Pickin’ and grinnin’

Much respect for our agricultural workers!

Not one who enjoys even the most rudimentary yard-maintenance task, I had to laugh at myself as on a recent, scorching afternoon, I was crouched beside a vine replete with ripe petit sirah grapes, holding a curved, serrated knife with a bucket hanging from a harness around my neck.

The funny part? This wasn’t an honor farm assignment. I was sweating in a dusty Lodi vineyard voluntarily, pickin’ and grinnin’ – to borrow a phrase from Buck Owens and Roy Clark — learning about the winemaking process first-hand from its starting point, the vineyard.

The fruit of our labor.

As part of a six-man crew that had permission from the vineyard’s owners to pick away, in about an hour, we harvested approximately 1,300 pounds of petit sirah and malbec grapes, took them to a private facility where they were crushed and de-stemmed. Then, the juice, skins, seeds and stems – the must — was poured into large plastic barrels to ferment. Commercial wineries go through the same process, just on a much larger scale. 

We weren’t finished. Already in plastic barrels were cabernet sauvignon grapes that had been picked and crushed the week before. The fermentation process had run its course, so these crushed grapes were ready to be put through a basket press to extract the juice from the must.

Cabernet sauvignon "must" is poured into the basket press.

 

 The basket press has a bladder inside that slowly inflates with water, squeezing the juice through the sides of the meshed basket. The free-run and pressed juice falls out of a spout and is collected in barrels to begin the next step of the process — malolactic fermentation. In this process, natural bacteria from existing wine or freeze-dried bacteria is added to the juice to turn the harsh malic acid into lactic acid. This second-step fermentation helps stabilize and flavor the wine. Oak staves or chips will be added to to provide tannin and flavor. Not a bad way to spend the day, learning more about the winemaking process up close and personal.

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Letting Loos

Pacific graduates Kim and Brad Loos, owners of Loos Family Winery in San Francisco, dropped by Mile Wine Company (2113 Pacific Ave.) recently for a visit. Brad brought some pinot noir grapes from the recent harvest and some of his wine for us to sample and talk about.

The thin-skinned, tiny pinot noir grapes Brad brought are the same type that will comprise his 2014 Santa Lucia Pinot Noir. Loos makes small lots with fruit from some of the top vineyards in the state. The best way to get your hands on some is to place an order through loosfamilywinery.com or stop by Mile Wine to see if Paul Marsh has some. Loos dropped off a case of pinot and cabernet recently at Mile Wine and Marsh said it nearly sold out that night. Loos’s wines are a bit hard to find, but worth the effort.

Loos said he likes the variety the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA affords him.

“For me it’s nice because there is more of a mix of clones,” said Loos, who works as a patent agent in Menlo Park and makes wine at Dogpatch Wineworks in San Francisco. “The Russian River has a lot of Dijon clones. From Santa Lucia, we get a better mix and that gives me more of a darker pinot. Wider variety of clones, darker fruit. If you don’t like Russian River, you might like Santa Lucia.”

The pinot grapes Brad brought with him Saturday were from the 777 clone, which originated from the Morey St Denis (Cote d’Or). This particular clone is high in quality with a short cycle (late bud burst and early maturity) with a higher degree of sugar content and weak acidity.

Loos said the 2014 vintage promises to be better than good.

“There were no little green acid bombs to sort out,” he said. “Even ripening, the brix was good. The dark stems were caramel-like in flavor. No bird damage, no mold. The quantity is down 10 to 13 percent because of the drought and other factors, but the quality is there. So, I’m excited.”

Brad let us try his yet-to-be released 2013 Sauvignon Blanc made from fruit close to the Green Valley side of the Russian River Valley. Pale yellow with gold flecks, the nose was a bit tight before it released some of the classic citrus aromas found in sauv blanc. I detected just a hint of saline, and light lemon and grapefruit flavors. The acidity and minerality were there. The wine paired well with Mile Wine’s brussel sprouts with bacon and a balsamic vinegar reduction. Brussels sprouts are a difficult pairing, but Loos’s sauv blanc did the trick.

Brad then let us sample a pinot noir from his private collection. The hand written label said 2011 Pinot Noir Russian River – DeVries. Of course, DeVries is synonymous with Lodi and I couldn’t find anything on the Internet connecting DeVries with the Russian River Valley. I must be missing something. The wine’s color was like fruit punch. The flavor had a cotton candy element to it. In time, the cherry pie thing was in full effect.

We spent close to two hours together, though it seemed like only 15 minutes before Kim and Brad headed home to San Jose.

For information on Loos Family wines, go to loosfamilywinery.com

 

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Lucas is a ZinStar

David Lucas gives visitors a sample of five-day-old Estate Chardonnay inside The Lucas Winery barrel room.

This was one of those unforgettable experiences that was totally unexpected.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I visited The Lucas Winery on Davis Road in Lodi on a whim.

