Monthly Archives: May 2019

Exploring the gateway to the Lodi wine region

Oak Farms Winery in Lodi

Things are often initiated through a glass of wine.  I had intended to explore the Lodi region for years but became distracted by other nearby appellations in Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Then, within a week, I tasted the dry, aromatic 2018 Sidebar Kerner Mokelumne River ($25), and the highly reviewed 2016 Oak Farms Cabernet Sauvignon ($22-25)from one of Lodi’s largest producers.

The kerner, with origins in Germany, is sourced from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard in Lodi’s Mokelumne River sub-appellation and the cabernet sauvignon, with small hints of petit verdot and petite sirah, originates from the Oak Farm Estate Vineyard in the Mokelumne River and two other local sub-appellations.  

I recently had an opportunity to meet with Dan Panella, Oak Farms co-owner and third generation farmer for a quick lesson on the virtues of the local wine country.

The Panella family first arrived in Lodi more than eighty years ago, operating a trucking business before venturing into grape growing.  They purchased the seventy-acre historic Oak Farms in 2004, and began an aggressive re-planting program on sixty acres under vine.

Co-owner and winemaker Dan Panella

Today, Oak Farm carefully cultivates fourteen different grape varietals, taking full advantage of Lodi’s unique terroir.  

The Lodi region, which is divided into seven distinct sub-regions, was designated as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) in 1986. Of more than 500,000 acres in the AVA, 103,000 are currently under vine serving eighty bonded wineries.  

With a wine history that dates back to the 1850s, Lodi shares a Mediterranean climate similar to European appellations along the Mediterranean Sea, with warm days and cool nights. Located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevadas, it’s flat, the soils and microclimates are diverse and water is readily available.

Located in northern San Joaquin County, Lodi also has the distinction that the cost per acre of land is significantly lower than in Napa and Sonoma Counties, something that eventually affects the price of everything, from grapes to a bottle of wine.

Although the appellation is probably best known for its old vine Zinfandel, Lodi and Oak Farms also produce Old World varietals like merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and others.

With over 4,000 cases produced, the Oak Farms Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) is their most readily available wine and, with integrated flavors and soft tannins, is widely recognized as a top value-priced cabernet sauvignon.  The low-production 2016

Oak Farms “Tievoli” blend

Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) is also a good buy.

In addition to a crisp tanginess, the flavors of the Oak Farms Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc ($19), aided by some aging on lees, are balanced with softer tropical fruit, resulting in a rounder wine.  The 2018 Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc ($26) uses a well known clone from New Zealand that, matched with the sandy loam soil and extended aging in French oak barrels, delivers a vibrant bouquet and rich, concentrated tropical fruit flavors. 

In addition to two small production releases from the nearby Hohenrieder and Mohr-Fry Vineyards, most of Oak Farms zinfandel marks a contrast between the full-bodied, but restrained 2017 Zinfandel ($25) and the aromatic, plush “fruit bomb” known as the 2017 Vapor Trail ($34), combining grapes from the Sierra Foothills with those of Lodi.

Two weirdly unique, but palate pleasing blends from Oak Farms include the 2016 Tievoli ($20-22), a blend of zinfandel, barbera and petite sirah and the syrah-dominant 2017 “Corset,” ($28) with added grenache zinfandel and malbec. Both are fun, complex wines for the price. Dan pointed out that Tievoli is “I love it” spelled backwards.

Oak Farms tasting room

The white fiano grape is native to southern Italy and Sicily but Oak Farms sources it from Clarksburg near the Sacramento Delta.  The 2017 Oak Farms Fiano ($25) won Gold at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Aside for their diverse assortment of wines. Oak Farms Winery offers one of the most complete tasting experiences in Lodi.  The new hosting facility, with modern features that

Oak Farms 2017 “The Corset” blend

reflect the past, is surrounded by vineyards and has a central courtyard where musicians entertain and customers picnic with a bottle of wine and offerings from local food trucks.  They present themselves “as the winery that gives you the Napa experience without the inflated prices.”

Oak Farms wines offer exceptional wines in the medium price range.  Tasting and enjoying country food at one of their weekend concerts is a good way to begin a weekend of exploring the Lodi wine region.

