Friendsgiving is food, wine and fellowship

Doug Seed was posed with a challenge, one that he gladly accepted.

The chef and owner of Morada Eats catering and A Moveable Feast food truck was asked to come up with small bites of Thanksgiving fare and pair them with LangeTwins estate wines for the first LangeTwins “Friendsgiving” party on the eve of the holiday.

The guests enjoyed themselves so much that LangeTwins owners Randy and Charlene Lange asked Chef Seed to cater the second “Friendsgiving” celebration on Nov. 23 at the winery’s magnificent Press Room in Acampo.

“The idea was to have something the night before chaos … date night,” Charlene Lange said. “The idea was not to have dinner, but a sort of warm up before Thanksgiving, a chance to just sit back and relax before the big day. And everyone had a really good time.”

Seed and his daughter-in-law Amy Seed, a Millennial who’s every bit the foodie and oenophile that Doug is, put their heads together last year and came up with some pretty awesome combinations. Not resting on their laurels, Doug and Amy asked my wife Christiane and I to join Charlene and Randy to sample this year’s menu.

Doug and Amy study the flavors of the food and wine to find combinations that work in harmony, not an easy feat with the myriad flavor profiles of a typical Thanksgiving meal.

Perhaps these pairings will help you plan your Thanksgiving menu.

Up first was a cheese, nut and fruit course with a chilled glass of LangeTwins Sauvignon Blanc made from a Musque clone grown in young vineyards in Lodi and just south of Clarksburg. The wine is stainless steel fermented to preserve its crisp acidity and fruit flavors, and aged on its lees (dead yeast cells) to give it a soft palate and a creamy finish.

Sage dressing, turkey meatballs, stuffed mushroom cap and a roasted yam paired beautifully with LangeTwins wines during a recent tasting in advance of Friendsgiving on Nov. 23 at the Press Room.

Up next was sage dressing paired with LangeTwins Gewurztraminer from vineyards in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta. Gewurztraminer is one of the varietals in the LangeTwins’ Gray Label collection and is available only to wine club members and through the tasting room. The German and Austrian white varietal has enticing apricot, apple and honey aromas with a touch of baking spice, a resounding hit with the savory, herbaceous and faintly sweet dressing.

“I went through with some of my family and friends in preparation for this, and we thought the gewürztraminer had hints of apple and fruit in it,” said Doug Seed, “so I added to the dressing some apples that go well with the gewürztraminer.”

Many believe white wines are the way to go with Thanksgiving, but red wines pair well with many traditional dishes. For instance, LangeTwins Petite Sirah, another in the Gray Label collection, was splendid with Chef Seed’s turkey meatballs. The dark cherry, plum and cranberry aromas and flavors in the wine had similarities with traditional cranberry sauce and compotes many serve with turkey.

The next combination was Seed’s playful deconstruction of green bean casserole: A mushroom cap stuffed with lardons, slivered almonds and green beans served with LangeTwins flagship zinfandel, Centennial, which comes from a 106-year-old vineyard in Lodi, aged 24 months in gently-used American oak and available in retail markets.

“Really complex, highly complex,” Amy Seed said. “Great layers of flavor.”

The dessert sampling paired LangeTwins Gray Label Port with a disc of roasted yam topped with cranberry compote and a pumpkin spice cream puff. The tartness of the compote and the creamy, savory and sweet yam worked with the wine, as did the cream puff, which wasn’t cloyingly sweet.

The food and fellowship of Thanksgiving or any occasion that brings friends and family together only can be enhanced by harmonious food and wine combinations. And it sure is fun to be with people who know what they’re doing.

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Lodi hosts first Taste of Tempranillo

Lodi’s propensity for experimentation means nothing but delightful options for wine consumers.

Nearly 100 varieties of wine grapes are planted on 100,000-plus acres, making Lodi one of the most diverse American Viticultural Areas anywhere in the world, a factor that no doubt led to Lodi being named Wine Region of the Year in 2015 by Wine Enthusiast.

Perhaps the best or at least one of the best examples of an out-of-the-box wine grape embraced by Lodi growers and vintners has been tempranillo. Wine aficionados already know and more and more enthusiasts are discovering the Spanish red varietal, thanks in part to the great wines Lodi’s mavericks are making with the grape.

