OENOPHILE | By Denman Moody –

Much has transpired since I visited and wrote an article about Lodi and its wines in 2010. For one thing, my favorite Lodi winery, Michael David, sold its 7 Deadly Zins and a couple other lines to focus on its more upscale wines. In a way, this resembles Sutter Home selling its White Zinfandel line many years ago to focus upwards also, and while at it, changed its name to Trinchero Family Estates. I am still a fan of all the Michael David wines – great values at around $20 to $55.

Situated in the north part of the San Joaquin Valley about an hour and a half east of Napa, many believe that Lodi is too hot to produce premium wines.  Not true, at least for a large portion of Lodi, because cool Pacific winds blow through the Carquinez Straits – a gap in the coastal mountain range – all the way through to Lodi.

Another matter of interest is that because of the mass purchases of grapes for the late White Zinfandel boom created by Sutter Home and Robert Mondavi Woodbridge, almost all of the ancient vines were not ripped out and replaced, and today they produce marvelous wines with depth and character.

Today in Lodi, there are around 75 families farming grapes – mostly fourth and fifth generation – and some 85 wineries.  In fact, the Phillips family, Michael and David, have been farming in Lodi for six generations.  Originally, watermelon and wheat were the staples, and at one time grapes abounded but were not suited for successful winemaking.

Around 1990, Zinfandel, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault were planted.  The Bechthol Vineyard was planted with Cinsault in 1885 and is considered to be one of the two or three oldest and largest Cinsault vineyards in the world.

On February 12th, I attended a masterful presentation by Elaine Chukan Brown on the history and current state of affairs in Lodi, including a tasting of some of its best wines. My favorites, one white and five reds, are all highly recommended:

Oak Farms Vineyards Albariño Mokelumne  River 2018
This wine does not have the bright acidity of a typical Rias Baixas Albariño from northwest Spain, and actually reminds me more of a rich Loire Chenin Blanc. Lovely bouquet and full-flavored, this is a wine that can be enjoyed with or without food.  $24

McCay Cellars Grenache Abba Vineyard 2016

Gorgeous red fruit flavors, aged 14 months in old French oak. I would like to try this very slightly chilled with chicken salad by the pool on a San Diego summer day.  $35

Michael David  Winery Ancient Vine  Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard 2017

From a vineyard planted in 1885, this is one of my favorite wines in this price range featuring blue fruits, plums and excellent balancing acidity. Great character and astonishing preservation of this vineyard!  $25.

Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel Stampede Vineyard 2016

Planted in the ‘20s and ‘40s, another oldie but goodie aged 18 months in old French oak. “Purply and crunchy berry” with a lovely finish.  $28

St. Amant Winery Old Vine Zinfandel Marian’s Vineyard 2018

Planted in 1901 and aged 11 months in French oak (15% new) a real eye-opener.  Unbelievable that vines this old can produce great wine.  Blackberries and spice; rich and rewarding.  $24

Mountain Tides Wine Company Petite Sirah Clements Hills 2017

Not a big, rich Petite Sirah, but shows reserved charm, lovely aromatics and tender tannins.  $25