The Lodi Native winemakers (September 2015)

The Lodi Native winemakers (September 2015)

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Revolution Continues


Let me begin with total honesty. I fell out of love with Zinfandel. When I first got into wine, I loved the carefree jubilation that spilled out of every bottle of Zinfandel I opened. Zinfandel is a wine that makes no apologies for its exuberant fruit. Like a gay man flying his queer flag in full flaming glory, if it does nothing else, Zinfandel gives good fruit.

As authentic as this personality can be, Zinfandel all too easily strays into the realm of caricature. If its boisterous blackberry, black pepper, and blueberry essence is good, surely a bit more of that is even better, right?

Wrong. As much criticism as California Cabernet receives for a shift towards bigger, better, richer, and riper in the last 20 years, in some ways Zinfandel’s shift has been even more egregious.

Zinfandel probably started off riper than Cabernet to begin with, as it easily strays into the high 14% and low 15% range while continuing to develop those rich flavors that so many seek from the grape. But in addition to being left longer and longer on the vine beginning in the late 1990s, winemakers in California began to apply increasingly higher levels of new oak to the wines, resulting in bigger, richer, jammier, and sweeter versions of the grape.

After a while I just got tired of it. Apparently I do have a threshold for fruit overload, especially when that fruit is offered almost in singularity, with few other dimensions of interest. And this is precisely what became of California Zinfandel until recently. Many, many of these wines left behind nuance for power of fruit, and as a result, became less interesting to me.

I stopped being as excited to go to the annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting in San Francisco (though I continued to attend and find wines I enjoyed). Perhaps more tellingly, I stopped buying Zinfandel to drink at home.

But then recently…

Two years ago I happened to have a bottle of Turley’s 2011 Judge Bell Vineyard Zinfandel and had my mind blown by the shift that wine represented (at least to my sensibility) in their approach to the grape.

And around the same time I also received in the mail a box of six Zinfandels from Lodi, California, all bearing the same label, but from different producers.

My first taste of the wines from the Lodi Native Project were equally transformative, not only for my vision of what California Zinfandel had become, but also for my opinion of what Lodi was all about.

I was back in bed with Zinfandel. I wasn’t quite sure how I ended up there, but I realized I was very happy about it.

But wait. There’s more.

The Lodi Native project not only significantly redeemed my dissatisfaction with Lodi Zinfandel, it also inspired my faith in the future of California wine…

To read the rest of this blogpost, please visit The Lodi Zinfandel Revolution Continues

From the Vine:  Lodi Native


Click on image below to log onto Stockton Record From the Vine author Bob Highfill’s YouTube interview with Lodi Native Winemaker Chad Joseph:

Highfill - Joseph

Lodi Native wines - Elaine Brown

(sensory artwork by Elaine Brown, Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews)

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project


Propelled by an idea of Randy Caparoso, six Lodi winemakers have produced and released the Lodi Native Project, a collection of six different Zinfandel wines made from six separate heritage vineyards of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The winemakers include Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards, Layne Montgomery of m2 wines, Michael McCay of McCay Cellars, Stuart Spencer of St Amant Winery, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Vineyards & Winery, and Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines.

What defines the collection rests in technique. The wines are individually made using only ambient yeast fermentations, in neutral vessels, without the addition of anything beyond sulfur, without alcohol reductive techniques, and avoiding fining, or filtering. The wines, in other words, are produced with minimal intervention. The goal is to offer the best expression of the vineyards themselves.

Lodi offers some of the highest concentration of quality old vine material in the state of California. As vines age through vintages, they adapt their growing patterns to the conditions of their site, becoming more responsive to the intersection of factors–soil type, water availability, drainage, mineral content, sun, wind, and humidity exposure, etc–unique to their environment. The result yields fruit expressive through aroma, flavor, structure (and even color and size) of its peculiar vineyard.

Younger vines, on the other hand, grow instead with the vigor of their variety. Not yet adapted to the demands of their vineyard location, younger vines produce grapes with resounding fruit flavor, but not necessarily showcasing the elements unique to their growing location. For wine lovers hoping for the taste of a place, then, such potential rests in older vineyards. In a state dominated by vineyards twenty years of age and younger, Lodi’s older vineyards could be understood as viticultural wealth…

 To read more, please visit The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project


Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel; planted in 1901

Lodi Native:  Master Class in Old Vine Zin


When I heard about Lodi Native, I was instantly intrigued. Old vines, historic vineyards, minimalist winemaking, indigenous yeasts, no new oak, no fining or filtration. What’s not to love?

Through this collaborative effort, a group of winegrowers and vintners in the Mokelumne River AVA seeks to reclaim Lodi’s heritage by crafting complex, terroir-driven Zinfandels. The fruit comes from very old vines, some dating back to the late 1800s.

The team has released six wines from the 2012 vintage, all from Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. Tasting all six together, I was stunned by the tremendous variation in flavors and textures, and found it fascinating to dissect my perceptions of each wine. They’re all very high quality, and picking a favorite comes down to personal preference.