To learn more, check out the first Lodi Tour of Tempranillo this Friday through Sunday. The tour involves 17 of the area’s most popular wineries. Each will have different offerings and some will have special tastings unique to this event. There are no tickets to buy. Simply show up at a participating winery, collect a complimentary guidebook and begin exploring. Tasting room hours generally are from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and tasting fees may apply.

For a map to plan your attack, click on “Weekend Planner” at

These are the wineries taking part in alphabetical order:

  • Bokisch Vineyards, 18921 Atkins Rd., Lodi
  • D’Art Wines, 13299 Curry Ave., Lodi
  • Dancing Coyote Wines, 3125 E. Orange St., Acampo
  • Dancing Fox Winery, 203 S. School St., Lodi
  • Estate Crush, 2 W. Lockeford St., Lodi
  • Fields Family Wines, 3803 E. Woodbridge Rd., Acampo
  • Heritage Oak Winery, 10112 E. Woodbridge Rd., Acampo
  • m2 Wines, 2900 E. Peltier Rd., Acampo
  • McCay Cellars, 1370 E. Turner Rd., Lodi
  • Peirano Estate Vineyards, 21831 CA-99, Acampo
  • Riaza Wines, 20 W. Elm St., Lodi
  • Ripken Vineyards & Winery, 2472 W. Sargent Rd., Lodi
  • St. Amant Winery, 1 Winemaster Way, Lodi
  • St. Jorge Winery, 22769 N. Bender Rd., Acampo
  • Toasted Toad Cellars, 21 E. Elm St., Lodi
  • Viaggio Estate and Winery, 100 E. Taddei Rd., Acampo
  • Woodbridge Uncorked, 18911 N. Lower Sacramento Rd., Woodbridge

Here are some facts about tempranillo:

  • According to the 2016 California Grape Crush Report measuring the 2015 vintage, Lodi harvested 1,619.8 tons of tempranillo, which made up part of the 4.3 percent “other reds” category. By comparison, cabernet sauvignon reigned supreme among Lodi reds with 134,347.1 tons harvested.
  • The statewide total of tempranillo harvested in 2015 was 11,173.2 tons, with Fresno leading the way with 6,337 tons.
  • Tempranillos from Lodi wineries fared well at the 2016 California State Fair: 2013 Bokisch Vineyards (91 points, silver medal), 2013 Harney Lane (91 pts., silver), 2014 McCay Cellars (85 pts., bronze), 2012 McCayCellars tempranillo-petite sirah-zinfandel (91 pts., silver, Best of Class of Region), 2012 McConnell Estates (85 pts., bronze), 2013 Peirano Estates (98 pts., double gold), and 2014 St. Amant (98 pts., double gold, Best of Show Red, Best of Region Red, Best of Class of Region).

For a taste of something Spanish in the San Joaquin Valley, check out the first Lodi Tour of Tempranillo.

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Acquiesce Winery tasting notes

Visit Acquiesce Winery on North Trethaway Road in Acampo and taste the magnificent white wines of the Southern Rhone and experience their food friendliness. Owner/winemaker Susan Tipton has paired each wine with a tiny bite of something delectable. Her culinary and wine acumen are remarkable and the experience is one that shouldn’t be missed.
Here are tasting notes for the wines currently being poured at Acquiesce. If interested, hurry because she will close the winery from December to March.
2015 Grenache Blanc ($24/$19.20 wine club)
Lively minerality with hints of green apple and apricot, this wine pairs beautifully with seafood, salads, sushi, chicken, cream sauces and spicy Asian and Mexican foods.
2015 Belle Blanc ($26/$20.80 wine club)
The aroma of pear, honeysuckle and gardenia give way to a long, dry finish. A balanced blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier, this wine pairs well with salads, pork and chicken.
2015 Roussanne ($25/$20 wine club)
Juicy mouthfeel with flavors of apricots and cream. The finish is mineral with almond, pear and overlying honey notes. It stands up to rich shellfish, salmon, spicy foods and garlic stir-fry. A must with foie gras!
2015 Viognier ($24/$19.26 wine club) 2016 California State Fair, 98 pts., Best of Class of Region
Full of honeysuckle, jasmine and orange blossom. Hints of peach, apricot and nectarine with full-bodied palate. Pairs well with fish, Asian dishes, vegetable and citrus salads, but just lovely to sip on its own.
2013 Viognier ($30/$24 wine club) 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition gold medal
Cellaring for more than three years highlights the deliciousness of this fruit-driven wine. Rich and full-bodied with a lingering finish, yet lively and vibrant. With aromas of dried apricots and peaches, this wine will be great for years.

