Home on the Range

Casey Flat Ranch in the Capay Valley, a mostly rural valley northwest of Sacramento in Yolo County that  lies west of the Capay Hills, began vineyard planting in the spring of 2003 and has been crafting Bordeaux and Rhone varietals designed to stay true to the varietals and the Ranch’s terroir.

The property under vines covers 24 acres on moderately rocky soils on gentle hillside mountain slopes at 2000-foot altitude. The site provides for excellent growing conditions. The vineyards are sustainably cultivated, using materials and farming techniques that emphasize water and soil conservation. Weather data records indicate climate conditions at the vineyard are parallel in almost every respect to the Oakville/Rutherford appellations of the Napa Valley. Remarkably, average daily daytime temperatures are cooler than St. Helena, located 22 miles to the west.

Originally part of the Berryessa Spanish land grant, area settlement began in the 1850’s with the California Gold Rush. Valley locals at the time named the property Casey Flat for legendary frontiersman and early homesteader John Casey. Today, the expansive 6,000-acre ranch is home to the Casey Flat Ranch Vineyards and a modest Longhorn Cattle operation. The operation reflects the values of the Robert and Maura Morey family — owners for more a quarter century. Casey Flat Ranch exemplifies stewardship of the environment, preservation of natural resources, and is representative of a new and more contemporary Western sensibility towards the land and its use.

The 2011 Casey Flat Ranch Open Range red wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with plenty of ripe dark fruit, chocolate and vanilla on the nose and palate.

The 2011 Casey Flat Ranch Open Range (SRP $18) red wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Chocolate, plum, hints of vanilla spice, and cherry highlight this vintage, which is lighter than previous years. The wine opens with a blast of cherry, and firm tannins add weight to the mid palate. The wine has a long and velvety finish. The alcohol by volume is 14.8 percent.

2011 Growing Conditions

The spring of 2011 was cool with late rains.  The long, cold frost season lasted into late April. The summer was mild, with few days reaching 100 degrees.

As in 2010, it was an ideal growing season for Casey Flat Ranch. The temperates during the ripening season allowed for hanging the red varieties well into October. But midway through that month, the fruit weathered a rain storm, as more than an inch fell. Fortunately, the Ranch had no threat of rot in any of its blocks.

After the rain, a sunny second half of October led to the harvest of the Ranch’s last block on Oct. 31. Due to the cool, late season, Casey Flat Ranch was able to extend hang time and harvest at optimal flavor and tannin ripeness.

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Thanksgiving Wine Tips from Mile Wine Company

Paul Marsh, a certified sommelier and owner of Mile Wine Company on the Miracle Mile in Stockton, offered several interesting wines for Thanksgiving at his most recent “Sommelier Boot Camp.” The boot camps are held at 2 p.m. on Saturdays at his restaurant/wine shop at 2113 Pacific Avenue. Each week he offers several interesting wines in blind tastings for $20. They’re great and educational for any wine lover. Truly a fun way to spend the afternoon. Boot Camp gift certificates make great stocking stuffers.

Here are the wines we tasted and evaluated last week. Each would pair well with Thanksgiving dinner and all are available at Mile Wine Company:

2011 Watt’s Chardonnay

Delightfully crisp with minerality and citrus on the palate, slight creaminess on the back end from oak aging, medium alcohol (13.5% ABV) with medium-minus body and a medium finish. Grown from a Dijon clone on silty, limestone and marl soil.

2012 Reata Chardonnay

This Chardonnay from Carneros has medium-minus aroma intensity with hints of asparagus, lemon, cinnamon and citrus. It’s dry with medium-plus flavor intensity, medium-plus acid, medium alcohol, medium-minus body and medium finish. The winemaker used to work at Rombauer and true to that style, creamy flavors are present from malolactic fermentation; butterscotch, vanilla, mandarin orange, lemon chiffon, lime and cinnamon. There’s a pleasant underlying sweetness and a slight bitterness on the mid-palate.

2011 Row Eleven 3 Vineyards Pinot Noir

From Sonoma, this medium-ruby colored wine has medium aroma intensity with hints of black pepper, cloves, currants, dark fruit, pipe tobacco, wet concrete and black olives. It’s dry with medium flavor intensity, medium alcohol (13.9% ABV), medium tannin and medium-plus acidity. The flavors include tart cherries, black olives and dark fruit. The finish is medium.

