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.”