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Winemaker acquiesces to the Rhone

ACAMPO – Susan Tipton followed her heart.
She shunned conventional wisdom by opening a winery that offers the wines she loves made from Southern Rhone white varieties that she planted on her and husband Rodney’s 18-acre estate in Acampo.
White wines in Lodi? Can’t be done. Lodi is red wine territory. Besides, it’s too hot to grow premium white grapes in Lodi.
Tipton has proven what passion and gumption can do with the right soils and climate. Acquiesce Winery, her labor of love, is a jewel in Lodi’s winescape, an oasis where palate-tingling, mouthwatering, fresh and vibrant white wines made with grapes that originate from Chateau Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape are gobbled up by her ever-increasing legion of fans.
“People in the industry told me it would never fly, that you need reds in your lineup,” Tipton said. “They were trying to give me sage advice from their point of view.”
But Tipton wasn’t swayed. She went ahead and produced a couple hundred cases her first year — 2012– and sold out quickly. Her production steadily has grown and every year she has sold out, forcing her to close from December to March. The Acquiesce wine club has 600 members and another 200 are on the waiting list. This year, the 2015 Acquiesce Viognier received 98 points and was named Best Viognier California and Best of Class of Region at the California State Fair. Susan plans to make about 2,000 cases total this fall and will release them in March.
The Grande Dame of Lodi white wine has tapped a niche market and in the process has raised eyebrows about the possibilities in Lodi.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the support from my customers and my wine club members,” Tipton said. “It’s something we did out of love. It wasn’t like a true business plan. When we moved here, we had no intent of opening a winery. It’s just a hobby that went totally out of control.”
In 2000, Susan and Rodney moved to California from Texas, one of several stops the couple and their three boys made because of Rodney’s job in international business. In 2003, they purchased a home in Acampo on 18 acres with 12 acres planted to zinfandel. Susan made wine as a hobby, augmenting her phenomenal talent as a cook, and the Tiptons sold the rest of their fruit to another Lodi winery.
A few years into their stay, Susan’s life changed, thanks to a non-descript white blend from Chateauneuf du Pape that she bought at BevMo. It was love at first sip.
“I drank that wine and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” she said. “I had never had a wine quite like that before.”
Tipton went back to the store to buy more, but they were sold out. That led her to Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, a sister winery of Chateau Beaucastel that makes terrific Rhone wines. Tipton eventually figured if she had to go all the way to Paso Robles to buy the wines she loved, she might as well try to make them herself.
Tipton purchased plantings from Tablas Creek that came from Chateau Beaucastel. She started with Grenache blanc in 2008 and was thrilled with the resulting wine. She has since added viognier and roussanne, which are standalones and comprise her Belle Blanc balanced blend with Grenache blanc. Susan recently planted Grenache noir that will go into a rosè and two varieties that are brand new to the U.S.: picpoul blanc and claret blanc — all from Chateau Beaucastel plantings.
Heather Pyle-Lucas, the winemaker and owner with her husband David of the Lucas Winery in Lodi, has been Susan’s friend and mentor through the entire process, and Jonanthan Wetmore of Grand Amis Winery in Lodi has managed the Tiptons’ vineyard.
Turns out Lodi’s Mediterranean climate and sandy loam soil are ideal for white Rhones. Lodi’s dry growing season allows the fruit to fully ripen, creating a more fruit-forward style than Rhones from France, which are picked early, high in acid and usually see oak. Acquiesce wines are vinified in stainless steel to preserve the fruit aromas and flavors. They exhibit finesse and complexity across the board and pair beautifully with a variety of food.
Acquiesce means “accepting something reluctantly without protest.” Tipton’s passion pulled her into the wine business. Acquiesce is the perfect name for her winery.