2012 Frank Family Pinot Noir

Medium-ruby color with medium-plus aroma intensity of peat dirt, earth, steak, blue fruit, tobacco and cloves. The flavor intensity is medium-plus with high acid, medium-plus tannin, medium-plus body and medium-plus alcohol. There are blueberries, baking spices, tart fruit, mushrooms and tobacco in the flavor profile. The finish is medium-plus. Marsh described this wine as a “steak eater’s Pinot.” It’s heavy duty. The oak barrels, he said, underwent a medium toast, which pulls in the tobacco and cloves.

2012 Qupe Syrah

Medium-garnet color with high aroma intensity of earth floor, barnyard, dark fruit. The flavor intensity is high with high tannin, high alcohol and medium-plus acidity. Big flavors from medium toasted French oak barrels, lots of earth, dirt and blue fruit. From Santa Maria on California’s Central Coast. This had some of the aroma and flavor characteristics of a loamy Zinfandel, but in fact, it’s a Syrah.

Any of these outstanding wines would please you, your family and your guests this holiday season.



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Step outside the box this Thanksgiving

Picking the perfect wine to go with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner isn’t easy.

What goes with turkey — white and dark meat — stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, and the other assorted goodies that make up the holiday feast? With myriad flavors, it’s a wine buyer’s nightmare.

There is nothing wrong with serving the usual suspects with the Thanksgiving repast – Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. They are popular and can pair well with Thanksgiving flavors. But if you’d like to consider stepping outside the box this year, there are many possibilities.

At Fine Wines of Stockton in Lincoln Center last week, owners Gail and George Herron examined the Thanksgiving-wine pairing dilemma and offered six wines (two whites, four reds) in a blind tasting. The wines tantalyzed the taste buds and spurred the imagination.

2013 Damilano Arneis ($18.75)

From Langhe in Piedmont, this Arneis is pale lemon in color. There is minerality, tropical fruit and grass on the nose. It’s dry with medium-plus acid, medium body and medium alcohol with citrus, green and red apple flavors and a medium finish. It’s tasty and youthful and should be consumed now to enjoy its fruity freshness. This would be good to sip while making dinner or with white meat and cranberry sauce.

2012 Rapitala Grillo ($13)

This wine had more complexity than the Arneis. The color is medium lemon with smoke, cooked asparagus and grapefruit pith on the nose. The acid is high, with medium body. The lemon, citrus and asparagus flavors gently smooth out, leaving a soft finish. There is a slight bitter sensation on the mid-palate. This would go with dark and white meat, sweet potatoes and veggies, like green beans.

2011 Moulin-a-Vent Beaujolais Cru Classe George de Boeuf ($22)

This is a pretty nifty bottle of wine. The color is medium ruby, and the nose has medium intensity with spice, blue fruit, raspberries, earth, cherry, cola and some oak influence in the form of smokiness . It’s dry with medium flavor intensity, medium tannin, high acid and medium body. The finish is medium-plus, as the acid lingers. This should be consumed now but has enough tannin and acid to cellar for 3 to 5 years. Has enough balance to pair well with Thanksgiving flavors.

The 2012 Hetiz Grignolino would go well with mushroom stuffing and dark meat turkey.

2012 Heitz Grignolino ($19.75)

Pale ruby in color, this Grignolino bursts from the glass with the pronounced aroma of rose petals. It’s almost overwhelming. In time, the nose softens and changes to grape soda, nutmeg, ripe red cherries. The rose aroma still is there, but moves into the passenger-side seat. The flavor intensity is medium-plus and there is a slight hint of petillance, though bubbles are not present in the wine. It has earth notes, strawberries, cherry cough drops and again, rose petals on the palate. Might be even more intriguing several years from now. Would work similarly as a Pinot Noir with some of the umami flavors on the Thanksgiving table, like roasted mushrooms, stuffing and dark meat turkey. This might turn some off, but it really is an interesting wine to consider for Thanksgiving.

2011 Borra Heritage ($21)

The Borra Heritage was my favorite red and the second-most popular red among the group of tasters. This blend of 36 percent Barbera, 32 percent Carignan, 30 percent Petit Sirah and 2 percent Zinfandel is medium ruby in color with medium intensity on the nose with aromas of black pepper, blueberries and raspberries. The sweetness is dry and the flavor intensity is medium. Picked up some tart fruit, like cranberries, but also rich blueberries and black plums. The medium-plus tannin, medium-plus alcohol and medium-plus body are pleasant and play nicely together. This would go well with the Thanksgiving meal. There is a lot going on here.