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Hendrick’s Gin reveals exclusive cocktail for Napa Valley’s Bottlerock event

 

To preview their new cocktail, created exclusively for the Napa Valley’s Bottlerock event later this month, Hendrick’s Gin has released “Midsummer Solstice,” a limited-edition gin crafted by Master Distiller Lesley Gracie, once described as “the woman who invented your favorite gin.”

“I have always been enamored by the power of nature’s flavors and aromas at the peak of summer and for this new expression I’ve

Hendrick’s Midsummer Spritz Cocktail – Photo by Jasmine Van T Photography

hand-selected each floral essence to capture this intensity,” says Gracie. “Midsummer Solstice represents years of experimentation joining an exciting line of innovations from Hendrick’s, and I’m thrilled to not only create new liquid at the Gin Palace, but also share them with curious tasters and gin explorers all over the world.”

The recently completed Gin Palace provides a $17 million expansion to the Scotland-based distillery that features two new still houses, a walled garden, two state-of-the-art botanical greenhouses and endless opportunities for creativity.

The Gin Palace will double their capacity for production, enough to meet rapidly growing demand well into the future, but to artisan Gracie, it’s like adding colors to an already abundant palette and working with a large blank canvas. “It’s a major step forward in terms of potential for innovation,” she says.

Lesley Gracie has been with Hendrick’s since its 1999 inception and in the industry for over thirty years.  An educated chemist, her flavor infusing foray into spirits production began by trying to disguise the awful taste of arthritis medicine.  While Hendrick’s has always valued consistency, Gracie’s passion, similar to a fine

Master Distiller Lesley Gracie

winemaker, is to create a sensory experience from her innovated specialty gin releases that often use botanicals

In a recent Robb Report interview, she said, “When I’m gardening, I like to take walks and I’ll often stop to take a leaf and smell it. I’ll think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting; that might work really well.’ It’s a process that can really take over me.”

The Lesley Gracie Cocktail consists of 50 ml Hendrick’s Gin, 15 ml elderflower, soda water and three thinly sliced cucumber rounds.  However, the excitement at the preview party was the unveiling of the Midsummer Spritz that combines Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice Gin, Lillet Rose’, Bordiga Apertivo and gooseberries.

Admittedly, sitting around a fire pit at Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar & Lounge, 1100 Market Street, looking out across the eastern skyline

Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar and Lounge-Photo by David Perper

provided a welcoming ambience, but I found the Midsummer Spritz to be an exceptionally balanced, refreshing cocktail while David, my “spirits wingman” thought that the floral qualities of the gin were extraordinary. 

“Hendrick’s is no stranger to the power of florals, thanks to the infusion of rose and cucumber in our original house style gin,” said Hendrick’s national US brand ambassador Sebastien Derbomez. “But the creation of Midsummer Solstice offers an exemplary amount of opportunity for new efflorescent cocktails. I am personally excited for the Hendrick’s Midsummer SuperBloom Punch, a bright, blossoming, and botanic punch which is easy to make at home and perfect for responsible midday consumption.”

San Franciscan Mark Stoddard, our bartender for the evening, has been spreading the gospel of Hendrick’s Gin since 2012.  As a world champion mixologist and business owner, he is described as “an

Bartender Mark Stoddard-photo by Jasmine Van T Photography

attentive student of cocktail history and lover of all that is out of the ordinary.”  

In addition to the Midsummer Spritz, Mark mixed an elegant drink called the Butterfly Effect that consists of Hendrick’s Gin, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, Jasdesca Apertivo (a wine-based aperitif), Lemon and Butterfly Blossoms and a Hendrick’s Pimm’s Cup, the number one selling cocktail for Charmaine’s techno-millennial crowd.

 

The preview event also afforded us the opportunity to sample a taste of the exceedingly small Hendrick’s production Orbium, another Lesley Gracie creation, instilled with extracts of Quinine, Wormwood and Lotus Blossom to complement the traditional cucumber and rose essences and provide a rounder mouthfeel.

 

The Midsummer Spritz and a few other Hendrick’s Gin cocktails will be available at Bottlerock Napa Valley, May 24-26, billed as the “first taste of summer,” a weekend featuring top musical performers, food, wine, brew and spirits.

