Exuberance in a bottle

ACAMPO – Cassandra Durst wakes up every day believing it will be the best day of her life.

Her infectious optimism and exuberance are big reasons why her winery on Acampo Road has fast become a fan favorite and a must visit on the Lodi wine trail since it opened in 2014.

When you visit Durst Winery and Estate, expect to be welcomed by the wine dogs, Jack and Gracie, before you taste her wines and stroll the beautiful grounds. Chances are you’ll get a hug from her and feel like part of the family before you leave.

Minutes into a recent visit, Durst had me drive her to a tiny vineyard just more than a mile from her estate where she and Tom Hoffman, owner of Heritage Oak Winery, source Charbono grapes. As we drove on North Tretheway Road past gnarly head-trained vines on one side and neatly trellised vines on the other, Durst explained the mysterious history of the Charbono vineyard.

Story goes the vines are either Inglenook cuttings planted by a young suitor courting a young woman in the 1940s, or they simply were planted by the property owners in the 1970s.

“The young couple story just seems to make sense,” said Durst, “because I want it to.”

In any case, the vineyard had been neglected for many years before it was brought back to life. Now, the tiny parcel on what Durst described as potting soil is responsible for the rare treat that is Charbono, the second most popular red wine grape in Argentina behind Malbec but a virtual unknown in this country.

After taking some photos of the vineyard, we returned to the winery which rests behind Cassandra’s and husband Dan’s gorgeous two-story Santa Barbara Spanish revival house, which they renovated in the late 1990s.

Before we sampled the Charbono, tasting room manager Danielle Zoller brought out a chilled glass of Durst’s Amada Mia White made from the Symphony grape. In 1948, UC Davis grape scientist Dr. Harold Olmo crossed Muscat of Alexandria with Grenache Gris to create a white wine grape that would flourish in Lodi. The grape sat on the shelf for decades before the Kautz family, owners of Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, planted Symphony on Victor Road in Lodi.

Durst’s Amada Mia has tropical and stone fruit on the nose with orange peel and an enticing floral component on the palate. The flavor is not overly sweet and the medium-high acid strikes a nice balance. Think about pairing this wine with gooey cheeses or with food that has sweetness and/or chili heat, such as Indian, Thai or Mexican food. It also would be great as an aperitif.

“It’s very unique, in that, it’s not uber sweet,” Durst said. “It’s just off-dry. There is the slightest bit of residual sugar. I intentionally went into it as a dry wine and got just a little bit of sweetness there. And so every single year, we do it the same way.”

Cassandra and I then sampled her Charbono. The color was dark and inky. Blueberry pie, blackberries, plums and a savory, meaty aroma that made me think of bacon were on the nose. The body was surprisingly light given the intense, dark color that suggested it would have a much heavier mouth feel. The flavors had medium intensity and were consistent with the nose. The high acid and tannins give the wine considerable aging potential. This would pair with cheeses, grilled Portobello mushrooms, steaks, stews, and pastas with tomato-based sauces. Durst also suggested chilling her Charbono to about 60 degrees before sipping it on its own.

“It’s not big flavors. It’s rather delicate,” she said. “It’s totally unique. You just can’t compare it with anything else.”

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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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