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 Clements 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. 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.
In land far away, on a hill steeply above the valley, lies a secret place in Capay Valley called Casey Flat Ranch. Located at 2000 feet above sea level in the Vaca Mountains, between Napa Valley and the Central Valley, the area was originally settled in the late 1850s during the Gold Rush. Now, a new rush is on – both for sustainable organic produce, and wine. The Capay Valley AVA was established in 2002, which is somewhat surprising with only two vineyards: Casey Flat Ranch and Capay Vineyards. The 150 square miles of Capay Valley has only 100 acres under vine, with it’s primary resource being agriculture. The produce from Capay is legendary, and many an urban CSA gets it’s offerings from this area. While Capay Valley has had wineries since the Gold Rush, the pressure from neighboring Napa all but killed the wine industry out until recently. With Casey Flat Ranch being established in 1987 as a Texas Longhorn cattle ranch, vineyards were only added in 2004, initially as an experiment. Why not? If Napa could have all that success a mere 22 miles away, why not here? Lucky for us, this experiment yielded beautiful results! Focusing on Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, Casey Flat Ranch produces Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah Rose, Viognier, and an Estate Red blend. It’s sister label, Open Range, produces Sav Blanc and a red blend as well. Winemaker Laura Barrett is an exciting, young women winemaker, who started her career in New Zealand. Receiving her Masters in Enology from neaby UC Davis, Laura joined Casey Flat Ranch in 2008. When you arrive at the base of the mountain, it is clear that you are not in traditional wine country any more. This is cattle country! Expecting cowboys to come meandering down the hillside, we were greeted by the 2013 Estate Syrah Rosé instead. This bright and fresh rosé is a lovely alternative to pinot noir rose, and is bursting with blood orange, red berry, and fresh, juicy peaches. It’s got a lushness and fullness of body that just makes my heart go pitter patter! I love a Syrah rose, and this was no exception. At $18, it’s a great front porch sipper, and perfect for barbeques. Once at the top of the mountain, at the luxe ranch house, we were eagerly waiting for our lunch, prepared specifically to pair with the wines by Thomas McNaughton, executive chef of SF cult hotspots flour + water, Central Kitchen, and Salumeria. Swoon! Our first course of a Spring Vegetable Salad was perfectly paired with the 2013 Sav Blanc. The crisp, tropical refresher with strong floral and herbal notes. Fermentation is started in tanks, and neutral barrels and stainless steel barrels age the wine sur lie. Next up, King Salmon with the 2013 Viognier. On a warm day, the light and refreshing Viognier has stone fruit up front, Golden Delicious apples, and beautiful minerality under the fruit. This was Casey Flat Ranch’s second single varietal bottling, and I think they did a wonderful job with the 50% neutral […]
At the Wine Bloggers Conference, we blog live twice: For whites and for reds. This is the first wine of the day: Consilience 2012 Viognier is minerally, and a dry style of Viognier. 10% Grenache Blanc adds acid and a touch of roussanne and Sav Blanc, with Albarino to boot. Beautiful bright white floral notes, very refreshing. Chalky finish, delish. Aged in all neutral oak, it is bright and clean.
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.
2008 Michael Shaps Viognier is made just outside of Charlottesville, at Virginia Wine Works. VWW is the first custom crush in Virginia! YAY custom crush! This wine is a blend of 2 vineyards, and Michael has been making it since 2000 here in Virginia. Creamy and rich, it’s got a lot of stone fruit and grapefruit structure. On the skins overnight, there is a great mouthfeel in the wild yeast wine fermented in stainless. This is quite a classic viognier. Virginia Wine Works has 23 brands currently, and they are all small time producers and new wineries. $32
Another Virginia winery, Barboursville, was started in 1976 as the first commercial winery in VA. I enjoyed some of the reds earlier, and now we are on the 2009 Viognier. This is, for me, the reason that I keep trying to live VA wines. The crispness of the wine is followed by honey notes, and lots of floral aromas. All stainless, and on the lees for up to 11 months. Retails for $20-22 and I’d definitely buy this wine if I could find it!
Where no WineBrat has gone before…I am the first one to admit that I am uneducated about most wines outside my sphere of influence; yes I drink them, yes I occasionally enjoy them, but I don’t know much about them. When I was invited to attend Hospice du Rhône this year as a media guest, I jumped at the chance to attend the world’s penultimate tasting event of Rhone varietals. I was jumping up and down for months, and then I got the cold from hell. Suffice to say, Bratty was not amused. As I drove through the endless row of wines between Salinas and King City, and then past the oil derricks and in to Paso Robles, I was more excited about taking a nap and some Nyquil than the bowling event that would ensue later that evening. fortunately, I was domiciled in the hotel that was across the street from the event center, and I arrived early enough in the day, that I crashed out instead of taking in a few tasting rooms. As I rallied with a combination of Rhone medicine and bowling silliness, I was looking forward to the next day’s educational seminars. I am sorry to say that I missed the South African seminar early on Friday morning, but I rallied enough to attend the Côte-Rôtie seminar later in the morning. Côte-Rôtie is located in the northern Rhône, where the vineyards are distinguished by their vertical slop and stone calls. The wine is primarily red Rhône, focusing on Syrah, many co-fermented withViognier. This area has a very different style than the southern Rhone, and winters are wet with a cold wind, as well as fog that can make ripening the grapes a challenge. Wines from Côte-Rôtie share a lot of similarities tot hose of South Africa, and are earthly, gamey and rich. The presenting producer, Domaine Michel et Ogier, is founded on land where seven generations farmed grapes. In 1997, the latest generation arrived after studying in Burgundy to grow Rhône grapes; prior to his arrival, the grapes were sold to a negociant, but that soon began to change. 1982 wasn’t a particularly good year in the Rhone, and the negociant didnt’ want the grapes so the family made their own wine. Soon, the negoicant came back wanting the finished wine, and the winery was born. 2008 viognier de Rosine Vin de Pays showed lemons, necterines, peaches, apricots and honey with crisp lemon rind and peach nectar. The vineyard was planted in 2000, with the first vintage being 2004, and marked a change or the producer. Prior to 1997, when the next generation arrived, only red wines were produced, so the viognier (as opposed to syrah co fermented with viognier) was a departure. It was a cold summer and a difficult year, but this has made the viognier fresh and crisp, with a nice minerality and grapefruit zing. Ogier doesn’t believe is performing battonage, or the stirring of the lees, as this adds a certain fatness to the wine. Viognier possesses […]