It wouldn’t seem possible that a few hundred cases of wine could potentially redefine an entire appellation, yet the Lodi Native project is poised to do just that.
Only two years ago, wine journalist and sommelier Randy Caparoso brought a group of the Lodi’s finest winemakers together with the goal of creating a project capable of celebrating the region’s distinctive attributes. It was here they conceptualized the Lodi Native project, the collaborative winemaking endeavor formed to highlight Lodi’s prized heritage vineyards through six single vineyard bottlings of Zinfandel. “Lodi’s heritage vineyards are really what separate the region from the rest of California,” explains Caparoso. Many of these vineyards have been around for hundreds of years and are often still planted on their own rootstock. Yet unfortunately, too often these ancient vines are blended away into the massive, fruit dominant consumer friendly wines, losing their uniqueness as well as their sense of place in the process.
Thus the aim with Lodi Native was to create a project that could emphasize the distinction of each vineyard by utilizing natural, hands-off winemaking methods that would allow for the truest expression of each place. And the results are unlike anything you’d ever expect.
While the region of Lodi has a long, great history of grape growing, despite producing wines of great diversity, it was the big, fruity commercial style wines of the Michael David winery (think 7 Deadly Zins) that captured the attention of the American market and came to define the “typical” Lodi wine. Other wineries soon followed suit and ramped up production of these crowd pleasing wines.
Yet when a winery becomes known for producing a particular style of wine, just like any other brand, the market demands consistency. Thus many of the producers in the region who worked with Lodi’s numerous heritage vineyards began blending away the unique characteristics of the vineyards in order to reshape and manipulate their wines to become more consumer friendly.
Unfortunately as Lodi winemakers continued to manipulate their wines to emulate the ultra-ripe, Dry Creek Valley style of Zinfandel that the market demanded, they inadvertently type-casted the region as capable of producing masculine, high alcohol fruit bombs and nothing more.
Ironically, the true style of Lodi Zinfandel is soft and feminine, and the un-manipulated wines offer a natural delicacy not often seen displayed by the variety. Thus with the recent shift in the market away from the big, jammy wines of the past towards wines displaying elegance, restraint and, the big buzzword, balance, the Lodi Native project has become uniquely poised to take advantage of this shift by simply producing wine in the region’s own natural style.
The 2012 vintage was the first release from the project and included six different single vineyard Zinfandels from within the Mokelumne River sub-AVA from six of the area’s top winemakers. In order to allow each individual vineyard to shine through rather than personal winemaking styles, any form of manipulation, adjustment or correction was prohibited. No acid adjustments, filtration/fining, enzymes, new oak or yeast selection were permitted.
Of course, it is not possible to divorce the winemaker from the project entirely. The decision on when to pick alone has immeasurable effects on the final wine produced. Nor was it always easy getting six winemakers, each with differing winemaking styles and philosophies, to come together on the project. “It was like herding cats at some points” laughed Caparoso.
Yet tasting through the six Lodi Native wines, one would be amazed to see the shocking differences and identifiable characteristics of each vineyard. From the classical elegance of the Marian’s Vineyard to the intense fruit driven qualities of Noma Ranch, each wine truly speaks of the time and place in which it was born.
LODI NATIVE TASTING NOTES:
1- 2012 Lodi Native Maley Brothers Wegat Vineyard
Light and bright fruit, with perfumy floral notes of violet accompanied by an earthy, somewhat herbaceous undertone. Constantly evolving aromas. Great acidic structure.
Vineyard planted in 1958 in Westside Lodi. Grafted on St. George rootstock. Whole cluster fermentation. Winemaker: Chad Joseph
2- 2012 Lodi Native M2 Soucie Vineyard
One of the biggest structured wines, displaying aromas of dark fruit: berries and black cherry alongside savory, earthy notes. A creamy, riper style wine. Full bodied and juicy yet still with great acidity and tannic structure.
Vineyard planted in 1916, on its own roots, head trained. Winemaker: Layne Montgomery
3- 2012 Lodi Native McCay Cellars Trulux Vineyard
Deep black fruit aromas accompanied by notes of cocoa, white pepper and smoky tobacco. An elegant, savory finish. Medium bodied with dusty tannins and mouthwatering acidity.
Tall head trained vines that can grow up to six feet off the ground. Uneven ripening due to size so harvest plant to plant. This wine was harvested from five different locations in the same vineyard. Winemaker: Michael McCay
4- 2012 Lodi Native St. Amant Marian’s Vineyard
Intensely perfumed with bright red cherry notes and subtle tannins. A classical, elegant expression of zinfandel.
Planted in 1901, on own rootstock. Referred to as one of the grand cru Zinfandel vineyards. Winemaker: Stuart Spencer
5- 2012 Lodi Native Fields Family Century Block Vineyard
Herbaceous, leafy/stemmy quality, somewhat similar to the Wegat Vineyard wine, yet still retaining excellent ripe red fruit.
100 year old vines from the east side of Lodi. On own rootstock. Winemaker: Ryan Sherman
6- 2012 Lodi Native Macchia Noma Ranch
Intense, fruit dominated nose. Biggest of the six wines, with the highest alcohol content (15.9%) and largest mouthfeel.
Own rooted, head trained vineyard from the east side of Lodi. Dry farmed. Winemaker: Tim Holdener
WHERE TO FIND THE WINES:
Currently only available at the Lodi Visitor Center, several of the Lodi Native Zinfandels are soon to be featured at Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice, CA. Look for a wider release with the 2013 vintage as the project expands from six winemakers to twelve.
Lincoln Fine Wines
727 Lincoln Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
For more information on the Lodi Native project, click here
For help planning a visit to the region, visit the Lodi Winegrape Commission site, here
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