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Make Wine, not War—the Sequel

I haven’t written about the Punahou Kid since he took office. Of course, if he had actually accomplished anything beyond soaring rhetoric over the past nine months, I might have felt compelled to comment. Still, I find it alarmingly incongruent that a person perpetuating one war and escalating another can be accorded the world’s most revered award for the promulgation of pacifistic ideals. Failure to see the inherent contradiction here fundamentally correlates to an unabashed appreciation of the Blue Angels as a precision flight formation performing purely for entertainment value, while myopically ignoring the militaristic propaganda underlying such displays.

Far better to see military facilities turned to civilian use. Once again, Your West Coast Oenophile had the pleasure of visiting one such converted base, this time on the man-made Treasure Island, a four hundred acre development attached to the natural formation of Yerba Buena Island at the middle juncture of the Bay Bridge. This past Sunday, the first annual Treasure Island Wine Fest hosted Lodi on the Water, a celebration of more than 40 wineries from this surprisingly diverse AVA can no longer be considered the backwater of the California wine industry.

 

A chance to see old friends, a chance to meet new ones. Before I started developing Sostevinobile, the Ginkgo Girl and I ventured out to the delta for Lodi Zinfest on a day where the temperature rose above 100° F. Not exactly the most conducive way to pour or to taste wine. This weekend, however, a fog so heavy the Blue Angels had to cancel their Saturday performance hovered well into the afternoon before dissipating.
Not that the wines still weren’t in danger of overheating. An overwhelming crowd had already inundated the tent Treasure Island had recently erected to host large gatherings even before I arrived—and this was only the preview reception for media and trade. Dreading the arrival of the public attendees, I beelined over to the table for Mokelumne Glen, a winery I believe is the only producer in California devoted exclusively to German varietals. With such scant basis for comparison, I concede I feel somewhat hesitant to assess these wines, though the 2008 Late Harvest Kerner certainly ranked as one of the standouts; also quite pleasing, the 2008 Bacchus blended Müller-Thurgau with a Riesling/Sylvaner hybrid.

Another hybrid varietal grown with greater proliferation in Lodi is Symphony, a cross UC-Davis developed from Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. Abundance marries Symphony with Sauvignon Blanc to create their 2007 Bountiful Blanc, a most distinctive blend. I used to drink their 1999 Viognier almost religiously and had hoped to sample their current vintage, Nonetheless, their 2005 Abundantly Rich Red, a Carignane/Zinfandel mélange, provided more than satisfactory consolation. Murphys stalwart Ironstone Vineyards offered an undiluted interpretation of Symphony with their 2008 Obsession, but true kudos belonged to their 2006 Cabernet Franc.
Ironstone’s Kautz family also produces Christine Andrews as a more sophisticated line of wines. Certainly their 2007 Malbec, though still young, portended a promising evolution, but I found myself wishing they’d brought their 2005 Tempranillo as a benchmark.

