“Pssssst. Hey, buddy.”

The sound came from just ahead me and to the left. At first I didn’t think it was meant for me, until a shape detached itself from the shadows of the dark alley, and stepped into the penumbra of the streetlight.

“Pssst. Hey buddy,” said the figure, its face still in darkness, “Wanna taste some old vines?”

I stopped short in alarm and quickly looked around me. We were alone.

No one had heard this offer, aimed squarely at a weakness whose existence I had taken pains to bury deep. I prided myself on being discrete, on the veneer of composure that I had constructed to surround my obsessions. But someone who knew me had clearly talked.

With another quick look around me, I stepped into the shadows for what I told myself was one last fix. But even as I did, a part of me knew, like all the times before, this was where I really belonged.

OK, so maybe it didn’t happen quite like that, but when someone from the Lodi Winegrape Commission called up and asked if I wanted to go stand around in some of America’s oldest vineyards and taste the wines they’d produced while the spring weather was still good enough to make it pleasant, what’s a weak-willed wine writer like me gonna do?

The answer, of course is: salivate like hell.

Big Vineyards, Old Vines

For most people, Lodi recalls little but an unfortunate Credence Clearwater Revival lyric. But for serious California wine lovers and those who understand the meaning of viticultural heritage, it’s something of holy ground.

In fact, the Lodi AVA, established in 1986, is America’s single largest wine growing area, covering more than half a million acres, with more than 110,000 of those acres planted to grapes.

Lodi’s ancient vines, like many such vineyards around the world, are an endangered species that will only survive through a combination of proactive conservation and public advocacy by those who understand what they mean to the world of wine.

Of course, size is not everything, especially in the world of wine. But hidden in plain sight within the vast swaths of vineyards are some of the greatest treasures of American viticulture.

Approximately 2000 acres of Lodi vineyards consist of pre-Prohibition, own-rooted vines, some with vines that have been growing in these sandy soils for more than 140 years. Low-yielding and commercially tenuous, this vineyard acreage has been shrinking for years, as old vines are ripped out and replaced by more productive youngsters, or more frequently, by acres of tract homes and shopping centers.

Lodi’s ancient vines, like many such vineyards around the world, are an endangered species that will only survive through a combination of proactive conservation and public advocacy by those who understand what they mean to the world of wine.

You can consider this little tour I’m about to offer you an example of the latter. These vineyards can produce wines unlike any other in the world. The difference in flavor between a 4-year-old, trellis-trained, irrigated Cinsault vine, and a 150-year-old, own-rooted, dry-farmed vine with roots plunging 90 feet down into 20 million years worth of eroded granite sands cannot be overstated.

If we want them to survive, we need to know, to buy, and to drink the wines they produce.

California Wine History Writ Large

It’s not hard to imagine how some of California’s earliest settlers, haggard and exhausted from the trials of crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, might arrive a the wide, fertile plains abutting the inner Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and decide they needed to go no further.

Indeed, starting in the late 1840s many pioneer immigrants did just that, staking claims to swaths of farmland, draining marshes, and planting all manner of crops, but especially wine grapes. In the years following 1848, when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill (a mere 76 miles northwest) Lodi and many towns in California’s Central Valley were transformed almost overnight from small farmsteads to thriving Western townships.

All of a sudden, there were a lot of thirsty people nearby, some of them newly rich, many more wanting to drown their sorrows, and we all know there’s no better way to do that than with wine.

By the 1880s, Lodi was a thriving center for grape growing, even beginning to export grapes by rail to the East Coast. While perhaps a slight oversimplification of a complex agricultural history, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that when it was incorporated as a city in 1906, Lodi owed much of its fortune, not to mention its existence, to grapes.

Those rising fortunes between the mid-1880s and the inception of Prohibition in 1920 resulted in the planting of a number of vineyards that are miraculously still with us today.