Collectively, these are some of the most thought-provoking Zinfandels I’ve tasted in a very long time. They’re deep, complex, lingering, surprisingly elegant and quite food-friendly. They comprise a master class in old vine Lodi Zinfandel…

To read the rest of this blogpost, please visit Terroirist: Master Class in Old Vine Zin

norcal Lodi Native image

The Lodi Native Project


Lodi has gained a reputation for zinfandels that are big, bold and ripe, maybe even a little sweet, with ample oak influence. That’s generally a stylistic choice by vintners, and it’s popular with a lot of consumers. On the flip side, there are inexpensive, mass-produced Lodi zins that might be pleasant to drink but don’t have a lot of character.

But there’s another side to Lodi zinfandel. The region is home to numerous zin vineyards that are 50 to 100 years old, with vines that, given the proper management, can yield intense and distinctive wines. The winemaker just needs to let the vineyard speak.

That’s the idea behind the Lodi Native project. Rather than make a zinfandel reflecting a house style or even an “ideal” zin that could come from anywhere in California, six vintners agreed to produce wines that showcased distinctive vineyards. The preference was for plantings that were at least 50 years old; some of the Lodi Native vineyards are more than 100 years old.

The results were eye-opening. The Lodi Native wines have ample fruit, but they’re also elegant, savory and aromatic, with a complexity and even a delicacy that’s downright rare in most commercial zinfandels. And they show what’s possible in Lodi, long a source for “commodity” grapes and only more recently recognized for more artisanal winemaking…

To read the rest of Laurie Daniel’s article, please visit The Lodi Native Wine Project.


Lodi Zinfandel Goes Native


Lodi is well-known for Zinfandel. Of particular note are its many acres of old vines. Thick-trunked and twisted after all these years, they look more like short trees than grape vines.

The fruit these centenarians bear is full of character, but their unique traits are sometimes masked by new oak and other winemaking choices intended to please contemporary wine lovers. So, unlike Pinot Noir vineyard-designates often made with a minimum of intervention to expose distinct terroir, even super-premium Zinfandel wines don’t necessarily reveal all the unique characteristics of particular old vine plots. This makes it hard to know exactly how excited we should really be about those vineyards.

The Lodi Native project addresses that problem directly. It presents single-vineyards of distinction from Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA in wines that are skillfully made, but not “crafted.” I tasted the project’s first 6 wines. The differences between each were dramatic. The wines are beautiful. They compelled me to open my wallet, a much harder task these days than it used to be.

What is Lodi Native?

Lodi Native is a serious effort by six winemakers to let heritage vineyards speak clearly through “sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking”. Each man was responsible for his own wine but also worked with the others from the outset to define a winemaking credo. As wine production moved forward, they consulted with each other on challenges and critiqued all the wines to drive quality and transparency of terroir. Each agreed to forego personal and brand-styles in favor of that transparency…

To read more, please visit Lodi Zinfandel Goes Native

Lodi Native: A Zinfandel Project Reflective of the Vineyard


Lodi Native winemakers

Wine journalist Randy Caparoso introduces the Lodi Native winegrowers

What happens when you remove the winemaker from the equation of making wine? Well technically nothing happens, no wine, just raisins. But consider this. What would happen if a group of Lodi winemakers got together, sourced Zinfandel from heritage plantings within the Lodi AVA, agreed to a specified winemaking protocol using what the group describes as “minimalist winemaking practices” to eliminate the winemakers’ personal style, then submitted their wine individually to the group for approval by all members? A lot of hand wringing, heated debate, sleepless nights… yes, almost certainly. But in the end what resulted is a collection of six very special Zinfandels clearly expressive of each vineyard.

Lodi Native Tasting

The Project

The seed for the Lodi Native project was planted in January 2012 when Randy Caparoso, sommelier and blogger for LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) gathered together a group of Lodi winemakers to taste their wines with a visiting New York sommelier. From that tasting, a discussion followed as to how Lodi might best highlight its historic Zinfandel vineyards. The goal of producing the most vineyard-expressive Zinfandel possible emerged. The emphasis was to be on the vineyard and the variety, not the winemaking style.

Lodi Native Six PackA winemaking protocol was established. Native yeast fermentation only and no inoculation for malolactic fermentation. No adjustment to acid levels. No addition of water or other methods of alcohol reduction. No new oak. “Old vines” (prior to 1962) preferred.

Six winemakers agreed to participate in the Lodi Native project. For some of the winemakers in the group this protocol represents a significant departure from their normal winemaking practices for others, not as much. All committed to making wine following this protocol, stepping outside of their usual comfort zone.

Six vineyards, all located within the Mokelumne River sub-AVA of the Lodi AVA are represented in this inaugural bottling. The Mokelumne River area is the historic heart of Zinfandel in Lodi, with original plantings dating back to the 1800s. The oldest existing vineyard was planted in 1888. The soil is mostly Tokay sandy loam, with some variation. Soil in the eastern portion of the AVA (east of Hwy 99) tends to be deeper, sandier soil. In the western portion, the sandy soil tends to be shallower and contain more organic matter.

The Lodi Native project and its wines were presented to the public for the first time on March 29. Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) and Lodi Winegrape Commission hosted the presentation which included an educational seminar, escorted vineyard tours, winemaker reception and BBQ-themed dinner. The vineyards were wet, but beautiful, due to the rainy day…

To read the rest of Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget’s thorough report on the Lodi Native project’s debut on March 29, 2014, please visit