June 2, 2009

Lodi Wine Tasting: The intimacy missing from today's Napa Valley

In the central valley of California, near Stockton and the state capital of Sacramento is the town and wine growing region known as the Lodi Appellation. This gorgeous area is filled with vineyards and wineries that nurture and bottle some of the best wine grapes you will find - they rival Napa and Sonoma.

Recently we toured this lush area and had an extended visit with long time wine grower, David Lucas, of Lucas Winery. He took the time to take us out back to share the precise moment that some baby Zinfandel grapes started showing up on his vines.

These Zin Star grapes are just part of the success story that Lucas Winery has had with its amazing wines - with the vineyard celebrating its 30th year. Does it help that David travels to Tuscany every year? Is it the experience and skill of his wife who made wines for 16 years at the Robert Mondavi Winery where she was responsible for their Cabernet Reserve and Opus wines.

David Lucas also took us for further discussion inside where their barrels were laid out. Their wines are aged in French Oak barrels (not flavored with oak chips) and when we were there they had some new barrels waiting - with instructions!

In the Grand Chai, oak barrels resting single high hold the entire vintage from the ZinStar vineyard. Five different barrel coopers were chosen to carefully enhance the unique characteristics of the vineyard. Depending on the special quality of the vintage the wine will rest here for 12 to 16 months. Crushed gravel under the barrels is used to maintain the proper temperature and humidity in order to age the vintages in ideal conditions. Even the barrels resting "one high" are specific for the aging of a great wine.

We do not know of anyone who has done this for Zinfandels. This centuries-old technique is typically reserved for the world's elegant wines. The wine will rest undisturbed, allowing for un-filtered wines. This process is a luxury in wine making, but we wouldn't have it any other way. Our goal is to protect the traditional craft of winemaking.

This part of California is such an unexpected treat when we come here. It does feel as if this is what Napa or Sonoma Valley must have been like 20 years ago or more. No wonder Mondavi is said to have started in this area, the air and people have a warmth that is nurturing. If you come to Northern California, this area known as the Lodi Appellation is worth adding to your itinerary.

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