I was greeted as soon as I walked into the tasting room by Teresa, who led me to an open spot at the tasting bar. She poured a sample of Lucas’ 2012 Estate Chardonnay. As I enjoyed our conversation and the gold-colored wine with its bright, crisp acidity and green apple and pear flavors, Teresa mentioned that David Lucas, owner and founder, was going to conduct a barrel tasting of the brand-new, just-barrelled, 2014 Estate Chardonnay. What luck.

Chardonnay juice in its infancy on its journey to becoming Lucas Estate Chardonnay.

So, with about a dozen or so others, I walked into the cool barrel room adjacent to the tasting room inside Lucas’ well-appointed facility. Lucas, a Lodi wine pioneer, who began making wine in the early 1970s and selling it “legally” in 1978, drew samples of the cloudy Chardonnay from a new French oak barrel, and released the juice into our glasses. The liquid had been put into the barrel some five days earlier. The aroma and flavor resembled tropical fruit, a ripening pineapple. 

Lucas then poured the 2012 Estate Chardonnay as a point of contrast. This was the same wine Teresa had poured minutes earlier in the tasting salon. Great crispness, refreshing. Then, Lucas poured some his namesake Chardonnay from 1999. Entirely different characteristics: complex, refined, almonds, toast. Lucas’ winemaker, his wife Heather (they met while both worked for the Mondavis), ages Chardonnay on the dead yeast cells (sur lie) created during the fermentation process. When the yeast gobbles up as much sugar in the grape juice as it can and converts the sugar into alcohol, it falls to the bottom of the aging vessel. The practice is common in France.

The Zin Star vineyard, planted in 1933, at The Lucas Winery in Lodi.

Following the tasting, Teresa led some of us on a tour of Lucas’ organic-certified ZinStar vineyard directly behind the tasting room. The 3.5-acre vineyard was planted in 1933 and still produces like gangbusters. The 2011 Lucas ZinStar Zinfandel spent 14 months in French oak and reflects the cool growing season of the year. The wine has a resulting softness to it.

Teresa’s hospitality and David Lucas’ generosity made for an unforgettable, unexpected experience.

 Lucas Winery

18196 N. Davis Rd.

Lodi, CA

(209) 368-2006

 

 

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Oak Farm Vineyards going BIG!

The Panella family in Lodi is close to completing a major project on DeVries in Lodi. Check it out:

http://www.recordnet.com/article/20140826/ENTERTAINMENTLIFE/140829476/101108/A_ENTERTAIN

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Sippin’ in San Mateo

Wine enthusiasts, industry folks and media converged on Aug. 17 at the San Mateo Event Center for the Family Winemakers of California Tasting.

 

Joseph Harbison, chairman of the Family Winemakers of California, wishes he had more members in his organzation. I should have followed up on his statement. Did he mean the number of family winemakers in California is shrinking, or does he wish more family-owned wineries joined in support of the FWC, the policy and political voice for small, family-owned wineries? If I am able to speak with Mr. Harbison again, I will ask him what he meant. The man behind Harbison Estate Wines on the Silverado Trail in Napa and more than 150 of his member wineries poured on Aug. 17 at the FWC Tasting. The event drew industry professionals, media and wine enthusiasts.

Among the highlights:

 2013 Chateau Montelena Potter Valley Riesling ($25): Bright and pale gold in color, floral and fruit aromas ranging from honeysuckle and citrus blossom to banana and mandarin orange.

2011 Thirty-Seven Pinot Noir ($40): This Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir has a complex flavor profile with a creamy mouthfeel. Definite chocolate and coffee aromas, with hints of tobacco and crushed stone.

Elisa Correnti and Al Brayton of Thirty-Seven Winery in Sonoma at the Family Winemakers of California Tasting in San Mateo.

2010 Keenan Cabernet Napa Valley ($50): From the Spring Mountain District and Pope Valley in Napa comes this fabulous Cabernet, brimming with black cherries and mocha. Delightful nose. Medium bodied.

2011 Chaix Wines Cabernet Sauvignon ($48): Pronounced Shex, this wine by any name is superb, with all the characteristic dust the Rutherford appelation has to offer.

2012 Bonneau Los Carneros Catherine’s Vineyard Estate Grown Chardonnay ($65 1.5L): If you like creamy texture but not too much, this is the Chardonnay for you. Delightful crispness with a whisp of butteriness. 

NV NELLCOTE Rose ($65): An incredibly satisfying rose made from Grenache and Syrah. This is not a lightweight. Pair with pork roast or Thanksiving dinner.

2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon ($125): The Ojdana family proudly represents the Diamond Mountain area of Napa and captures its essence in the bottle. Rich, not overoaked.

2006 Corte Riva Merlot ($50): Mabuhay! Nieves Cortez is proud to be a winemaker and proud to represent her homeland, the Philippines. Her lineup includes a juicy merlot that reveals a lot of dark plums and even chocolate.

2012 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir ($54): Complex flavor profile: tea, black cherry, forest floor. Pinot Report gave it 96 points, almost a perfect score. Can’t argue with their assessment.

These wineries produce small lots, so their offerings can be hard to find. But they’re worth the effort.

