Here’s some of that, that I’ll give you in more detail in a moment:
- I don’t like Zinfandel. Most people in the industry, don’t like Zinfandel.
- I’ve never been to Lodi
- Buonocore doesn’t actually exist (no, I’m not being existential)
- For this discussion, 2012 in Lodi matters more than most
1) A couple of months ago, I went to the Sierra Foothills and it was a fascinating experience. It reminds me a lot of Lodi. You can drive through the regions and wonder, quite honestly like some midwestern towns (like Buffalo where I was born) when manufacturing has left you wonder…why exactly is this town here?
For some, the only reason is a post office and some damn old Zinfandel vines.
That’s pretty much the story in a few spots in California’s warmer inland valley’s and quite honestly, it’s a race between them all to see who comes out on top. Personally, I think Lodi and the Sierra Foothills are running neck and neck, with the Foothills the odds on favorite. Sacramento is only an hour away and wine regions about an hour from a major city, have a pretty good success rate in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, San Francisco, New York and well, another 50 or so places. Close enough for a day trip, but far enough to feel like you’re getting away.
At least 3 winemakers though while I was in the Foothills said….crap, I hate Zinfandel, but what choice do I have? A couple of tasting rooms were built on former, younger Zinfandel vines.
Generally, even if we don’t like to admit it-there are some vines, that gain some level of depth and clarity as they age. Zin gets better, but it’s zenith, is probably below Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
2) So, I’ve actually been….but never to taste wine specifically. So, I really, really love going to wine country and seeing where wine is made. But, I mean, Lodi isn’t exactly a major tourist destination right? I don’t think it’s all consistent with Sons of Anarchy (after all, I did grow up in Southern California, I recognize Santa Clarita and North Hollywood when I see it).
But, Lodi is an interesting place. There’s the cold climate regions like those on the Sonoma Coast and then there’s the Sierra Foothills. But, there’s an entire region in the middle of Northern California that’s both warm, but not incredibly hot. That’s Lodi.
When it comes to making wine, that’s pretty much no-man’s land. Cabernet and Pinot need something cooler. Sangiovese or Syrah can grow where it’s hotter like the Sieera Foothills, but the middle ground needs an obvious answer.
Lodi might be the furthest in the process of figuring that out.
Yes, they have some crazy old Vine Zinfandel. But, they are also making progress with some of the varietals that are better long term answers for their climate. After all, they do want to grow the number of wineries around, as well as, the amount of wine being made and what if you don’t happen to have a 100 year old Zinfandel plot in your backyard?
Albarino in my opinion might show the most promise and it’s something I’ll be actively searching for in the coming months.
Vintners in and around Lodi are focused on a few things. First, they’re incredibly interested in how altitude, like serious altitude might affect the finished product. In wineries like Gruet can exist in New Mexico at a few thousand feet, folks in Lodi should give sites higher on the hillside an honest try.
Second, they’ve realized that yes, Pinot would be a joke in their climate and despite the best efforts of some folks in Temecula and elsewhere, Cabernet and other Bordeaux varietals aren’t well suited to grow here either.
Syrah would work. But. No. One. Likes. Syrah.
So what are you left with? You have to go more obscure. Italian varietals might work, or it might be too hot. Portuguese and Spanish varietal should be perfect and given Albarino’s success, an attempt at Tempranillo by a large number of vintners should be in order. Look, land’s cheap and there’s Fresno State’s highly acclaimed viticulture program not too far down the road, so they’re going to figure this out, more than not, over the next decade.
3) Does any corporation really exist? While I’ll let you ponder the possibilities of a Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders debate on the existence of corporate personhood, I’ll simply mention that a working winery named Buonocore went belly up, or something along those lines some time ago.
When a winery goes under, the vultures circle. Charles Shaw doesn’t exist and they don’t grow $2-$3 bottles of wine in Napa. But, the namesake winery which is now called Benessere had financial difficulties, so they sold the name to a bulk wine maker, that hawks their wine rather successfully through Trader Joe’s these days (in a quirk of alcohol law dating to some shenanigans by Al Capone, a retailer cannot own a winery).
Anyway, Buonocore is owned by a guy who owns a range of wine labels, including some in Napa Valley and is by any and all definitions, a negociant. He buys wine that is already either made, or almost made for sale.
4) So, I’ve broken the egg that Buonocore is actually a name only wine brand these and quite honestly, negociants are ok. That being said, we can learn some things if we’re honest about that, namely that for a negociant to do an excellent job he/she needs one major thing….enough wine to work with.
Lodi has long functioned differently than other regions you’ve heard of in California, largely because it is actually part of the inland valley, instead of a cooler coastal region…but most people don’t realize, nor do major wine magazines write about it, but their vintage reports don’t always match other better known regions. As an example, we all know that 2011 was a crappy, crappy Napa Valley vintage. But we accept that 2010 was ok and 2009 was pretty darn. But, in Lodi….the struggle was real. Like, real….real. They said this 2012 vintage was the first to break a string of 3 bad vintages in a row. It was good because there was a, as I heard, “crapton” of fruit. There’s been a lot of talk about lower alcohol movement and Lodi usually cannot take part, after all, it’s hot. But in 2012, they got the lower alcohol stuff that everyone wants as well as some pretty intense flavors.
Ok, so this is good. It’s enjoyable and it’s about what our ancestors if they came to dig for gold might have enjoyed finding growing wild on the hills above town, don’t you think?
Lastly, this Zinfandel showed up in two of our three red wine clubs. I think it’s an interesting look into Lodi in peculiar and Zinfandel specifically.