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  • Lodi Wine: Prost from Mokelumne Glen Vineyards

    Posted: 2019-05-24 17:50
    During our Snooth trip to Lodi, a major theme stressed was the large diversity of grape varieties grown in the AVA.  Over 100 in fact.  But this number results primarily from the unique endeavor of one family, the Koths and Mokelumne Glen Vineyard. This vineyard is located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA right alongside the river and is planted with more than 50 German and Austrian grapes. It's hard to imagine that there are even that many such grape varieties, but the Koths found them.  Their entire portfolio is listed below but we will be focusing on a few grapes:  Kerner, Bacchus, Dornfelder, Blaufränkisch, and Zweigelt.

    It all started in the early 1990s when Bob Koth and his wife Mary Lou started traveling to Germany to visit their daughter Ann-Marie, who was studying abroad on a Fulbright scholarship. After becoming acquainted with German wine, Koth was determined to grow the Northern European grapes in Lodi's Mediterranean climate. Randy Caparoso, in the Lodi Wine Blog, explains how this was possible:
    No doubt, the immediate proximity to the river's cool, refreshing waters (you still find local kids splashing away on hot summer days) helps to moderate the Mediterranean climate in the Koth family's lush, shaded corner of the wine world.

    Furthermore, classic Mokelumne River AVA Tokay sandy loam – basically, a deep, fertile yet porous, slightly alkaline (pH of 7.0 to 7.5 below 4 feet) pile of finely crushed granite accumulated over millions of years of run-off from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east – helps contribute to retention of natural acidity in grapes cultivated by Koth, even in this Mediterranean setting.
    Our group was introduced to Mokelumne Glen Vineyards through a tasting of various wines produced by MGV grapes and a vineyard tour led by vineyard manager Brett Koth. The vineyard itself is nondescript and overgrown with cover crops. Walking deeper into the vineyard leads to newer plantings and a slope down to the Mokelumne River which often floods lower plots. But out of these seemingly abandoned and overgrown vines derives wonderful and complex wines.

    A perfect example is the Markus Wine Company Markus 2016 Nativo ($22), a blend of  69% Kerner, 21% Riesling, 10% Bacchus. MGV is the only source of the rare Kerner grape in California and accounts for 50% of the total crop in the United States. This was my favorite white of the tasting and one I brought home with me. The three lots are picked on the same morning and pressed together to co-ferment as a traditional field blend. The wine aged on its lees for awhile which provides a little texture for this citrus, stone fruit, and minerally driven wine. The winery also produces the Markus 2016 Nimmo ($24) which is a 64% Kerner, 16% Riesling, 5% Bacchus blend from MGV plus 15% Gewürztraminer from Grand Island Vineyards, Clarksburg.   Here's Markus Niggli to describe the wine and Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.
    I applaud to the Koth family that they have the passion for these unknown varietals and that they are willing to plant them, even facing the troubles of selling them. I believe others can learn from them. The microclimate at the lower level of the vineyard is very diverse. It is the coolest spot in the morning but restores the warmth at the end of the day. A perfect site to grow grapes. We are trying to showcase that in our wines. Our wines are light and refreshing, the acid is focused and the fruit is showcasing what Lodi can offer. A perfect example is the Nimmo blend: The Kerner has the minerality and flintiness, the Riesling the sweetness, the Gewuerztraminer the spice and the Bacchus the acidity, layered by the oak profile.
    Mokelumne Glen grapes are also in high demand outside of Lodi with Sonoma's Sidebar Cellars also attracted to Kerner. Sidebar is a project from David Ramey & Ramey Wine Cellars focused on "fun and diverse" grape varieties. And their 2018 Kerner Mokelumne River AVA ($25) is fun; expect bright floral aromas and acidity enveloping a textured citrus and peach core with layers of minerals and spices. According to Associate Winemaker Lydia Cummins:
    "We have been working with the Bob and Brett Koth since 2014. Collaborating with such passionate growers is a true pleasure... Kerner is an aromatic white grape that was developed in the late 1920s in Germany. It is a cross between Trollinger (a red variety also known as Schiava) and Riesling and is grown most widely in Germany, Austria and in Northeastern Italy in Alto Adige. Kerner produces wines with some of the best qualities of Riesling (the gorgeous aromatics and crisp, mineral-laced acidity) paired with the mouth-filling, beautiful palate of Gewürztraminer. Some Kerners are made with residual sugar to balance acidity, but they can be problematic when pairing with food. We make ours dry so it pairs exceptionally well. We whole cluster press our Kerner for phenolic delicacy. We ferment the juice in small stainless steel barrels using native yeast and age the wine sur lie for three months. It does not go through malolactic fermentation. We lightly fine our Kerner and bottled unfiltered."