 

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Going the Extra Mile

Want to see what Mile Wine Company on the Miracle Mile in Stockton has to offer? Check out this interview with sommelier and owner Paul Marsh.

http://www.recordnet.com/section?template=videodetail&vid=3727448352001&vidtitle=From%20the%20Vine%3A%20Mile%20Wine

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‘Primo’tivo at Harney Lane

Harney Lane unveiled its 2014 Primitivo at its wine club release party last weekend at its gorgeous tasting room, a facility celebrating its fifth anniversary this month. Winemaker Chad Joseph was behind the bar inside the barrel room pouring from Harney Lane’s impressive portfolio, including a luscious 2013 Albarino that a lot of people were talking about in glowing terms.

Harney Lane's 2014 Primitivo is a blend of the varietal from 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. It paired well with Chef Warren Ito's muffaletta sandwich and fruit.

When asked if the 2014 Primitivo was from the 2014 vintage, a silly question because the 2014 vintage hasn’t yet been harvested, Joseph explained the designation “2014″ refers to the year of its release. Harney Lane’s 2014 Primitivo is a cuvee with “mother wine” from 2009, 2010, “a lot of the 2011 and some of the 2012,” Joseph said. Joseph holds back some of the wine from each vintage to blend at a later time. The 2014 Harney Lane Primitivo is dark and rich with big fruit flavors and medium tannins. Would go perfectly with braised lamb shanks. It went well with the muffaletta sandwich, grilled veggies and melon cubes prepared by chef Warren Ito.

Harney Lane has enjoyed a rewarding summer. Its 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel and 2013 Albarino took Double Gold and Best of Class at the California State Fair Wine Competition.

 

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Cab with calamari?

Chateau St. Jean's 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a perfect match with Giusti's rib-eye steak with mushrooms, french fries and pasta in red meat sauce.

Pairing wine and food isn’t exactly an art form, but when done properly, it can turn a meal into a transcendent experience, like viewing a Monet in Paris. But I believe, and I’m sure you do too, that you should drink the wine that you like, sometimes regardless of what it’s paired with.

Case in point: Last week, my wife and I went to Giusti’s Place, the iconic and oldest restaurant and bar on the Delta in Walnut Grove, famous for 2-for-1 lobster dinners on Wednesday’s, fabulous fried chicken, and remarkable steaks and pasta. My intent was to order one of Giusti’s perfectly char-grilled rib eye steaks, so I brought along a bottle of 2010 Chateau St. Jean Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, believing it would go perfectly with my feast.

Well, Giusti’s was packed when we arrived at 7 p.m. It was 2-for-1 lobster night. Christiane and I bided our time in the bar and made some new friends. By the time we were seated, my craving for steak had disappeared. I spotted calamari steak on the menu. I had to have it. The problem? I knew the CSJ Cab wouldn’t pair well with the calamari steak, pounded thin and lightly breaded in panko bread crumbs, and fried on the grilltop. So what? I ordered the calamari steak and poured myself a glass of the Cab.

At Giusti’s, if you leave hungry, it’s your fault. Dinner comes with their magnificent Portuguese bread, an antipasti plate with salami, salad in a creamy, Thousand Island-like dressing, marinated garbanzo and kidney beans, and a vegetable minestrone. My wife ordered the rib eye and a side of pasta in a red meat sauce. The CSJ Cab went perfectly with the salami, minestrone and the bites of steak and pasta that I stabbed off Christiane’s plate. It even went well with my fork-tender calamari.

The point is, drink what you like. And when life gives you calamari, make Cabernet.

Giusti’s  Place

14743 Walnut Grove-Thornton Road

Summer hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to closing.

Information: giustis.com

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Cuban somms taste Klinker Brick

Cuban wine afficianados, mostly sommeliers, have toured some of California’s prime wine regions this week, tasting, evaluating and gaining knowledge to take back to their island country. It seems the channels of commerce are opening between the U.S. and Cuba, and the wine industry stands to benefit. The prospect of a new market opening for California wineries is enticing. Below is a link to articles from the Press Democrat about the visit, dubbed the Cuban Sommelier Summit. You’ll notice Lodi’s Klinker Brick 2012 Old Ghost Zinfandel is one of the wines the Cuban experts tasted. Here is the link:

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/2421578-181/cuban-delegation-aims-to-build#.U9B-DiNa-lU.facebook

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Wine speak with Chad Joseph

Lodi winemaker Chad Joseph is about as cool as they come. Talented. Knowledgable.

He works with Harney Lane, Maley Brothers and Dancing Coyote in Lodi. Joseph is one of six Lodi winemakers who took on the ambitious Lodi Native project, in which specific protocols were followed in creating six distinctly different Zinfandels from selected single vineyards that showcase the Lodi appelation. Below is a link to a video where Joseph speaks about the project and the wines. He said plans are in the works to continue the Lodi Native project.

http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140722/A_MEDIA03/140729964

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a thoroughly obsessed wine enthusiast and has earned Level I certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust 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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