Not that the afternoon was lacking for Spanish varietals. Assuredly, Lodi’s leader in this category has long been Bokisch Vineyards, which also spearheads Lodi Rules, the rigorous standard for sustainability throughout this AVA. Markus could not attend this event, owing to harvest duties, but, much to everyone’s delight, this wife was on hand to promote the winery. Liz is the kind of girl who could pour Two Buck Chuck and make it taste good, but her own wines required no embellishment. I found myself liking the 2008 Albariño better than its previous vintage, while the 2007 Garnacha outpaced the other reds she offered.
Standing just behind her, Harney Lane’s interpretation of Albariño seemed somewhat fruitier, but both their 2007 Zinfandel and their 2006 Petite Sirah were monumental expressions of their particular varietal. Housed in Elk Grove, McConnell Estates also produced a noteworthy 2006 Tempranillo, as well as a forthright 2006 Petite Sirah, while Acampo’s St. Jorge Winery accompanied its stellar 2007 Tempranillo with a refreshing take on the standard Portuguese white varietal with their 2008 Verdelho. With a motto of “No Boring Wines,” Ripken Vineyards certainly produces strikingly colorful labels, but I felt neither the 2005 Vintage Port nor the 2006 El Matador Tempranillo had quite the same con gusto zest that their packaging conveyed. Still, I was quite enamored of their immensely flavorful 2006 Late Harvest Viognier.
What? No Pinot? In addition to German and Iberian grapes, Lodi offers a wide range of Italian, Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, not to mention a ubiquitous supply of Zinfandel (interestingly, no one with whom I spoke ventured to mention Tokay or the other filler grapes that made up the bulk of Lodi’s growing 25 years ago). I typically think of Peltier Station for their Petite Sirah, and was pleased to discover their new Hybrid label, a line of sustainable wines that included a new 2007 Hybrid Petite Sirah, as well as a nicely drinkable 2008 Hydrid Pinot Grigio. Watts Winery is a small operation with a big heart—they produce a special On Wings of Hope line to benefit Burkitt’s lymphoma research. I wish they would have taken their 2005 Montepulciano to the tasting, but their 2005 Dolcetto Los Robles Vineyard Clements Hills was more than delightful in its own right. Time constrains caused me to overlook the 2007 Pinot Grigio from Van Ruiten Family Winery, though I did manage a taster’s sip of their splendid 2006 Cab-Shiraz.
Several years ago, I introduce Macchia to Consorzio Cal-Italia; this tasting offered a chance to reconnect and sample their 2007 Amorous Sangiovese and their 2007 Delicious Barbera (one of several versions of this varietal that they produce). Still, it was their library offering of the debut 2001 Barbera that really sent me back. St. Amant Winery also brought a pair of strong Barbera vintages, contrasting their 2007 Barbera with a just-released 2008 Barbera, Another old acquaintance, l’Uvaggio di Giacomo has simplified its name for non-Italian speakers (something Sostevinobile will never do!), but the new Uvaggio label is undiminished with an outstanding 2005 Barbera and a 2008 Vermentino that makes for an easy apéritif.
The Woodbridge Winery not only compelled the gargantuan industrial wineries in California to start making wines with an eye toward quality, it also catalyzed recognition for the potential of Lodi as a varietal-driven AVA. Although this facility’s repute has dwindled since Robert Mondavi stepped back from personal control, and portends to devolve into an indistinguishable jug factory under the current regime, they still managed to produce a respectable 2008 Vermentino for this event. I can’t say that Constellation’s other holding, Talus Winery, struck much of a positive chord with any of their offerings, while Gallo’s Barefoot Cellars seemed outright pedestrian compared to their heyday as part of Davis Bynum. Once again, I could not bring myself to warm up to any of the lackluster Campus Oaks wines that Gnekow Family mass-produces. Central Valley conglomerate Delicato Vineyards ponied up to the table with four disparate labels, and managed to make a slightly positive impression with their 2007 181 Merlot.

 

Back to accentuating the positive. One thing for certain, Lodi has know lack of inventiveness in coming up with offbeat names for their wines.Witness Michael~David Winery,which seemingly tries to squeeze more life out of a pun than juice can be extracted from a ton of grapes. From their collection of collection of 7 Deadly Zins, I immensely enjoyed the 2006 Gluttony Zinfandel and luxuriated in the 2005 Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon; also noteworthy but obvious, their 2007 Petite Petit, a Petit Verdot/Petite Sirah blend. Grands Amis also offered a young but promising 2007 Petit Verdot and a similarly evolving 2007 Première Passion, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Along with their noteworthy, 2007 Estate Petite Sirah, Vino Con Brio! shared their 2008 Estate Brillante, a deft mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Passione Rosé, a blushing Sangiovese. Stama Winery made their pitch with the 2005 Curvaceous Cabernet and 2007 Zany Zin, but I cottoned more to their 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.In and of itself, Klinker Brick is a great name, so they can be excused if their 2007 Farrah Syrah is a tribute to owner Farrah Felten and not the late Charlie’s Angel. Besides, their 2007 Old Ghost Zin was enough to make one downright jiggly!