    Dornfelder is one of the 16 red grape varieties grown by Mokelumne Glen Vineyards and is a dark-skinned German variety. It was created by August Herold in 1955 at the grape breeding institute in Weinberg. PRIE Vineyards crafts the 100% 2017 Dornfelder ($27) using a combination of MVG's older (~70%) and newer (~30%) plantings. Like a good German Dornfelder, this wine has rich layers of black and blue fruit with approachable tannins and acidity. And quite savory.

    Trail Marker Wine Company is another non-Lodi operation sourcing MGV fruit and owners Drew Huffline and Emily Virgil were present to pour their unique California Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. They noted that "We fell in love with the story of the Koth Family planting all these ultra-obscure varietals out in the middle of Lodi. We were also drawn to the varietals themselves and the opportunity to tell our own story with these wines. Trail Marker's focus is primarily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but at this point, just about everyone has an opinion of what 'California Chardonnay' or 'California Pinot Noir' should taste like - for better or worse. NO ONE has an opinion of what 'California Zweigelt' or 'California Blaufrankisch' should taste like!" And with the Trail Marker 2017 Lodi Zweigelt ($27) expect a similar profile as the PRIE Dornfelder but replace the black and blue fruit with sour cherries.

    Regular readers are familiar with our obsession with Blaufrankisch and its Hungarian equivalent Kekfrankos so I was pleased to see the Trail Marker 2017 Lodi Blaufrankisch on the tasting menu. In general, Hungarian Kekfrankos provide similar weight, acid, and structure as old world Pinot Noir with more spice and tarter fruit flavors. The Trail Marker Blaufrankisch has a similar character with more expressive fruit and less spice.

    Hatton Daniels Wine Cellars also produces a pleasant and well made MGV Blaufrankisch. Owner/Winemaker Dan Fishman prefers to source fruit from vineyards where the owner/manager actually lives on-site as "this is better than any certification for indicating someone who really cares for the land, and obviously, the Koth's exemplify this idea". He also believes that Mokelumne Glen Blaufrankisch provides the most depth and character of the MGV red grape varieties he works with and comes close to the Austrian versions "in terms of the fruit character and complexity".  Their 2018 MGV Blaufrankisch ($24) is both weighty and complex with bright fruit and approachable tannins. Cheers to Blaufrankisch and the other Mokelumne Glen grape varieties.

    Red Grapes
    Affenthaler, Blaufrankisch, Blauer Portugieser, Cabernet Dorsa (Dornfelder and Cabernet Sauvignon), Domina (Blauer Portugieser x Pinot Noir), Dunkelfelder (Färbertraube x Blauer Portugieser), Dornfelder (Helfensteiner x Heroldrebe), Fruhburgunder (a.k.a. Pinot Noir Précoce), Regent (Silvaner and Muller Thurgau x Chambourcin), Rondo (Zarya Severa x St. Laurent), Rotberger (Trollinger x Riesling), Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier), Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir), St. Laurent, Trollinger, Zweigelt

    White Grapes
    Albalonga (Riesling x Silvaner clone), Arnsberger (Riesling Clones 88 x 64), Bacchus (Silvaner x Riesling), Ehrenfelser (Riesling x Silvaner), Faberrebe (Pinot Blanc x Müller-Thurgau), Forta (Silvaner x Madeleine Angevine), Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Gutedel (Chasselas ), Huxelrebe (Gutedel x Courtiller Musqué), Kanzler (Müller-Thurgau x Silvaner), Kerner (Trollinger x Riesling), Morio Muscat (Silvaner x Pinot Blanc), Muller-Thurgau (Riesling x Madeleine Royale), Noblessa (Madeleine Angevine x Silvaner), Optima (Riesling and Sylvaner x Müller-Thurgau), Oraniensteiner (Riesling x Silvaner), Ortega (Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe), Perle (Gewürztraminer x Müller-Thurgau), Phoenix (Bacchus x Villard Blanc), Prinzipal (Geisenheim 323 58 x Ehrenfelser), Räuschling, Reisling, Reisling Clones (49, 110, 198, 239, 218 N356, Martini S10), Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler (Traminer x Roter Veltliner), Rulander (Pinot Gris), Scheurebe (Riesling x unknown), Schönburger (Pinot Noir x (Chasselas x Muscat Hamburg)), Siegerrebe (Madeleine Angevine x Gewürztraminer), Sirius (Bacchus x Müller-Thurgau), Sylvaner, Traminer, Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Würzer (Gewürztraminer x Müller-Thurgau)
  • Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Jerez Xeres Sherry