Tired of crowds.  The Hendrick’s Gin website provides several cocktail recipes to be enjoyed at home.


The Vintage Port 2017 wines mark consecutive years of excellence

 

The 2016 Vintage Ports from the Douro region in northern Portugal were designated after a five year drought. Now, the 2017 Vintage, although different in style, have also been declared a Classic.

Representatives from the Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta Noval, all major producers of port from the region, gathered in the Nikko Hotel recently to present updates of the Vintage 2017.  In all, we tasted sixteen wines from eleven different port houses.

Terroir is a combination of climate, soil and human intervention that influences the wines.  The 2017 growing season in the Douro was exceptionally hot and dry, resulting in grapes that budded, ripened and were eventually harvested much earlier than normal.

Graham’s “The Stone Terraces vineyard

Old, deeply rooted vines do well in dry years.  It is these low-yield vines producing concentrated flavors that have distinguished the elegance and finesse of the 2016 Vintage from the richness and intensity of the 2017 Vintage.

From the Fladgate Partnership, the austere Taylor Fladgate 2017($100) exuded its trademark floral (violets) bouquet.  The complex flavors were rich, full and lingering.

Vineyards in the Quinta de Vargellas are century-old, north facing vines with ample hours of sun.  The Vargellas Vinha Velha 2017 ($220), described as a “Taylor Fladgate on steroids,” is a limited production blend from the oldest vines on the estate.  It is handsomely scented and there is a density to the layered flavors of dark fruit with herbal notes.

Croft, another port house under the Taylor Fladgate Partnership, presented two Vintage ports including the Croft Roeda Serikos 2017 from an estate that nearly became one of the world’s finest silk farms. Vines in the Quinta da Roeda were devastated in the 1870s by phylloxera which prompted the planting of mulberry trees. With the phylloxera problem solved, current vines were re-planted on the property around the turn of the century, and in a dry, hot year, drew from the minerals in the soil and performed exceptionally.

Croft Quinta de Roeda Serikos 2017

Estimations are that it takes four of these low yield vines to produce one bottle of port, the reason only 200 cases of the Roeda Serikos 2017 were produced.  Floral aromas open up in the glass for a delightful introduction to deep, concentrated flavors of red berry, black fruit and herbs. 

Dow’s has been among the great Port houses for over 200 years and the Symington Family for the past five generations.  Wine Spectator magazine named the Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 their wine of the year in 2014. The Dow’s Vintage Port 2017 comes from a marraige of two powerhouse quintas (vineyards)and provides lavender on the nose, deep colors and high viscosity on the palate. 

Under the Symington Family for fifty years, Graham’s was founded in the early 1800s and consists today of the Quinta

Dow’s Vintae Port 2017

dos Malvedos, one of the region’s finest vineyards and Quinta do Tua, known for its unique stone terraces.

With a dry year in normally hot climate, harvest for the Graham’s 2017 began early on August 28th and finished by September 15th.  Present floral aromas with complex flavors were described by Johnny Symington to include rose water, Turkish delight, mint and eucalyptus.

In only its fourth release, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2017 is a micro-terroir wine from two original, north-facing vineyards.  It expressed aromas of tropical fruit and orange blossom and was flawlessly structured.

Cockburn’s, another port house under the Symington Family with south facing vineyards in the hot eastern Douro, produces the Cockburn Vintage Port 2017($80-90) that consists mostly of touriga nacional and delivers a luscious mouthfeel,

Graham’s Vintage Port 2017

velvety tannins and length.

Quinta Do Noval, located in the heart of the Douro, near the small town of Pinhão, consists of a 360-acre vineyard that is divided into several parcels.  The grapes selected for the Quinta do Noval Vintage Port($105) represent only a small portion of their total production. Powerful and balanced, this wine has a spice and floral quality with full black fruit flavors and significant tannins. 

Quinta Do Noval

The story of the Quinta Do Noval Nacional 2017 ($820) lies with a small parcel of ungrafted vines that were never impacted by phylloxera.  They are native Portuguese vines with no foreign root stock. This wine, with grapes still crushed using the laborious process foot treading in stone lagares, was remarkable in its complexity, balance and rich expression of fruit with a licorice component.

Tasting the Vintage Ports 2017 was an extraordinary experience.