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The calendar says it’s California Wine Month

September is California Wine Month and there are myriad opportunities to enjoy the harvest season throughout the area.

LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards on East Jahant Road in Lodi is offering a Harvest Experience by appointment only through Oct. 31. Tour some of the vineyards managed by one of Lodi’s prolific winegrape growing families in the comfort of a luxury golf cart, and enjoy a glass of their refreshing rose of sangiovese as you learn more about the growing season, the optimum time to harvest and the family’s sustainable farming practices.

Then, it’s back to the winery for a tour of LangeTwins’ impressive production facility before the tour wraps up in their fabulous barrel room for a private tasting of current releases. Information:

The LangeTwins’ rose of sangiovese is an ideal wine this time of year, as the heat lingers through the afternoon leading to comfortably cooler evenings. All of LangeTwins’ sangiovese goes into their rose program. This dry, blush wine is dark pink with aromas of fresh-cut strawberries bursting from the glass and tingling the palate with bright acidity. Keep this wine in mind to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. It’s perfect by itself or with charcuterie, such as Iberico ham (or a more reasonably priced facsimile thereof), as well as mortadella and prosciutto.

Gerardo Espinosa Jr. represents the third generation of a hard-working Mexican-American family that has procured vineyard property over the years in the Clements Hills AVA, the bounty of which goes into his portfolio of truly inspiring wines under the Vinedos Aurora label. Espinosa, who works full time as a project manager with WMB Architects in Stockton, would be proud to show you (by appointment) his family’s estate and his barrel room, which is on East Pine Street in Lodi, where you’ll sample some of his best work, including his fabulous albarino and landmark petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon. Information: Gerardo Espinosa (209) 810-0824.

The Vinedos Aurora albarino is pale gold in color and has tropical aromas and flavors with nice acidity. It’s refreshing and balanced and would go beautifully with a steaming bowl of cioppino.

The Lodi Grape Festival and Harvest Fair from Sept. 15-18 at the Lodi Grape Festival Grounds will offer food, entertainment and the opportunity to taste wines from some of Lodi’s best producers, including Bokisch Vineyards, Heritage Oak, Barsetti Vineyards, Dancing Coyote Wines, E2 Family Wines, Imagination Wines, Mettler Family Vineyards, Van Ruiten Family Winery, Weibel Family Vineyards and Winery, Stama Winery and Viaggio Estate and Winery. Information:

The view from behind Bokisch Vineyards’ tasting room might be the best in the Lodi AVA. Perched atop one in a series of rolling hills in the Clements Hills area, Liz and Markus Bokisch’s new tasting room features gorgeous Spanish varietals made by Elyse Perry with fruit from one of the area’s most respected growers, Markus Bokisch. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy their albarino, verdejo, tempranillo or graciano as you gaze at the vineyards and granite outcroppings. You might even spot some sheep or cattle grazing in the distance. The tasting room is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Information:

For more information on more great spots to visit this month, go to





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Mettler on America’s tastemakers’ list

LODI — Medals and scores aren’t why 37-year-old Lodi native Adam Mettler makes wine.

But the recognition always is nice.

Recently, Mettler was named among Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers,” adding the national distinction to his trove of gold medals and 90-plus-point scores his wines have earned for Michael David Winery, Mettler Family Vineyards and Freelance Wines, his latest venture with partner Mike Stroh.

In addition to winemaking, Mettler, 37, helps manage about 1,500 acres for his family’s company, Arbor Vineyards, as well as some 300 acres he owns, and other vineyards that produce 14 varieties surrounding the Mettler Family Vineyards’ tasting room on Harney Lane.

So, how did this winemaking superstar spend a recent Friday morning during harvest? Well, he wasn’t sipping Champagne overlooking the Mediterranean. Awards don’t go to those that lounge. They go to guys such as Mettler, who apparently doesn’t sleep. So, it was from inside his modest office in a shed surrounded by a zinfandel vineyard a stone’s throw from the house where he grew up on North Alpine Road where Mettler reflected on his career and the recognition his work has received.

“I’ve never been one that needs the love, so to speak, not like Duke over here,” Mettler said from behind his desk with Duke, his German shepherd, resting on the cool cement floor within earshot. “But nonetheless, I feel like I’ve worked pretty hard in my young career. I’ve done a lot of things to try to get where I am now, so it’s nice.”