2010 Rapitala Nero d’ Avalo ($27)

This Sicilian wine will make you an offer you can’t refuse. It was the group’s favorite and my second favorite among the reds we tried. Medium garnet color. Bacon fat, nutmeg, earth floor, black cherries, raspberries and blue fruit on the nose. Dry with medium-plus intensity, medium-plus tannin, medium acid and medium-plus body. Pine needles, earth floor, blue fruit and tart red cherry flavors led to a medium-long finish. Dark meat, gravy and stuffing would not scare this bad boy away, even if your father doesn’t like him.

These great suggestions are available at Fine Wines of Stockton. See if they add some flair to your Thanksgiving table.







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What’s so noble about rot?

It’s a contradictory term if ever there was one — noble rot.

What possibly could be noble about rot? Isn’t rot something we all try to avoid?

Well, in the wine making world, noble rot can be a much sought-after condition.

Noble rot — or botrytis cinerea — is a fungus that can attack ripened grapes with microscopic filaments that pierce the grape skin, causing the water inside the grape to evaporate, thus concentrating its sugars and acids. Paraphrasing chef Emeril Lagasse in his cooking shows, evaporation leads to concentration and concentration leads to more flavor.

For producers of varietals like Tokaji in Hungary, Sauternes in France, and the German and Austrian Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, noble rot isn’t an enemy … it’s an ally. Noble rot’s development is encouraged where humid, misty mornings are followed by warm, sunny days. Grapes affected by botrytis must be hand-harvested and pickers go through the vineyards several times. Yields are low, it’s a labor-intensive process, and the wines, as a result, tend to be high-priced. But many find these wines with their luscious mouthfeel, and ripe fruit and honey aromas and flavors to be quite desirable on their own or with stinky cheeses and sweet desserts. They generally age well and are great to have on hand during the holidays.

During the WSET Level 3 award classes last month, we tasted an example of the wonders of noble rot:

An excellent example of the tasty benefits from noble rot are contained in this remarkable bottle of 2010 Tokaji.

2010 Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos (SRP $37)

This deep-gold wine is viscous with pronounced aromas of ginger, white tea, sweet peach nectar and ripe apricots. The alcohol plays nicely with the acidity. It’s full-bodied, in part, because of the residual sugar. Three Puttonyos means this wine has 60 grams of residual sugar per liter. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as some Tokaj wines. The flavors match the aromas – honey and rich, ripe stone fruit — and the finish is medium-plus. This wine could be consumed now or age for several years.

According to wine-searcher.com, many stores are carrying this wine, as its popularity has grown. It’s medium-priced for white wines from Tokaj.


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Rioja rocks


The Wine and Spirit Education Level 3 classes through the Napa Valley Wine Academy that I recently took included a study of Spain. And if you are a fan of robust red wines, give Spanish reds a try.

The 2009 Muga Rioja is a fine example of a complex red wine from Spain. The country’s best-known wine region, Rioja is a region on the river Ebro and has three distinct regions: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.

The region is comprised of small growers who sell their grapes to co-operatives. Red wines make up 75 percent of the production and typically are blends using the most-widely planted grape in Spain — Granacha (Grenache), along with the ever-popular Tempranillo and the less-known Mazuelo and Graciano. Rioja also produces roses and whites.

The 2009 Muga Rioja Reserva is a fine example of what Spain has to offer any red wine lover.

The 2009 Muga Rioja (SRP $25.99) has a deep ruby core that leads to a tawny edge with long, sticky tears (legs). The nose has medium-plus intensity and is developing with aromas of earth floor, cedar, dark fruit and dark chocolate. The wine is dry and full-bodied with medium-plus flavor intensity, high alcohol, high acidity and medium-plus tannin. The flavors are complex: cranberries, tart cherries, cedar, tobacco, baking spices, tar, dill and an underlying sweetness. The finish is long. The conclusion is this is an outstanding, high-priced wine ready to drink now but with aging potential.

Wine and Spirits gave it 91 points.

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Tasting education

Vineyards basking in the warm sun in St. Helena in the Napa Valley.

So, there actually is a systematic approach to tasting wine.

Might seem silly to some. Just drink it. Why all the theatrics: The swirling, the sniffing, the contemplation?

