The Matriarchs of Lodi, Part II: Meeting Wanda Bechthold

 

P1020504Jessie’s Grove was founded in 1868 by Joseph and Anna Spenker, distant relatives of Chuck Spenker of Spenker Winery. Jessie was the daughter of Joseph and Anna and the  grandmother of Wanda Bechthold, the matriarch of Jessie’s Grove.

Now in its 5th generation with some of the original vines dating back to the 19th century, this vineyard has stories to tell. Fortunately, the vineyard has Wanda to tell them. She has dug so deeply into her family history and the stories of the vineyard, she recreates events that happened 150 years ago. Her stories come to life with colorful detail. She channels her ancestors through changing voices as she shares her family stories complete with P1020509dialogue.

P1020537Jessie’s Grove Royal Tee is made from ancient vine Zinfandel, vines that were planted 125 years ago by Wanda’s great grandfather.  The wine is rich and complex with gorgeous, fruit, well-integrated into its smooth structure. Like Wanda’s story telling, this Zin brings to life the rich history of the vineyard.

The Matriarchs of Lodi; Part I: Meeting Peggy Fry

 

P1020472For the opening reception of the Wine Bloggers Conference we were graciously treated to an evening at the Mohr-Fry Ranch. The evening included a lovely catered meal by Paul’s Rustic Oven Pizza and a live bluegrass band, Snap Jackson and the Knock on Wood Players, and, of course there was lots of Lodi wine. The weather was perfect and the company was great. But the thrill of the evening was meeting Peggy Fry, matriarch of the Mohr-Fry Ranch.peggy-fry.jpg.jpeg

Many wineries purchase grapes from the Mohr-Fry Ranch including Michael David, Abundance, Ironstone, Macchia and St. Amant. While 12 different varieties are grown on the 225 acres, the ranch is best known for its old vine Zin, The Mohr-Fry vineyard designation on a bottle of Zinfandel is a guarantee that the wine will be full-bodied and rich tasting.

I have long been a fan of Zinfandels sourced from the Mohr-Fry Ranch, so it was quite delightful to stand in the vineyards while tasting the wines. But to be on the ranch sipping the wine while chatting with Peggy Fry was a bit of a thrill. Peggy and Bruce Fry had us out to their ranch on their 53rd wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Peggy and Bruce. Thank you for your gracious hospitality. And thanks for the Zins!

Lodi, Come for the Zin, Stay for the Cabernet, Carignan, Petit Sirah, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc…

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Of course Lodi is known for its beautiful Zinfandels. But there’s more growing in those vineyards. Here’s a quick look at some of the wines other than Zinfandel that we tasted at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference, 2016 in Lodi.

Klinker Brick’s single vineyard Syrah has aromas of smoked meat, spice and dark fruit with floral notes on the finish. Their Cabernet Suavignon is black cherries, rose petals and oaky earthiness.

Abundance Vineyards makes a Carignan that is earthy with dark fruit aromas and just enough acid to carry the finish.

Oak Ridge makes a Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of forest floor and red and black currants

Langetwins make a Nero d’Avola that is medium bodied with soft tannins and red fruit, a good food wine.P1020557

Prie Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon is herbal with aromas of bell pepper and red fruit. It has bold tannins and a structure that is both fresh and complex.

Peirano Estate’s The Other is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah mix with lots of earth aromas along with the bright red and deep black fruit.

Heritage Oak makes a beautiful Sangiovese full of red fruit and a lively acidity that was absolutely stunning with a kale salad.

But Lodi isn’t just about the reds. Because of the big diurnal swing in temperature, Lodi enjoys cool nights which is why it is able to grow white grapes with acidic structure.

Michael David makes a Sauvignon Blanc in 100% stainless preserving its crisp acidity and aromas of grass and grapefruit.

P1020496Klinker Brick’s rosé is made from the southern Rhone trio, Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, with aromas of spice and floral and a mineral finish.

Oak Ridge makes an Old Soul Chardonnay that has crisp pear and apple with a touch of vnailla and spice.

Lodi has built its reputation on its big, deep Zinfandels, but this little wine town is branching out into many other varietals with great success.

“…their frangrance will be like the wine of Lebanon.” Hosea 14:7

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Founded in 1857 by Jesuit Priests, Chateau Ksara is the oldest commercial winery in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Fine wine making in Lebanon, however, goes back thousands of years. In Biblical times Lebanese wines were held up as the standard for all wines. And why wouldn’t they be? The vineyards in the Bekaa Valley are planted at higher altitudes. Some of Chateau Ksara’s vineyards are planted at 3600 feet. The 75 mile long valley has a Mediterranean climate with the viticultural benefits of a rain shadow effect from Mount Lebanon producing 240 sunny days a year for fully ripened grapes. Breezes are common in the valley, which, along with the moderating effects of the two rivers, the Orontes and the Litani and the big diurnal swing, from the 50’s Fahrenheit at night to the high 80’s during the day work to preserve the beautiful acidity of the grapes.

The grapes grown in the vineyards of Chateau Ksara are predominantly French reds such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Those are the grapes in their Reserve du Couvent, 2013. The wine is a deep ruby color with a garnet rim, very viscous with a medium plus intensity in aroma. The fruits are both tart and ripe, red currant, red cherry, black cherry and bramble berry. Intermixed with the fruit are aromas of fennel, clove, vanilla and charred wood. There is quite a bit of structure to this wine with a playful acidity and a meaty body, it is both juicy and harmonious. After tasting Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent it becomes very clear that to be compared to the fragrance of ‘…the wine of Lebanon,’ is high praise indeed.

