There’s gold in that furrow!

Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather.

This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines.

His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region.

Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his ClIMG_0653ements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day.

After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.

 

Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.IMG_0655

 

 

McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business.
The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5.
The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Ranchero Cellars

Ranchero Cellars is a small winery, based in Paso Robles.  When visiting for Hospice du Rhone this year, I made it a point to visit with Amy Butler, owner and winemaker for Ranchero on the recommendation of some local friends.

After graduating from UC Davis in the late 90s, Amy started her career in Napa before moving south to Paso in 2002.  Honing her skills at Edward Sellers Vineyards for several years, and still consulting to several local wineries (including my friends at Alta Colina), she started her personal project Ranchero Cellars to create small batches of unique wines, with natural yeasat and minimal processing.  I like it!

The concept behind Ranchero is to pay homage to the cowboys of the Old West, and the early days of Paso Robles, which was, and still is, a ranching community.  You throw in some fun trivia with Amy’s old Ford Ranchero, and you have a match made in heaven.

With minimal intervention, and unique style, Ranchero’s current Rhone releases offering a refreshing departure from the norm.  I simply loved these wines, and hope you will too.  Amy herself is a funny and charming hostess, and isn’t afraid to tell a story or two.

The 2010 Chrome is a Rhone blend of 23% Viognier and 77% Grenache Blanc.  A personal favorite white varietal of Amy’s, it’s one of mine as well.  To help round out the Grenache Blanc, the Viognier from the same site was blended in to add viscosity and delicious floral notes.  I found pears, stone fruit, and telltale floral notes from the Viognier, as well as bright green apple and Asian pears.  the neutral oak treatment really lets the wine shine through.  Run out and find this wine for your summer parties!

The 2010 Viognier, is made from the same fruit that is blending in to the Chrome.  With 2009 being the first Viognier vintage, Amy experimented with fermentation styles.  For the 2010, this resulted in a third of the fruit being destemmed and fermented on the skins and then fermented in neutral barrels.  Another third  of the whole clusters was pressed in to neutral oak barrels, fermented with native years.  the final third was whole cluster pressed and fermented in a concrete tank.

The finished wine is so much more than the parts, with tons of minerality, brightness and honeysuckle notes.  This is a non-Viognier lovers Viognier!  It’s a gorgeous white wine, and avoids some of the bitterness that can be present in lesser Viogniers.  Imagine ripe nectarines and floral aromatics with a honeyed viscosity without being cloying.

Finally, we moved on to the big red of the show.  The 2009 Carignan had half of the fruit fermented on stems, half destemmed, and fermented equally in old, new, and neutral American oak.   This is a big boy, and has tons of dark blueberry, coffee, and tobacco notes.  Deliciously meaty, it was silky with a rough edge.  It reminds me of a girl in a wedding gown with cowboy boots on underneath.  Sneaky one, that.

We had an amazing day tasting with Amy, and I appreciate her hospitality as well as her attitude towards wine making and style.  The Wine Wonkette and Houston Wino and I all walked out with several bottles!  I recently purchased another three pack, since I knew that i needed more of this delicious nectar.

Happy drinking!