Zinfandels of Lodi, California
When one thinks of the world’s best Zinfandel, does one think of Lodi, California? Probably not. Someone would most likely say Napa or Sonoma County. However, that someone would be surprised to discover that Lodi is indeed considered the Zinfandel capital of the world, as vineyards in this part of the world produce approximately 40% of the award-winning Zinfandel in the entire state of California. Lodi is a city located between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and is the humble “little sister” of the more prominent wine regions of Sonoma and Napa Valley. Lodi Zins, as they are commonly referred to, are robust reds known for their powerful, easy finish and notes of spice and berries. Characteristics that both Zinfandel fans and daily wine drinkers appreciate and love.
Below we take a closer look at the principle reasons why Lodi Zinfandels are so special.
In the sophisticated world of wine, the word “terroir”, meaning land in French, is representative of the unique place where the grapes are grown. The notion of terroir incorporates three things: the region’s soil, geography and climate, and is expressed in various degrees in the final product, depending on the specific wine-making process that is used. Most of the older Zin vineyards are made up of un-trellised and un-grafted vines that grow wild and free like trees. Also, these old-growth vineyards are near the banks of the Mokelumne River which is made up of soil that is fine, sandy loam - soil that has equal quantities of sand, silt, and clay.
The wine region of Lodi is split into 7 definite areas, or as they are called, sub-appellations. Every sub-appellation has different soil conditions and geography, thus creating some very different (and excellent) wines.
Lodi’s pleasant weather is a definite advantage – a mild, Mediterranean climate that keeps everyone who resides and works there quite happy. The combination of year-round gentle temperatures, warmer days and cooler nights makes for full-flavored grapes with the perfect acidity.
Lodi Zins have vast differences between the east and west sides of the Mokelumne River. Heavier and bolder wines come from the west side, with a more earthy blackberry/black cherry flavor. From the east side, one gets more elegance and perfume – a sexier, racier style.
Another climate advantage is that Lodi experiences most of its yearly rainfall in winter months and has a dry grape-growing season - which is ideal for deterring potentially dangerous pests and diseases from harming the vines. Most notably, the now infamous phylloxera louse that completely destroyed many of the world's vineyards towards the end of the 19th century.
This is the main reason why over five thousand acres of Lodi vines are still grown on their own root stocks, which represents one of the largest ungrafted Vitis vinifera (common grape vine) stands worldwide – though you do find this in South Australia and Chile too. Many of the finest Zinfandels from Lodi are produced from ungrafted, phylloxera-resistant vines which can be 50 to 100 years old. These thick, convoluted, head-pruned bushes typically give us the best Zins that true Zinfandel lovers…love.
Local Winemaking Heritage
Some of the older Zin vines located in Lodi go way back to the 1880s and 1900s, and many of the local families in the region have been involved in wine-making for 5 and 6 generations. A great example here is the success of Michael-David Winery which is owned by brothers Michael and David Phillips, 6th generation vegetable, fruit and grape growers. They often discuss family history, including the days of Prohibition when they were shipping 15 different grape varieties throughout the country.
Zinfandel grapes in Lodi have been through a great deal throughout the twentieth century and yet have managed to survive; Prohibition being a good example. Then in the 1970s and 80s, the region’s grapes experienced a huge hike in mass-market popularity thanks to the high demand of White Zinfandel. The Lodi region was officially acknowledged in 1986, and winemakers began putting the Lodi Appellation on labels.
Lodi Wine Appellations
Lodi has been growing wine grapes since the 1800s and is presently the biggest appellation in California with 110,000+ wine producing acres. It boasts 85 plus wineries, 100 diverse different varieties, and 7 recognizable sub-appellations - and it is specifically famous for its magnificent and hearty Zinfandels. Along with Zins, Lodi also produces all of California’s foremost varieties, and has long been producing the best Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.
Lodi provides the world a diverse portfolio of wines due to the 7 different soils in the area, which makes it one of the most varied wine-grape-growing sectors in the United States.
How do Lodi Zins Compare?
First, let’s talk about the price. No other Zinfandels in the state of California can compete on price and still be consistently good. A normal price range for a very good Lodi Zin is between $12 and $16 retail – very reasonable. If dining out, a glass of red Zinfandel can sell for $6 to $9, which most of us will gladly pay.
Even when one gets into the ultra-premium Zinfandel arena, there are not that many wines from one single AVA (American Viticultural Area) that rate better than Lodi Zins. Of course, there are exquisite wines coming out of the Sonoma, Napa and Contra Costa regions. However, with every vintage, there are dozens of bottlings that are top-notch, making it quite clear that Lodi Zinfandels are beginning to dominate.
Secondly, Lodi Zins offer what most Zinfandel drinkers seek: lots of blackberry and raspberry aromas and flavors that are ripe, not too “raisony” or “pruney”, with adequate amounts of peppery spice. These qualities basically define the Lodi Zinfandel. Lodi's terroir generates the flavors Zinfandel lovers seek with ease and consistency.
Lastly, it is the natural balance, fruity and spice scented qualities of Lodi Zins that make them so versatile – some of the most versatile in the world. Though Pinot Noirs can be paired with a number of foods, no other wine goes with as many foods as Lodi Zinfandels – whether it’s beef, pork, Asian soy marinades, American barbeques (dry rubs), ethnic cuisines with chili spices, and even seafood and fish. It just goes with everything!