    Posted: 2019-05-23 21:42
    "There can't be a more misunderstood type of wine than Sherry." The Misunderstood Genius that is Fino Sherry  - De Long Blog

    Fino ("refined") is a dry, pale white sherry wine produced within the D.O. Jerez located in south-western Spain, near the coast and just northeast of Gibraltar. The Jerez DO (Denominación de Origen) title was Spain's very first, awarded in 1933. It is strongly influenced by both the cooling effects of the Atlantic Ocean and the warmth that originates in the eastern plains. The coastal winds moderate temperatures, helping to preserve acidity and also provides natural air-conditioning in the wine cellars. According to, "this contributes to a slow and gradual maturation of the wines". Because Fino is delicate, it is generally made from Palomino grapes grown on the best soils, namely the chalky, white albariza marls. It is meant to be consumed fresh and young and one of the best-known examples is Tio Pepe ($19.99).

    In 1835 at only 23 years old Manuel María González Ángel founded the precursor to Gonzalez Byass creating the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle, José Ángel. In fact, the winery’s foundational solera is still inscribed with “Solera del Tío Pepe”. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form González Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." Tío Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez. González Byass focused exclusively on sherry until the 1980's when they started incorporating wineries from other notable Spanish wine regions into the corporate umbrella. During the same period "the Byass family withdrew from the business and the winery passed into the hands of the direct descendants of Manuel María González".

    González Byass owns 800 hectares in vineyards in Jerez Superior where the hand-picked Palomino grapes are gently pressed without crushing the stems, seeds, or skins. The resulting must is called "yema" which is fermented and fortified to 15.5% then enters the Tio Pepe solera system where it is aged for five years in American oak. During this aging period, the wine undergoes biological aging under a layer of yeast called "flor". This gives Tio Pepe its unique pungent aromas that blend with the almond notes characteristic of the Palomino grape. For those where dry sherry is an acquired taste, serve well chilled to lessen these aromas. Otherwise, serve slightly chilled or in a cocktail like the Tuxedo Cocktail. Cheers.
  • The Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin: Enjoy Neat or with Tio Pepe Sherry

    Posted: 2019-05-17 18:00
    Most gin brands differentiate their products by the amount of juniper or other botanicals used in the process.  In general, the grain bill has less impact on the spirits as the botanicals drive the flavor.  This differentiation is definitely the case with the Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin ($35) as it consists of only two botanicals: juniper and honey. Like a distilled gin, the juniper is added to a neutral spirit before running through the distillery's custom designed 300-gallon extraction still. The spirit is cut with water to 45% ABV and then fortified with honey to provide a unique profile. Since this step is performed post-distillation the product is labeled correctly Gin as opposed to Distilled Gin (labeled if all the botanicals were added pre-distillation).

    Caledonia Spirits is named after its Vermont county home and was founded by beekeeper Todd Hardie. In 2009 he acquired a 15-gallon fire heated pot still and experimented with distilling honey - deciding that Gin was the most likely option. He recruited a local homebrew store owner, Ryan Christiansen, who eventually sold his business and together the duo distilled 235 cases of Barr Hill Gin and Barr Hill Vodka the first year. In 2015, Hardie sold the operation to Christiansen and used the proceeds to purchase a farm which provides the distillery with barley, rye, and elderberry.

    I prefer to consume the Barr Hill Gin neat or with an ice cube in order to enjoy the interplay of juniper and honey. The sweetness starts early, envelopes the mouth, then transitions to juniper, leading to a mildly hot burn. The gin packs plenty of flavor with just two botanicals.

