Changing perceptions one sip at a time

The Lodi Winegrape Commission hosted more than 30 sommeliers from around the country for the Lodi Somm Camp, a three-day tour of vineyards and wineries in the Lodi American Viticultural Area.


More than 30 sommeliers from around the country toured the Lodi American Viticultural Area last week, which included a stop at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

The group met with more than 40 producers in a whirlwind of activity that included sunrise grape picking and sorting at Mohr-Fry Ranches, lunch at Michael-David and Bokisch, dinner at Acquiesce, vineyard visits and tastings led by noted growers and winemakers, including the Koth family at Mokelumne Glen, Todd Maley of Maley Brothers at the Wegat vineyard, Dan Panella at Oak Farm, Susan Tipton at Acquiesce, and a walk inside the 129-year-old Bechthold cinsault vineyard owned by Jessie’s Grove, the 2014 California Vineyard of the Year.

The commission’s aim was to expose some important decision makers in the wine world to all that Lodi has to offer, and dispel long-held perceptions the area only produces over-ripe zinfandel and juice for bulk wine production.

Judging by the opinions of some of the somms on the second day of the tour after they tasted an assortment of white wines from Markus Niggli (Markus Wine Co. and Borra Vineyards), Jason Holman (Holman Cellars) and Matt Rorick (Forlorn Hope) featuring German varietals grown by the Koth family at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, their eyes had been opened to the history, quality and variety of Lodi.

“I’m realizing how special Lodi actually is. Some very cool wines coming out,” said Troy Grenstiner, sommelier at Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak restaurant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “I knew Lodi had some really nice wines. Zin was always at the forefront for Lodi. I knew Lodi was a bulk wine producer, but they kind of had some nichey little things. I’m realizing they actually have some high-quality producers trying to change the perception of it.”

Juan Carlos Ruiz was intrigued with Lodi’s grape growing tradition.

“It’s been a really good experience to meet everyone and to meet the families,” said Ruiz, sommelier at Pierre Gargaine’s Twist restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas. “It’s actually just families that have been doing this for four, five generations, and it’s really incredible to see that.”

Marie Mertz, owner of Todo un Poco Mexican and Italian restaurant in Elk Grove, was the only “local” on the tour. Though her business is located in Lodi’s backyard, she had no idea how diverse the area truly is.

“The perception when I arrived was the wrong perception,” said Mertz, the Elk Grove Citizen’s Woman of the Year in 2012. “Before my trip, I was thinking the heavy zinfandels that are extremely overwhelming and spicy and fruit forward and high in alcohol. This trip has changed completely that perspective because Lodi is doing amazing zinfandels.”

Lodi also is making a name for itself growing varieties other than zinfandel, including many types used for white wine. Holman, who has a family winery in Napa, buys bacchus for his Uncharted portfolio from the Koth’s, who grow more than 50 out-of-the-ordinary varietals on their property along the Mokelumne River, such as kerner, bacchus, zweigelt and dornfelder.

“I think people are getting tired of the more mainstream varietals, at least where I’m from in Napa, like chardonnay and cabernet and things like that,” said Holman, who also buys fruit grown by Lodi’s Markus Bokisch. “It doesn’t need to be chardonnay, it doesn’t need to be cabernet any more. We can come out and play with these high acid wines or super unique reds and just make different stuff.”

Who knew?

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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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