A pun on the name of owner Dave Dart led to the development of d’Art Wines, a highly stylized line of wines that feature the artwork of spouse Helen Rommel Dart on the labels. With lush red coloring on the inside of the bottles, as well, they painted a bold swath with both their 2007 Tempranillo and the 2007 Zinfandel. m2 Wines featured their 2007 Artist Series’ Zinfandel, a perennial commissioned showcase, along with their appealing Syrah/Petite Sirah mix, the 2006 Duality and the 2007 Trio, which blends the same varietal with a predominant Cabernet Sauvignon. The artwork of painter Chris Spencer adorns the very Van Gogh-like label for Barsetti Vineyards. Though it may seem heretical these days, their oaky 2006 Chardonnay outshone their steel-barreled version from the following vintage.; their 2006 Zinfandel showed quite nicely, too.
Several Lodi wineries stay close to the basics and produce quite admirable wines. The Lucas Winery offered a 2006 Chardonnay, as well as a panoply of different Zinfandel bottlings, featuring their 2005 Zinstar. I remain surprised that Maley Brothers still lacks a website, but their trio of 2004 Merlot, 2006 Petite Sirah and 2005 Zinfandel remained as true as when I’d previously sampled them. Lodi mainstay Berghold Vineyards, a long-standing acquaintance, brought out a truly elegant 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the debut of their 2006 Footstomp Zinfandel, both estate bottlings. And it was no onus to sample the 2007 Chardonnay and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Onus Vineyards.
Readers know I am never hesitant to tweak the wineries, whenever I see an opening. I told Trinitas Cellars their 2006 Ratzinger Zinfandel tasted rather “papal;” I was also quite fond of their 2005 Old Vine Petite Sirah. I also thought Oak Ridge Winery needed a wine called Elvira, but they handled themselves quite ably with their 2007 3 Girls Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Moss Roxx Zinfandel.
Call it an Italian thing—I’ll refrain from the obvious puns on Borra Winery, tempting though they may be. Their designated 45.7° series may seem eclectic to some, but their Fusion wines, particularly the 2008 Fusion–Red, a blend with 60% Syrah and 30% Petite Sirah (with other varietals comprising the remaining 10%) set the standard for this winery. I hold a similar respect for LangeTwins, a winery that has been cited for its implementation of sustainable technology and long-standing dedication to environmental preservation. Their 2007 Petit Verdot shows that their fidelity to the Lodi Rules only enhances the flavor of the wine; the 2005 Midnight Reserve is a finely-tuned Bordeaux blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon predominant.
Zinfandel being a hallmark of Lodi, it was not surprising to find some wineries exclusively featuring this varietal, like the Paul Simeon Collection, whose only pour was their 2007 St. Sophia Zinfandel. Benson Ferry staged a Zinfandel trifecta, with their 2006 95240 Zinfandel zipping by and winning by a nose. Jessie’s Grove Winery also featured a number of their Zinfandels, including the cleverly-named 2006 Earth, Zin & Fire and a deep 2006 Westwind Zinfandel; My true fondness, however, was reserved for their 2008 Chardonnay and the 2008 Jessence Blanc, a Roussanne/Viognier blend.
I concede that my fondness for Harmony Wynelands may have precipitated from the charms of event coordinator Kitty Wong, who was on hand to pour their esoteric 2006 GMA, a marriage of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Alicante Bouschet. This latter varietal, a cross between Grenache and Petit Bouschet, a hybrid vitis vinifera created from Aramon and Teinturier du Cher, which gives Alicante Bouschet the rarity of having red flesh; such a complex pedigree is cause for Harmony Wynelands to give its bottling the lofty appellation of 2005 Alicante Bouschet Premier Crush. On the less exotic side, I also found their 2006 Riesling quite approachable, as well. 
In contrast, Heritage Oak Winery may have seemed to venture into the slightly exotic with their quite satisfying 2007 Vino Tinto, but its Spanish appellation belied a distinctly California combination of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. Their 2007 Block 14 Zinfandel was equally appealing. Namesake Carl Mettler of Mettler Family Wines provided a well-received 2007 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel, along with the 2005 Petite Sirah and a somewhat early 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that offered indications of future promise. Further down the row of tables, Vicarmont Vineyards’ Vic Mettler chose to stake his claim in the Right Bank’s dominating varietal, with a 2007 Vicarmont Merlot and the palindromic 2006 vMv Merlot.

My general sense is that the Lodi AVA, which had but eight working wineries in 1991, has made sizable strides in its viticultural evolution, especially since my last visit in 2007. Even though I would rate the inaugural Treasure Island Wine Fest as one of my more manageable tastings this year, with 43 wineries attending, there clearly was a enormous amount of information (and wine) to absorb. Certainly, a more capacious guide than a two-sided 8.5″ x 11″ print would have helped make the event more manageable, but I managed, most ironically, to visit with each of the presenters, thanks to the Blue Angels! Had they not put on their display somewhere near the midpoint of this marathon, the bulk of the crowd would have remained inside the tent, and my mounting sense of claustrophobia would have never permitted me to finish. Go figure!
I managed to attend a number of other tastings this past week, including Napa Valley Vintners’ Battle of the Palates that kicked off Harvest Week in San Francisco on Monday and Wednesday’s sumptuous Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Tasting at The Galleria. The Punahou Kid came to town Thursday, yet inexplicably neglected to invite me to either of his soirées. I could have stood outside the St. Francis and joined the protests over the predictably lackluster results of his stewardship or the feckless selection of the Nobel Prize committee; instead, I opted to spend the evening uncharacteristically uncorking unimaginative imported wines at the Officer’s Club at Fort Mason. The first military base ever converted to civilian usage!