Masthead project provides glimpse into art of blending

LODI — The bar had been set high.

The 2014 Masthead by Scotto Cellars, released at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, received 93 points from Tasting Panel and 90 points from Wine Enthusiast.

Impressive scores indeed.

Wine bloggers Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget from Stockton (PullThatCork.com), Cindy Rynning from Chicago (grape-experiences.com) and Melanie Ofenloch from Dallas (DallasWineChick.com) created the 2014 Masthead ($30) with guidance from wine industry veterans Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto. From 11 barrel samples, the bloggers crafted a 50-50 blend of Mohr-Fry Ranches Block 433 Sangiovese aged in separate French and Hungarian oak barrels.

What to do for an encore?

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Brad Gray opens samples that were used in the blending of the 2015 Masthead at the Scotto Cellars tasting room in downtown Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Recently, Brad Gray with Scotto Cellars asked me to join wine bloggers Kim Johnson, a former Manteca resident now living in Napa (dvinewinetime.wordpress.com), and San Francisco-based business consultant Thea Dwelle (lusciouslushes.com) to create the 2015 Masthead for release at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference on Nov. 9-12 in Santa Rosa. It was an honor to be included, and the experience proved to be fun and educational.

On the morning of June 20, the group met at the Scotto Cellars tasting room on School Street in downtown Lodi and drove to Mohr-Fry Ranches on North West Lane in Lodi for a tour of some mighty gorgeous grape vines managed by Jerry Fry and his son, Bruce. Jerry Fry took us out into the vineyard and spoke about the history of the ranch, which previously was owned by the J.J. Mettler family dating to 1899. Fry’s family has owned the 225-acre parcel since 1965.

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From left to right: Mitch Costentino, Kim Johnson and Jerry Fry check out a Zinfandel vineyard planted in 1945 at Mohr-Fry Ranches in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Mohr-Fry Ranches is an iconic producer whose fruit consistently has made its way into some of Lodi’s top bottles. One particular block, the 8.2-acre Marian’s Vineyard, planted in 1901, still is going strong, yielding about 3 to 4 tons of head-trained Zinfandel each year. Eleven wine grape varieties from Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel, as well as heirloom beans and some of the last Tokay Flame grapes in Lodi grow in Mohr-Fry’s sandy loam soils.

“The soil here is so good in the Lodi area,” Fry said. “It’s just wonderful. It’s deep, and it doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, but it has enough especially for grapes to grow and for good root growth.”

Following the tour, we drove east of Highway 99 and checked out Scotto Cellars’ wine and cider production facility on South Cluff Avenue. The family-run operation dates to the late 1800s in New York and has blossomed in recent years by filling niche markets with keg and bottled wine and hard cider. Scotto led us through the plant and allowed us to sample his mango-jalapeno cider — cool and refreshing with a nice bite.

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Paul Scotto, center, leads a tasting of his mango-jalapeno cider at Scotto Cellars' winemaking facility in Lodi. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

After lunch at Lodi Brewing Company, the “work” began. The mission: Blend as many as nine barrel samples of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon into a singular wine — the 2015 Masthead. The goal (with tongue-in-cheek): Knock the socks off the 2014 Masthead, a beautiful wine available in limited quantity at Scotto Cellars’ tasting room.

We evaluated each barrel sample separately, noting its color, aroma and flavor characteristics, and began the blending process, taking some of this and a little bit of that to create a wine greater than its individual parts. Cosentino lent more than 30 years of wine blending expertise as we poured samples into beakers, keeping track of the barrel numbers and the amounts used. It was interesting how the flavors and aromas were lifted or muted in the blending process.

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Mitch Cosentino pours the first barrel sample of Sangiovese with blogger Kim Johnson in the background. [BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Tough duty but after more than two hours of experimentation, we were confident we had created a food-friendly wine with structure and balance: The 2015 Masthead — a blend of 90 percent Mohr-Fry Ranches Sangiovese from three different barrels (two French oak and one American oak) and 10 percent Zinfandel aged in once-used French oak from Tony Martin’s vineyard on DeVries Road in Lodi.

It will be interesting to see how the 2015 Masthead is received at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference, and by wine critics and the public.

The project provided an education in the art of blending and a window into the passion and dedication of winemakers Paul Scotto and Mitch Consentino. My thanks to them, the entire Scotto team, and Kim and Thea for a great experience.

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The 2015 Masthead team (left to right): Paul Scotto, Bob Highfill, Mitch Cosentino, Thea Dwelle and Kim Johnson. [BRAD GRAY/COURTESY

— Contact reporter Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8282 or bhighfill@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/FromTheVine and on Twitter @BobHighfill.

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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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