One of the truly great things about kids is their ability to embrace absurdity simply for the sheer pleasure of nonsense. Reflect, for a moment, on the guileless lyrics of a childhood parody (I hate Bosco, it’s rich and chocolat-y. Mommy puts it in my milk to try and poison me…) or the unabated pleasure of jejune humor. When I was much younger, I used to delight in the banter of the lock & key joke. The first person would start with something like:
“I’m a Hair-lock…”
To which the other would respond:
“I’m a Hair-key!”
Then he’d say:
“I’m a Nose-lock…”
“I’m a Nose-key!”
The next round might start with:
“I’m a Don-lock…”
Unaware, the other person would announce:
“I’m a Don-key!!!” Peals of laughter would ensue.
Alternatively, the jokester might try:
“I’m a Mon-lock…”
“I’m a Mon-key!!!”
“I’m a Tur-lock…”
Suffice it to say that this sleepy little hamlet in Stanislaus County, a minor of satellite in greater metropolitan Modesto’s orbit, does not take kindly to my theory on the origin of its name. Several years ago, amid exceptional tribulation, Your West Coast Oenophile accepted a position with Turlock’s most storied enterprise, the (allegedly) not-for-profit Medicalert Foundation. On my drive out to the First Sip in Lodi this past Saturday, there was nary a moment I was tempted to veer south and revisit this inglorious chapter from my past.
Having tasted nearly all the wines being poured this weekend at the recent Treasure Island WineFest, my visit was more of a goodwill tour on behalf of Sostevinobile, a chance to visit with friends and see them operating in their own setting, not to mention a respite from the diurnal struggles of urban survival.
Over at Abundance, owner Dino Mencarini sat rather regally in the recesses of his warehouse as the crowds descended from what seemed like an endless parade of stretch Hummers. The long drive from San Francisco mandated that I start with something cool, which his Colombard-based NV Brut fit the bill nicely. I hadn’t tried the 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel before, and it certainly exemplified why Lodi has become so renowned for this varietal. And, of course, how could I say no to a taste of the just-released 2008 Bacio Dolce, Abundance’s signature late harvest Carignane, pipetted from an unstopped mini-barrel?
Mitch Cosentino operates branches of his winery in Lodi and in Yountville, focusing on grapes that flourish in each locale. I could launch into an extended peroration on why wineries should never forge a connection between their products, which have pronounce health benefits, to tobacco, the most-readily accessible carcinogen on the planet, but I will concede that his 2006 CigarZin was quite delectable. On the other hand, pushing tolerances at 16% alcohol, his new 2006 Daredevil, a Syrah-based blend, proved an exceedingly fine wine. Clearly my favorite was the modestly named 2006 The Franc, from his Lodi-based The Wine series.
My visit to LangeTwins proved most eye-opening. Their scant production of ~4,000 cases in no way prepared me for the site of the 2,000,000-case contract winery I encountered. A ginormous facility recalling
More startling than LangeTwins, however, was my discovery of Viaggio, a wine estate so opulent, it seemed an apparition on the banks of the Mokelumne. Whether this gargantuan erection makes Acampo a true destination remains to be seen; still, it made quite a stirring first impression.
Viaggio has yet to make wine at this facility, contracting their production to Oak Ridge in Lodi. Nonetheless, I did appreciate both their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2006 Pinot Grigio, which, respectively, paired quite nicely with the superb Beef Tri-Tip and the Mango Bread Pudding, prepared by Viaggio’s Vino di Vita cafe that owner Kent Raverty to showcase his forte as a pizzaiolo.
I had wanted to visit with quite a number of wineries this afternoon, but time and the wide spread of locations made completing my list an impossibility. I was sure I could make it to both Harney Lane and Harmony Wynelands at the end of my loop but fell short of my expectations. I also wanted to pay a courtesy visit to Onus Vineyards, to thank Marty Peterson for sending me a bottle of his superb 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, an exquisite interpretation of this varietal that is drinking at its peak right now.
I did manage to squeeze in Michael~David, a winery that seems hellbent on milking every pun it can construe from its 7 Deadly Zins and other allusions. Still, I enjoyed their Petite Sirah-dominant 2007 Petite Petit and found their 2005 Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon a true pleasure at this stage in its development.
After trying a third 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi at the opulent estate of my longtime friend Joe Berghold, I had to concur with his observation that Lodi wines attain their peak more rapidly than wines from nearby Napa. Given how a wine bar’s wines must offer an immediate appeal to its clientele, his analysis was not lost on me or the program I am building for Sostevinobile. Berghold is billed as a “Victorian winery,” and the breadth of the antique collection Joe has amassed approaches museum quality. With two 26-foot-long carved bars imported in their entirety from Pennsylvania and a collection of 19th century armoires that words cannot truly depict, the tasting areas convey a sense of warmth and romance few wineries could better capture. Joe spent the better part of an hour pouring me a wide selection of his wines, ranging from his truly delectable 2005 Merlot to the very special 2005 Souzão, a varietal I had tried but once before. The blended 2003 Cabernet Franc/Syrah was a revelation in itself, while the 2007 Viognier was remarkable in it restraint. I even found myself delighting (there goes that pernicious tobacco reference, again) in his Stogie Club Petite Port, a post-prandial pleasure even without a cigar to accompany it.
Way out on the eastern edge of Lodi, the town of Clements seemed halfway to Jackson, but I was happy to trudge out there to visit with Markus and Liz at their tasting station for Bokisch. As per usual, I readily partook of their familiar Spanish trio, the 2007 Tempranillo, the 2007 Garnacha, and the 2007 Graciano, which somehow tasted better on their home turf. The real treat, however, was a chance to sample their limited-production 2007 Monastrell, which may be my favorite of their bottlings to date. Bokisch shared tasting space with Clements Ridge Produce, perhaps the only winery in California to have a Web page devoted to its selection of fruit pies. My efforts to scarf a piece of their mini pumpkin tarts obliged me to try a sampling of their wines; despite my transparent pretext, I found both the 2005 Gatos Locos Syrah and especially the 2007 Gatos Locos Zinfandel surprisingly likable wines.
I might have stayed around for Sunday’s tasting, but my agenda for the next several days proved beyond manageable. With any luck, I hope my next installment can convey my appreciation for these ensuing absurdities with the same unfettered delight I enjoyed during my formative years.