the great ’85 and ’95 vintages,” David Lucas said. “Hiding some away for a couple years would be well worth the effort.”

Though a speck darker than the 1998 ZinStar, the ’99 was pale ruby in color with spice and earth on the nose with firm tannins and medium acid on the palate. Skin contact was 30 days, no press wine included, and 11 months in oak.

The 1998 and 1999 ZinStar Zinfandels were two of my favorites in the tasting because of their earthy characteristics. They displayed how zinfandel, when crafted with minimal intervention and lower alcohol, changes in time to show off its complexity and secondary flavors and aromas.

• The 2002 was another of my favorites, as it has an extraordinary balance of fruit and spice and earth characteristics. The color was medium ruby, with juicy aromas of blackberry, black cherry and spice.

A balanced growing season of warm days and cool nights resulted in a light yield (one ton per acre) of exceptional quality. Only 300 cases were produced. The classic zesty aromas of blackberry and boysenberry were there with ample structure. This was only the second vintage Lucas designated as a Reserve vintage.

The Lucas', David, left, and Heather, right, threw their biennial ZinStar Retrospective at their winery with a food pairing prepared by Heather Fogle, center, owner/executive chef of Elle's Custom Catering in Lodi and Stockton. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD.

“’In the past 26 years, since 1978, we have only declared two vintages as a reserve wine,’” David Lucas’ notes in 2002 read. “’This vintage, I am happy to announce, is the second. And I am not alone in this assessment. On May 15, 2004, Wine Spectator reported that ‘many wine makers believe that the 2002 vintage will rank among the best ever for this grape.’”

Their prediction was spot-on.

The ZinStar Retrospective was a unique opportunity to taste wines made with grapes from the same vineyard owned by the same pioneering winemaking family, managed by the same person, Stanton Lange, with the same goal of expressing the Lodi appellation and the differences conscientious crafting can make over time.

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Iconic winemaker celebrates 40 years at Jordan

Rob Davis recently was celebrated by his lone employer for 40 years of winemaking excellence.

Davis has worked exclusively with Jordan Vineyard and Winery in Healdsburg since he graduated from University of California, Davis, under the tutelage of the late Andre Tchelistcheff, whose likeness would be on the Mount Rushmore of American winemakers, if such a monument existed.


Jordan Vineyard and Winery in Healdsburg is housed in a French-style Chateau built in 1976. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Forty harvests is reason enough to throw a party, but 40 years with one winery is quite extraordinary. Davis’ knowledge, standards and practices in crafting elegant Bordeaux-style cabernet sauvignon and white Burgundy-style chardonnay have brought Jordan acclaim and iconic status. For instance, in 2014, Jordan topped Wine & Spirits Magazine’s poll of most popular restaurant wine lists brands and received Wine Enthusiasts’ American Winery of the Year award.

Lisa Mattson, Jordan’s award-winning director of marketing and communications, produced a testimonial video that was played during a luncheon attended by friends, colleagues and fans at Jordan’s exquisite chateau in honor of Davis’ 40th harvest, which just happened to be in full swing at the time. Dozens of celebrities and luminaries, such as actor Kurt Russell, Giants manager Bruce Bochy, former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, Master Sommelier Fred Dame and members of the rock band Train congratulated Davis for his four decades at Jordan in the video.

Guests enjoy a harvest celebration luncheon at Jordan Vineyard and Winery in Healdsburg. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

So, it wasn’t surprising but nevertheless a thrill to have a brush with a celebrity when my wife and I attended a recent Jordan Harvest Luncheon for guests and employees at the winery, an annual occurrence on selected days in September and October. Aikman also was at the luncheon. He had worked the previous day as the color commentator for Fox’s telecast of the 49ers-Packers game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Aikman was with his agent, Jordan Bazant and his wife, and their host for the day, Jordan Winery CEO John Jordan. Our group, hosted by Mattson and Maribel Soto, Jordan’s assistant guest services manager, were seated next to them. My wife, Christiane, sat next to Aikman, who politely introduced himself. She was quite awestruck.