Mettler hardly is a newcomer to the wine game. He’s a fifth-generation grower in a Lodi farming family. He started making beer, then wine, converting a tractor shed on his family’s property into a winery with his parents help. Mettler took classes at San Joaquin Delta College and University of California, Davis before graduating from California State University, Fresno’s enology program with a minor in chemistry.

After working a season in Australia, Mettler landed with Michael David Winery and has helped the company grow at an alarming rate with no end in sight. From producing a couple thousand cases a year in the early 2000s, Michael David now cranks out 800,000 cases annually with Mettler serving as director of winemaking.

Michael David has been successful navigating the quality versus quantity paradox. For instance, the 2012 Petite Petit, a blend of 85 percent Petite Sirah and 15 percent Petit Verdot, was No. 2 on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines of the Year for 2015, the same year the magazine named Lodi Wine Region of the Year.

“It’s been an experience,” Mettler said.

And all of that in what he considers his “day job.”

Mettler also makes wine for his family’s label, Mettler Family Vineyards. Recently, Mettler’s submissions from the most recent vintages all received scores of 90 points or higher from Wine Enthusiast. And if that weren’t enough, Mettler’s project with Stroh, Freelance Wines, received a gold medal for the 2012 Coup de Grace red blend at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

It might be safe to say Mettler has earned more gold medals and 90-point scores recently than any winemaker in Lodi.

Mettler is just one of the people responsible for helping Lodi gain recognition as a world-class wine region.

“I kind of feel like I’ve been doing it a long time, but it’s nice to finally have a lot of recognition not only hitting me but hitting Lodi and hitting other people as well,” said Mettler, who has three sons with his wife Alyson: Cooper, 8, Brixten, 6, and Everett, 3. “So it’s pretty neat. Lots of stuff going on recognition-wise not only in my life but Lodi’s got a lot going on right now.”

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Traditionally styled Champagne is being made in Lodi

LOCKEFORD – Eric Donaldson is making Champagne on a beer budget.
Well, not really.
Champagne isn’t Champagne unless it’s made in Champagne, France. But sparkling wine crafted in the method champenoise, a.k.a. the traditional method, can be made anywhere. And that’s what Donaldson is doing, and he’s only vintner in Lodi crafting sparkling wine using Champagne’s traditional method.
“There’s actually quite a bit of sparkling wine coming from Lodi, but no one else is doing domestic champenoise here, so I said I’m just going to open up shop here in town,” said Donaldson, a 34-year-old native of Oxford, Ohio, and Miami University graduate. “Since everybody else is using Lodi fruit, why shouldn’t I?”
Donaldson will offer his line of three sparkling wines under the LVVR Sparkling Cellars label at the grand opening of his tasting room from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday in the spot formerly occupied by Stama Winery at Tuscan Wine Village, formerly Vino Piazza, on Locke Road in Lockeford.
Donaldson has been in the wine business since 2005 and has crisscrossed the country making wine in his native Ohio, as well as southern New Mexico, Healdsburg and for the last five years in Lodi. Donaldson has invested his life savings and then some for his startup sparkling wine operation, cutting costs by using refurbished equipment and doing all of the work himself. But Donaldson doesn’t take short cuts when it comes to the quality of his wines.
The brut is bright and clean, as is the rose and the Blanc de Blancs. Each wine starts with a base blend of chardonnay and viognier (12.8 percent ABV). Chardonnay and pinot noir are the classic varieties in Champagne. Viognier is not.
“Viognier offers a little more fruit and complexity on the bouquet,” Donaldson said. “You know there’s something. It’s hard to put an adjective on it but you know it’s not all chardonnay.”
Sparkling wine can be made different ways. All sparkling wines begin with a still wine. The finished product depends on the fermentation method. Many houses make delightful sparkling wines using the Charmat method, where the second fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in a tank. Italian Prosecco commonly is made this way.
With the traditional method, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and the bubbles are trapped inside. The bottles slowly are turned over several days to allow the dead yeast cells to settle at the neck of the bottle. The bottle neck is frozen to stabilize the yeast and the bottle is disgorged. Replacement wine is added in a process called dosage, and the bottle is corked.
Generally, method champenoise creates finer bubbles than the Charmat method, and the wine takes on complex flavors and aromas of yeast, bread and nuts when it’s allowed to age.
The differences between Donaldson’s three sparkling wines are determined by the dosage. The rose, for instance, receives its color and nuanced earthy aroma from a 2 percent dosage of Alicante Bouchet.
Donaldson sources from Lodi growers, who long have supplied fruit to some of Napa’s premier sparkling wine houses. He said he enjoys making wine in Lodi. LVVR Sparkling Cellars wines are priced around $20 retail and are available at Zin Bistro, Brix and Hops and Cheese Central in Lodi.
“I like the community. A lot of people have been willing to help me out,” said Donaldson, who previously worked in the cellar at LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in Lodi. “Also, I like the fruit. You get really good quality here out of Lodi and it’s reasonably priced, so it makes a start much easier versus Napa and Sonoma where the amount of startup capital is outrageous. Here, people can do things to get started.”
There’s no doubt that Donaldson is starting something sparkling.