    I also wanted to experiment with a cocktail and chose a version of a Martini called the Tuxedo Cocktail which swaps vermouth with fino sherry. Fino is a dry, pale white sherry wine produced within the D.O. Jerez. This recipe replaces vermouth's herbal character with the sherry's inherent nuttiness and in this case, the sherry is the reliable Tio Pepe from Gonzalez Byass. Use 2oz gin, 1 oz sherry, and a dash of bitters. The honey and nuttiness from the sherry compliment each other with the juniper still dominating the finish. Not a bad alternative - but I still prefer this gin neat. Cheers.
  • Harpers Ferry Brewing - Overlooking the Potomac and Maryland Heights

    Posted: 2019-05-15 20:53
    On September 13th, 1862 Confederate units under Brig. Gens. Joseph B. Kershaw assaulted the lightly defended Maryland Heights, the highest mountain overlooking the strategic transportation hub of Harpers Ferry. This town was strategically significant because it was built at the point where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River with a junction of the Baltimore-Ohio Railroad. Thus Gen. Robert E. Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson to capture the town to buttress his supplies while he marched into Maryland prior to the Battle of Antietam. Harpers Ferry was virtually indefensible as it is surrounded on all sides by higher ground. Yet the Union commander, Col. Dixon S. Miles refused to strongly fortify any of these positions and instead concentrated his forces near the town.

    By mid-afternoon, the inexperienced and overmatched Union soldiers had abandoned Maryland Heights and escaped across a pontoon bridge into the town. Col. Miles, compounded his previous misjudgment and refused to press a counter-attack. With the Confederate capture of Maryland Heights as well as the Confederate positions in Loudoun Heights to the east and Bolivar Heights to the west, the fate of 12,000 Union troops were sealed. On September 15th, the largest surrender of United States forces during the Civil War took place.

    Late last year Harpers Ferry Brewing opened on Loudoun Heights (the northernmost point in Loudoun County) providing generous views of Maryland Heights and for those with a keen eye, Harpers Ferry itself. The brewery is located next to the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center whose owners J.R. and Holly Heffner teamed with Old 690 Brewing Company's owners Darren and Tammi Gryniuk and Mark and Ronda Powell to launch this destination brewery. It houses a 15-barrel brewing system, a 40 tap inside bar, a 20 tap outside bar, and ample seating. Besides the views of Maryland Heights to the north and west, the east provides scenic views of the Potomac and Maryland countryside.

     And expect plenty of beer options. During our visit in late April, the brewery was pouring a dozen beers with multiple styles represented. Our flights consisted of the Tri-State Tripel, Oatmeal Stout, Baltic Porter, Wake Up Call White Stout, River Daze Berliner Weisse, and Potomac Pale Ale. The most intriguing were the Tripel, Berliner Weisse, and White Stout - the later a lactose enabled, creamy, and coffee noted brew. Use theCompass Craft Beverage Finder to guide you to these delicious beers and scenic views. Cheers.
  • Lodi Wine: Turley Wine Cellars Old Vine Cinsault & Zinfandel

    Posted: 2019-05-21 20:42
    The quality of Lodi wine grapes is not only evident in the excellent wines made by Lodi wineries, but also the wines produced by non-Lodi wineries. One example is Turley Wine Cellars, who largely make single-vineyard designate wines, with several focusing on Lodi old vine Zinfandel & Cinsault. The winery is based in Paso Robles with a second tasting room in Amador and sources fruit from several of Lodi's old vine vineyards such as the Bechthold Vineyard, Kirschenmann Vineyard, Dogtown Vineyard, and Steacy Ranch. During our Snooth-Lodi visit, Turley Director of Winemaking Tegan Passalacqua introduced us to these vineyards through a couple of verticals within a single-vineyard designate and a horizontal across multiple vineyards.

    The Bechthold Vineyard
    The Bechthold Vineyard
    Much has been written about the famous Bechthold Vineyard -- not only the oldest continually planted vineyard in Lodi but also in the world. The vineyard was first planted by Joseph Spenker in 1885 as Black Malvoisie. The self-rooted vines are not as susceptible to phylloxera (a root louse that eats away at roots near the surface) because of the extremely sandy soils in the Mokelumne River AVA.  That was not the case in Europe where phylloxera ravaged vineyards in the late 19th century until their vines were grafted upon American rootstock. Because the Bechthold grapes were believed to be Black Malvoisie, they carried little interest to commercial winemakers and were instead sold to home winemakers or shipped out of state. Al Bechthold, who farmed the vineyard from the mid-seventies until 2008, claimed "I came very close to pulling the entire vineyard several times… the only thing that kept that from happening was my age!"(1). Fortunately, before he could replant the vineyard, Kay Bogart, from the Department of Viticulture & Enology at U.C. Davis suggested DNA testing and in 2003 UC Davis determined the grapes were Cinsault.
    Turley Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard
    Turley is one of a half-dozen or so wineries able to source this fruit from Bechthold where they harvest a plot in the mid-section of the vineyard. Passalacqua was attracted to the vineyard because, "..wet years, dry years, early years or late years – there’s nothing an old vineyard like this hasn’t seen and almost nothing that it can’t adjust to on its own. And Bechthold Vineyard defies what a lot of people think of Lodi wines. It makes a red wine that is not heavy, not high in alcohol, but rather, light and refreshing. It reminds me of crus Beaujolais in some ways – it has structure, but also high drinkability, and its aromatics are intoxicating, extremely perfumed. Some say, as a grape, Cinsault makes a simple wine, but we do whole cluster fermentation, which adds a lot of complexity.”