“Jordan” has a soft spot in Aikman’s heart. Not only does he enjoy Jordan wine, his daughter and agent, the aforementioned Mr. Bazant, are named Jordan. Aikman left the table early to catch a flight. He went home with a magnum of 2001 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, his daughter’s vintage, presented to him by John Jordan.

Though no one can guarantee a chance meeting with a Hall of Fame quarterback, a visit to Jordan Vineyard and Winery is a blast. Tasting experiences are by appointment only, and there are several opportunities to choose from, including the Estate Tour and Tasting ($120 per person, May through October) — a 3-hour journey to remote corners of the serene Jordan estate to savor their wines, olive oil and Chef Todd Knoll’s cuisine; the Winery Tour and Library Tasting ($40) — a 90-minute walking tour of the chateau and seated wine and food tasting; and the Library Tasting ($40) — an hour-long seated wine and food tasting in Jordan’s private library. In each scenario, Jordan wines are creatively paired with cuisine prepared by Chef Knoll to demonstrate the interplay of flavors between food and wine. Knoll uses ingredients picked from the estate’s fruit and vegetable garden and local purveyors. 

Jordan has an Estate Rewards Program where points earned from purchases can be redeemed for tasting experiences.

It’s easy to fall in love with Jordan. Davis’ cabernet and chardonnay is some of the best out there, and the chateau winery on Alexander Valley Road is a step into a world where nature’s bounty and beauty are on tasty display.


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There’s a change in the weather

Winemaker Chad Joseph received his final load of fruit last Wednesday.

Those grapes have been processed and are fermenting. Most everything else is in barrel undergoing secondary, malolactic fermentation.

It’s been an unusual year. Warm temperatures with only a few heat spikes and little rain sent the vines into turbo mode, creating an early harvest. Several varieties peaked at about the same time, forcing winemakers to scramble processing their fruit to make room for more arrivals. Add a freak hailstorm one day this spring that hit some Lodi vineyards hard and 2015 long will be remembered as a challenging growing year, but one that might produce phenomenal results in the bottle.

The winegrape harvest was lighter in yield and high in quality. Whether this vintage will go down as fair, good or great depends in some measure to the touch of winemakers such as Joseph, who works with Harney Lane, Oak Farm Vineyards and Dancing Coyote, and Markus Niggli of Markus Wine Company and Borra Vineyards.

“The grapes that I work with were outstanding,” Joseph said. “Harney Lane’s reds were some of the best I’ve ever seen, but you can still see some vineyards had challenges. But overall, it was just an outstanding year.”

Shorter hang time means the grape’s natural acidity is higher when picked, which makes for a crisper, some might say, more Old World style of wine. The longer grapes hang, they develop more sugar, which leads to amped alcohol levels after fermentation. Some varietals, mostly reds, love to hang out well into autumn.

In some ways, the early harvest might pay dividends for white wine drinkers and those who appreciate lighter reds.

“It could be a distinctive year because it was so early, some of the acid contents were higher,” Joseph said. “So, we’ll see if that ends up being good for the quality, or if that will be a distinctive characteristic of this vintage.”

In some ways, though, the early harvest might not be good. Shorter hang time can lead to underdeveloped flavors. But Joseph said the acid and flavors were balanced this year.

“Whenever you have natural acidity from the grapes, you end up with a better product,” Joseph said. “Some people might not appreciate that style, but as a winemaker, that’s more like the wines I make.”

Niggli believes climate shift has been responsible for the early-harvest trend the past several years in California.

“Lodi, this year, I’m about 85 percent done with harvest,” Niggli said on Sept. 15 to a group of wine experts at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards during the Lodi Winegrape Commission’s Somm Camp. “In 2012, I started to pick zinfandel in a week (from now). That’s how much we’ve shifted forward. It’s not just here. It’s everywhere.”