*I was given this wine as a sample.  It is the first Lebanese wine that I have had and I didn’t know what to expect, though I was hoping I’d like it.  It was very easy to like, so well structured and lovely.  Had I purchased it, I would consider it a great value, as it retails under $20.

Dinner at Spenker Winery

P1020450Founded in 1869 as a train stop for the Central Pacific Railroad, Lodi began as a farming community known for wheat and watermelons. Lodi was also known, early on for grapes. Since the 19th century Lodi has moved from the Tokay grape to the Zinfandel grape. Home to over 80 wineries and a downtown bursting with fine restaurants, Lodi presents itself with the sophistication of a city in the charm of a small town. At its heart, Lodi is still a farming community.

SpenkerWineryChuck Spenker is a 3rd generation grower and Lodi farmer. His farm, Spenker Winery is located just west of downtown Lodi where he grows Petite Sirah, Muscat and Zinfandel. Dinner at Spenker Winery with the Spenker family includes not only their wines but their farm-made goat cheese, which was fresh and creamy and all the more tasty having met the goats  before dinner. Every goat is named, and every name fit, especially Shenanigans a mischievous character indeed.  P1020544

Though there are several things produced at Spenkers, it is the Zinfandel for which the winery and Lodi are best known. “Zinfandel has changed the way wine is made,” says Chuck Spenker. Because of its structure, Zinfandel is a grape that can withstand a longer hang time, especially in Lodi where the Delta breeze and cool nighttime temperatures maintain the natural acidity of the grape. A longer hang time produces a wine that is big enough to stand on its own. It can be enjoyed without food. But Chuck does believe in pairing his wines. According to Chuck Spenker you should always ‘pair your wine with your friends.’

Are Bloggers the Burners of the Wine World?

P1020447In the town of Lodi last week-end, 300 wine bloggers gathered for the 9th annual Wine Bloggers’ Conference. While most of the conversations centered on wine and writing, there were a few comments and presentations focused on the commercial side of blogging and some advice on how to ‘monetize authenticity.’

In less than a week Black Rock City will be once again re-purposed to host Burning Man, a ‘culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers.’ Beginning its third decade, the event has grown from a community of 30 to a city of over 67,000. There is some talk that the event is becoming overly commercialized. As the participants descend on Reno, we’ve noticed that more and more orders in the store are for cases of grand cru Champagne and first growth Bordeaux. It seems to have become to some extent, a rich man’s playground.

At this point in time, wine blogging is still a medium of self-expression that has no rules. Each blogger has a different perspective, a different take and different way of talking about wine. To develop rules in order to ‘monetize authenticity’ would suffocate the free self-expression that bloggers celebrate.

At the conference as I went from glass to glass and from blogger to blogger, I was greeted and welcomed at each table. A spirits lounge was set up by Justin Koury of the grapevineconsulting.com and wizards of whiskey. Each night there was a different ‘free-range’ experience; free spirits for free spirits. Wine bloggers may well be the burners of the wine world. Theirs is a culture of individual expression without judgment. Lets hope they continue to avoid commercialism and remain a free for all…for all. And like the burners, lets hope the bloggers, continue to live by the principles of ‘Radical Self-expression’ and ‘Radical Inclusion.’

Why Do Generations Matter?

Visit just about any winery in Lodi, California and you will hear the tag line, ‘4th generation grower’ or maybe, ‘5th generation grower.’ There are a lot of family farms in Lodi that have been growing crops since the 19th century and are now making wines. A visit to these wineries is not just about tasting the wines. It’s about meeting the families. But what is it that the generations pass on that somehow makes its way into the final product? Can you taste the character of the family in the wine?

On a recent visit to my parents’ house while having dinner, I noticed something about my Dad. While often quite charming, he likes to tease and get a rise out of people, not unlike my son. On this particular night, rather than let Dad get the better of me, I simply turned to my son and said, ‘Now, I know where you get it. You get it from Grandpa.’ ‘You’rP1020398e wrong,’ my son replied. ‘I get it from you. You get it from Grandpa.’

I never realized how much like my Dad I am
until this visit while we were driving through a pretty neighborhood. There were too many of us for one car, so we drove caravan style. As we approached one particular house I turned to my husband and said, ‘See that house? That’s the best house in the neighborhood. It’s on the golf course, has a view of the lake. And the house itself is not overdone.’ Just as my sentence came to an end, my Dad in the car in front of us pulled over in front of the house. He got out and walked over to our car, ‘See that house? It’s the best house in the neighborhood. It’s on the golf course and has a view of the lake.’ ‘And it’s not overdone,’ I added. ‘Right. It’s not overdone.’ When he got back in his car, I said to my husband, ‘Does it scare you that I think just like my Dad?’ From the back seat came my mother’s voice, like a haunting warning, ‘It should!’

This years Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 is being held in Lodi California.  Many of the wineries or vineyards represented have been in the same family for generations.  Klinker Brick is sixth generation.  Mohr-Fry Ranch is 5 generations as are Michael David Winery and Lange Twins Winery. Oak Ridge Winery is run by a 5th generation Lodi grape grower.

Character is not just found in individuals. There are often common traits in individuals that make up the character of a family. I am looking forward to meeting the wine-making families of Lodi and finding out how their character is reflected in their wines.

(If you are going to the WBC16 leave a comment.  I would love to meet you in person.)