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Bloggers know best –Masthead will be unveiled at WBC

There’s an awful lot of wine out there.
Brad Gray, Scotto Cellars’ public relations and media manager, had an ingenious idea: Why not have some noted wine bloggers blend a new wine and showcase their creation at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference this week in Lodi?
To his knowledge, nothing like this had been attempted. What a story. And if it worked, Gray had the perfect event to tie in with the release.
“The bloggers have been important to us, and they are a big part of our PR approach,” said Gray, who promotes Scotto Cellars’ 40-some brands of wines and craft ciders. “So, we brought in the four bloggers we’ve been working with and we turned them loose.” Stockton-based wine bloggers Peter Bourget and Nancy Brazil (, Chicago’s Cindy Rynning ( and Dallas’ Melanie Ofenloch ( sat down with noted Napa winemaker Mitch Cosentino and Scotto Cellars’ head winemaker Paul Scotto on June 8 in a suite above Scotto Cellars’ nearly completed tasting room on School Street in Lodi. For more than three hours, they swirled, sniffed, tasted, blended and shared notes in the hope of creating a sensational blend or single varietal.
“We said to them your goal is to create a really outstanding wine that people will enjoy and it can be a varietal, it can be a blend,” said Bob Walker, marketing manager for Scotto Cellars, who helped with the project. “Here’s what you have to work with.” The panel was given 11 total barrel samples of sangiovese, syrah, zinfandel, petit sirah, petit verdot and barbera. After contemplating myriad possibilities, the bloggers agreed that a 50-50 blend of sangiovese from Hungarian and French oak barrels would be the ticket. The fruit came from Block 433 on the Mohr-Fry Ranch in the Mokelumne River sub-American Viticultural Area in Lodi.
Gray and company named the wine Masthead, a clever nod to newspapers and traditional printed wine reviews. The release of the 2014 Masthead Sangiovese Mohr-Fry Ranch, Block 433 by Scotto Cellars already has created quite a buzz in the blogosphere. The buzz surely will grow once the bloggers get their palates on it. After tasting Masthead recently, I can say only that the growers, vintners and blenders did a heck of a job.
“The whole thing was really an experience,” Bourget said. “(Cosentino) was very patient and really wanted to guide us as to how to get to the finished blend. It was really fascinating.”
The “bloggers blend” as it has been nicknamed, is a small lot of 568 bottles. The wine is ruby in color, spicy, well-balanced and approachable. What’s left of Masthead after the conference will be available at Scotto Cellars’ tasting room, slated to open later this month.
“This should be a good food wine,” Walker said. “It has some nice acidity to it and there is something in the front palate, the mid-palate and it has a nice finish. They did a good job.”
The WBC is being held for the first time in Lodi. Participants will spend Thursday through Sunday experiencing much of what Wine Enthusiast’s 2015 Wine Region of the Year has to offer.
Follow the conference on Twitter @bobhighfill, @winebloggerscon and #WBC16, as well as

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Anderson Valley worth the drive

MENDOCINO COUNTY— Ted Bennett made a fortune in the stereo industry and “retired” in his 30s.