    We compared two Turley Bechthold Cinsault, the 2013 Lodi Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard and the 2017 Lodi Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard ($20). The later is fresh and bright with a solid fruit structure of tart raspberries. The grapes were fermented whole clustered so expect subtle tannins but loads of acidity. The 2013 retains similar brightness with the acids pushing the fruit forward. There was also more tannic structure providing a denser wine. Two delicious wines.

    Turley Dogtown Zinfandel
    Dogtown Vineyard
    The Dogtown Vineyard was planted own-rooted in 1944 and is located on the eastern side of Lodi within the Clements Hills AVA. The region is warmer and wetter with more clay and volcanic soils in contrast to the sandy Mokelumne River AVA. Turley took over management in 1997 which required the replanting of dead spots with vines grafted to St. George rootstock. And even these juvenile vines are head-trained like the original vineyard; this trellis system creates the gnarly look of each vine and limits yields. Dogtown is also dry-farmed because says Passalacqua "dry farmed vineyards produce superior wine" (2). All of Turley's wines are fermented using wild yeast as Passalacqua noted this "gives you more complex wines, with more terroir distinctions". During our visit with Tegan, he presented a vertical tasting of three Dogtown Zinfandels: the 1997, 2010, and 2013 Lodi Zinfandel Dogtown Vineyard. The 2013 showed noticeable leather and tea mixed with sour cherries and great acidity. Still a showoff. The 2010 had lower amounts of each characteristic but the wine's acidity still made it playful. Finally, the 1997, the first vintage after Turley took over the property's management, still shows the potential of the vineyard. The fruit is slightly waning but there are boosts of acid that keep the wine lively and not flabby.

    2016 Turley Zinfandel
    Kirschenmann Vineyard & Steacy Ranch
    The Kirschenmann Vinyard hosts ancient vine Zinfandel as it was planted, own-rooted, back in 1915.  Passalacqua owns and farms this vineyard which contains the ultra sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA.  Tegan has also discovered that deeper sediment contains limestone - a most coveted soil type. Like Dogtown, the vineyard is dry farmed and head-trained, but unlike Dogtown, the vineyard receives a heavier dose of the delta breezes which help cool the grapes (3).

    The Steacy Ranch is another ancient vineyard (1907) and located on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA, but this is the oldest vineyard in Lodi planted on St. George rootstock. Like the rest it is dry-farmed and the soils contain slightly more gravel interspersed with the Mokelumne River sandy soil. The older vines are harvested together to form the Turley Lodi Zinfandel Steacy Ranch the whereas the younger vines are designated for the "Juvenile" program.

    Tegan provided an opportunity for a horizontal tasting for 2016 across these two vineyards as well as the 2016 from Dogtown Vineyard. And each was distinct, representing the features of each vineyard. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Kirschenmann Vineyard ($39) was the lightest and brightest of the trio with bright, bright cherries. Passalacqua noted this was the most Pinot-ish of his Zinfandels. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Steacy Ranch ($30) was meatier in the classic east side Mokelumne River style. The wine was darker, firmer, zestier, with some black tea, but abundant acids. The 2016 Lodi Zinfandel Dogtown Vineyard ($44) was the biggest with solid tannins and funk but still finishing with bright acids. Of the three vineyards, the Dogtown has the smallest clusters and yields resulting in a dense wine. Cheers to Tegan Passalacqua and Turley Wine Cellars.

    (1) Lodi’s oldest existing vines: the magical Bechthold Vineyard
    (2) Why Turley is bonkers for Lodi
    (3) Can Zinfandel be saved? Conversation with Turley's Tegan Passalacqua - a Tradex Consulting company
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