This year was the earliest harvest on record in Napa, according to Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

Niggli said climate shift has had a positive effect on white wine grapes, especially in Lodi.

“I like it, early ripening,” he said. “Sugars are up there, acid is up there. It’s fantastic.”

Red varieties have been affected as well, but not in a good way for fans of full-bodied, rich, ripe reds.

“They will get more European: fresh acid, more food friendly,” said Niggli, a native of Switzerland. “I like it. I’m European. But in general, that big, fat cabernet peaking at the end of October, I think those times are over.”

Niggli said Napa cabernet sauvignon already was at 31 Brix (high sugar content) in mid-September.

“In general, the transition goes earlier and earlier,” Niggli said. “I think wine styles will change eventually.”

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Time well spent with Loos

It’s always a treat to spend time with Brad Loos.

My wife, Christiane, and I recently had lunch with Loos and two of his fraternity buddies from their days at University of the Pacific at Mile Wine Company, Paul Marsh’s wine bar and restaurant on Stockton’s Miracle Mile.

Loos Family Winery's 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, left, and 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir have different flavor and aroma profiles based on their age and origin. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Loos brought two of his fabulous pinot noirs — an earthy 2008 from Anderson Valley, and a fruit-forward 2013 from Russian River Valley. The Anderson and Russian River valleys are highly thought of American Viticultural Areas.

In addition to his full-time job as a medical patent agent, Loos, who lives in San Jose with his wife, Kim, and their daughter, Haley, has been busy handling the 2015 harvest, putting fruit from selected premium-quality vineyards through its paces at Dogpatch Wineworks in San Francisco. (Loos said he shares the consensus on the 2015 harvest: high-quality, low-yield).

Loos is celebrating his 10th year as a commercial winemaker. To commemorate the milestone, he is broadening his portfolio with his first bottling of chardonnay from the Russian River AVA.

“We’ve never made a chardonnay, so that could be really cool,” said the 52-year-old, 1986 Pacific graduate, who loves running and scuba diving. “That’s part of our 10-year anniversary thing, and we might have fun with it and tweak the label a little bit.”

Labels are a big deal to Loos, as his are chock-full of symbolism. The Loos Family blue logo on the front label represents the color of the ocean, which he and his family love, and the crest above the logo embodies heart, faith and family. Each bottle is painstakingly hand numbered. The little things, the attention to details, and the pride of being small and independent are what make Loos Family wines special and prized. Loos has won several industry accolades, including the North Bay Business Journal’s 2013 Winnovation Award and the Viticulture Award from the California State Fair in 2012. But market demand and muted ambition will lead to calculated growth.

“We’d like to expand a little, but we never want to get real big,” Loos said. “We actually enjoy being dinky, and we like hand numbering our bottles and all that stuff to emphasize that. But that being said, we would like to increase a little bit.”

To that end, in addition to crafting his first chardonnay, which will see neutral French oak, Loos will double the production of his favorite varietal, pinot noir, this year.

“Pinot’s tricky,” he said. “It’s a heartbreak grape. If things are going to go bad, they will go bad for pinot. But when it works, it works wonderfully.”

Tasting Loos’ 2013 Russian River and 2008 Anderson Valley pinots side-by-side only hammered home the influences age and terroir can have on this remarkable varietal, the king grape of Burgundy. The 2013, with its flowery label, was light ruby in color and tasted young and fresh with red cherries on the nose and palate, while the 2008 had taken on a darker hue and had more earthy, truffle-like nuances on the nose and palate with the fruit playing a supporting role. Both were sublime.

Loos puts similar care into his cabernet sauvignon, syrah and sauvignon blanc.

Tasting is by appointment through Dogpatch Wineworks in San Francisco. Loos Family wines can be purchased at loosfamilywines.com or some fine wine shops, such as K & L Wine Merchants in Redwood City and San Francisco. Information: (408) 799-5938.

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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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