He and his wife wondered what they should do next, so they sought a spot where they could make their favorite styles of wine. That spot ended up being the gorgeous Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, which at the time, in the early 1970s, was not much more than sheep farms and fruit orchards. Some 40 years later, the Bennetts and their company, Navarro Vineyards and Winery, are going strong, and so is the area around them.

Take the four-hour drive north toward the coast in Mendocino and discover a burgeoning wine scene with some of the most delicate pinot noirs and Alsatian white wines you’ll find this side of Europe. My wife, Christiane, and I found the Anderson Valley well worth the drive after visits to four outstanding wineries on Highway 128 in the tiny town of Philo.

Balo (BAY-low) Vineyards is surrounded by lush gardens and an immaculate bocce court with wines crafted by Alex Crangle, who took over after noted winemaker Jason Drew helped the winery get its start. Balo’s portfolio is outstanding, but its whites are particularly captivating: The 2015 Pinot Noir Blanc ($32) grown on the estate and fermented in stainless steel, is a symphony of peaches and citrus on the nose with stone and minerals on the palate; the super-dry 2014 Riesling ($24) from 40-year-old vines, some of the oldest in the Anderson Valley, has a faint, textbook petrol aroma with baking spices; and the 2014 Pinot Gris ($26) from Filly Green Farm, the first biodynamic vineyard in the Anderson Valley, is floral with citrus fruit flavors. Among their pinot noirs is the 2014 Suitcase 828 Estate ($38), so named because the clone (828) was smuggled from Oregon. The spice and bright red fruit aromas mingle with the cherry bubblegum and strawberry flavors found in gamay. Beaujolais drinkers would enjoy this wine.

Across the street in The Madrones, a tiny enclave of shops, tasting rooms and the Stone & Embers restaurant, is the tasting room for Drew Family Cellars, Jason and Molly Drew’s showplace for their albarino, pinot noir and syrah. The 2014 Gatekeeper Pinot Noir ($32) from three vineyards that ring the Anderson Valley is flavorful with nice acid and fruit with medium body. The 2014 Fog-Eater Pinot Noir (N/A) from the Balo vineyard and Filly Green Farm is light-bodied with tart cherry flavors, and the 2014 Syrah ($48) from Valenti Ranch in the Mendocino Ridge AVA is a cool-climate syrah with 5 percent viognier in the Côtes-Rotie style.

Just a couple of miles north stands a wood-shingled apple dryer dating to the 1880s where Phillips Hill Winery offers its splendid array of pinot noir. Owned by partners Natacha Durandet from the Loire Valley in France and California native Toby Hill, who also is the winemaker, Phillips Hill’s wines are made from 100 acres of estate fruit and trusted sources. Hill’s first vintage was the 2002 Oppenlander Pinot Noir and the winery’s production still is a scant 1,700 cases. The entry-level pinot noir, 2014 Bootling Anderson Valley ($28), is from a Beaujolais clone of pinot noir. Phillips Hill’s vineyard-designated pinot noirs are remarkable, especially the 2013 Valenti Mendocino Ridge ($45) which exemplifies Hill’s commitment to terroir-driven wines with minimal intervention. The fruit is there, but the gravel and mineral notes take center stage.

Head south to Navarro Vineyards and sample their lineup of terrific Alsatian whites and pinot noirs. The 2014 Gewürztraminer ($19.50) from Anderson Valley, Navarro’s flagship wine, has a classic nose of spice, rose petals, lychee and papaya. The 2014 Riesling ($29) has 1.6 percent residual sugar, making it semi-dry, with apricot, pear, papaya and white pepper aromas and flavors. The 2015 Edelzwicker Anderson Valley ($16) is a semi-dry blend of pinot gris, gewürztraminer, Riesling and muscat with floral and stone fruit flavors and aromas. The 2015 Rose of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($19.50) is dry with strawberry, cherry and cinnamon aromas and flavors. Among their pinot noirs, the 2012 Anderson Valley Methode a l’Ancienne ($32) has a light ruby color and flavors of ripe raspberries, white pepper, cedar and plums.

Anderson Valley not only is beautiful, but it’s laid-back and relatively unspoiled, a secret worth sharing near the Pacific Coast.

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Harney Lane cab proves again what’s possible in Lodi

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.”

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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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