|Vineyard manager Kevin Phillips in the 127-year-old Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi|
Until last week, I always had a hard time writing about Lodi. I'm not alone: considering how much wine is made there, you don't read much about it.
The problem isn't that the wines are bad; that's not true at all. If you've ever had a California appellation wine, particularly red, that you liked, odds are good that many of the grapes came from Lodi.
The problem is that while usually competent, Lodi wines are rarely exciting, which may be because of fertile soil that's well-suited to volume. I like Uvaggio's Vermentino a lot because it's a balanced, dependable wine with some character, and that's the first Lodi wine that -- until last week -- springs to my mind. There are some Zinfandels from very old vineyards that are pretty good, although there's an ongoing tendency to hide them in blends or too much oak.
The best thing about Lodi is the Lodi Rules, a fairly stringent set of standards for sustainability that I wouldn't mind seeing adopted for the state of California as a whole. But that's not going to happen because there's no way a Napa vintner is going to put "Lodi Rules" on his $150 Cab.
Lodi fits uncomfortably in the state's informal classification of appellations. It's not up to the standards of the main coastal appellations, but it's clearly better than the much hotter Central Valley. I probably like Lodi wines as well as those from Paso Robles on the whole, but that's because I don't love what Paso does best, which is huge reds. Is Lodi better than Livermore? It's more professional, but I have a Livermore Cab I've been sitting on for 10 years, and I have no Lodi equivalent.
I'm sure I'm going to piss off my recent hosts in Lodi with this candor, but the fact is that some wineries have less enthusiasm for Lodi on the label than I do. At a Lodi event I attended, a newish winery called Lorenza served a nice, crisp rosé with a California appellation, even though all the grapes are from Lodi. Owner Melinda Kearney, who does sales and marketing consulting for high-end wineries in Napa -- and thus should know what consumers respond to -- was savvy enough to give me this answer when I asked why she wouldn't label it Lodi: "For us, it's easier. California is sun-kissed."
Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project doesn't put Lodi on his rosé made with 100% Lodi grapes either, but I was too busy asking him why his rosé is white (Schoener: "I learned early on that the federal government doesn't define red, white and rosé") to bother with the appellation question.
What this is leading up to is that I recently went to Lodi for the first time in a while basically to try some single-variety Cinsault, because I'm curious about the grape. To my palate's stunned delight, I discovered that there's an amazing 127-year-old vineyard planted only with Cinsault -- nearly unheard of in the 1880s on two levels, because 1) Most vineyard owners planted field blends then to hedge their bets on ripening, and 2) The owner thought he was planting something else.
The vineyard and its delicious wines are the subject of my Wine Review Online column this week, which I won't repeat here. I apologize to all the Lodi vintners I've offended, but I wanted to set the stage for how incredible it was to taste these distinctive, unique, delicious, lively wines from an area that I have come to see mainly as a source of dependability and competence.
As always, WRO's tasting notes and reviews are behind its pay wall (sorry), but I urge you, if you see Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault -- from Lodi -- on a label, any label, give it a try. I've spoiled the surprise for you, but nothing can spoil the greatness of what might be Lodi's Grand Cru vineyard.
Read the Wine Review Online column here.