Those who have been bitten by the wine bug want to know more about what’s in their glass than whether it’s red, white, blush or sparkling. They embrace the journey to discovery. That’s a big part of enjoying wine, using the senses of sight, smell and taste to evaulate the quality of a wine, determine the variety, its origin and how it was made. Fascinating stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Well, I am into that sort of thing. Big time. I’ll sometimes go after a wine like a hound dog on the trail of an escaped convict.

The Wine and Spirit Education Trust offers classes through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. The classes are for people who want to know more about wine and for those in the industry.

Currently, I’m studying for the WSET Level 3 award, which is about midway up the totem pole. Part of the instruction centers on the WSET’s systematic approach to tasting. The four primary factors are appearance, nose, palate and conclusions. Each factor has several aspects to it. For instance, appearance is evaluated in terms of clarity (clear or hazy), intensity (pale, medium, deep), color (a scale from lemon-green to brown), and other observations, including legs, deposits, petillance or bubbles. The nose or aroma of a wine is broken down into condition (clean-unclean), intensity (a five-point scale from light to pronounced), aroma characteristics (e.g. fruits, flowers, spices, vegetables, oak aromas, other) and development (youthful to tired/past its best). Palate and conclusions are equally detailed.

The instructors offered the class several different styles of wine and we employed our senses to evaluate them using the systematic approach. The accompanying lectures included facts about the locations, soil types, climates, laws, history, tradition and winemaking styles of the regions from where the wines originated. On the first day, we studied wines from Burgundy and Alsace; the second day, Bordeaux, Southwest France, the Loire Valley, the Rhone Valley, Southern France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Italy.

Wines from the Bordeaux region of France.

Among the wines was a beautiful lineup from Bordeaux. Most of the wines are not hard to find. Below are notes of a few of the Bordeaux wines we tasted using the WSET systematic approach:

2010 Chateau la Mazerolle Entre-Deux-Mers: The appearance is clear, pale gold with thin, sheeting tears . The nose is clean, medium-minus intensity, aromas of green apple. Dry with medium-minus aroma intensity, alcohol medium-minus, body medium-minus. Flavor intensity medium. Flavor characteristics include citrus fruit, lemon, lime and green apple. The finish is medium-minus. The style is old world, as little oak influence is present. It’s fresh and should be consumed now, and the quality is good for a mid-priced wine in the $10-$15 range.

2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant Bordeaux-Superieur: The appearance is clear, medium ruby with thin tears. Clean on the nose, medium-plus intensity, developing, dark fruit aromas, baking spice notes from oak. Dry, medium acidity, medium tannin, medium alcohol and medium body. Flavor intensity is medium with aromas of dark fruit, blackberry, soft baking spices. Acid and tannin are well-integrated, well-balanced. Medium finish. Can drink now but has potential for aging. Good, mid-priced wine.

2006 Chateau Pipeau Saint Emilion Grand Cru: Clear, deep garnet core leading to tawny rim, clean condition, medium-plus intensity on the nose, aromas of earth floor, long lasting tears, developing. Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus fine tannins, medium alcohol, full body, medium-plus flavor intensity giving off plum, tobacco, forest floor with spices from oak. Balanced, long finish, drink now but suitable for aging, old world, very good quality for a high-priced wine.

I’ll share more notes from more wines in future posts.



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Chili Cookoff at Mondavi

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Winery is hosting the 12th annual California State Championship Chili Cookoff to benefit the Lodi Public Library Foundation from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at 5950 E. Woodbridge Road in Acampo.

About 35 teams from around the country are expected to compete for the top prize. The chili cookoff is free and open to the public. Tasting kits are available for $3 for five tastes. Guests are invited to try the various chili recipes and vote for their favorite to win the People’s Choice Award.

While the centerpiece of the contest is a traditional bowl of red chili, the cookoff will feature competition in five categories (listed below). This event will be sanctioned by Appreciation Society International (CASI), with the winning CASI-sanctioned chili cook, in addition to the top three California-resident cooks, automatically qualifying to compete in the prestigious Terlingua International Chili Championship in Terlingua, Texas in November 2015.

The five categories are CASI-sanctioned chili, People’s Choice Chili, CASI Showmanship, Salsa, Guacamole.

Guests attending the Chili Cookoff will also have the opportunity to enjoy a unique car show featuring classic cars from Ford, Chevy and Mopar.

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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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      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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