These are the vineyards that I journeyed to touch, to see, and most of all, to taste. I did so in the company of Randy Caparoso, to whom I am indebted not only for being my tour guide, but for his incredible wealth of knowledge on the region, provided to me as we toured and sipped, as well as in the form of his forthcoming book, Lodi! The Definitive Guide and History of America’s Largest Winegrowing Region, which will be out later this fall.

The detailed history of each of the vineyards highlighted below is largely summarized from Randy’s admirable scholarship. I am providing only the barest facts about each vineyard below, but know that each has a rich and vibrant set of stories behind it that Randy has meticulously gathered and woven into a narrative to which my summaries do little justice.

Most, but not all, of Lodi’s oldest vines are to be found in its two most southerly sub-regions, the Mokelumne River AVA and the Clements Hills AVA, with the former being truly ground zero for the biggest, gnarliest, oldest vines that still make fantastic wine.

OK. Enough talk. Let’s taste.

Bechthold Vineyard

Bechthold Vineyard

The Bechthold Vineyard

In 1886, Joseph Spenker planted 25 acres of a grape he knew as “Black Malvosier” but which would turn out to be Cinsault. Today, what remains of those 25 acres is known as the Bechtold Vineyard, and according to Caparoso, is likely the oldest living planting of Cinsault in the world, as well as definitively being the oldest vines in the Lodi appellation. Its fruit is largely purchased by small, artisan producers, who are interested in showcasing what one of the country’s oldest living vineyards can produce. Filled with 6-foot-tall, spur-pruned, gnarled vines like the one pictured above, the vineyard feels like a small forest of writhing monsters frozen in place, some leaning on wooden stakes for support in their old age. It is farmed organically, and boasts sandy loam soils that go down sixty feet or more.

2019 McCay Cellars Rosé of Cinsault, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale peach in color, this wine smells of citrus and berries. In the mouth, bright citrus and berry flavors are silky and slightly crunchy with good acidity. A touch of bright rhubarb and savory river mud linger in the finish. While the Bechthold Vineyard doesn’t appear on the label, that is, indeed, where this fruit comes from. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35 click to buy.  

2016 McCay Cellars “Bechthold Vineyard” Cinsault, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of spices and earth. In the mouth, juicy flavors of strawberries, exotic woods, and spices have a light texture from faint tannins. Herbal notes linger in the finish with notes of sour rhubarb and dusty roads. Fermented with native yeast after a 1-week cold soak, aged in neutral wood. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40 click to buy.

2019 Fields Family Wines “Bechthold Vineyard” Cinsault, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of green herbs and spices. In the mouth, primary grape flavors mix with mulberry, herbs, and strawberry rhubarb pie. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in neutral wood. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.

Spencer Ranch

The Royal Tee Vineyard

Jessie’s Grove – Royal Tee

Many of Spenker’s original plantings and his original homestead can be found within the borders of a relatively intact 320-acre estate referred to as Jessie’s Grove, named for a stand of trees that became eponymous after Jessie Spenker took up the mantle of grape farming following her father’s death in 1916, while steadfastly refusing to rip out the 32-acre grove of oaks that she adored.

In 1889, three years after planting the Bechthold plot, Spenker planted another 5-acre block with mostly Zinfandel (84.5%), Carignan, Flame Tokay, Mission, and Black Prince. This vineyard hosting Lodi’s oldest planting of Zinfandel is now called Royal Tee Vineyard. It features low-slung, head-trained vines and showcases a mix of grapes that would become known as “mixed blacks,” often harvested together and fermented together in what today is more commonly known as a “field blend.”

2017 Alquimista Cellars “Ancient Vines – Jessie’s Grove” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and strawberry fruits with floral overtones. In the mouth, gorgeous bright strawberry and unripe blackberry fruit flavors mix with black pepper and a touch of dried herbs. Lithe and quite lean for Zinfandel. Excellent. This wine is sourced from a section of the vineyard known as the Royal T. Score: around 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2018 Alquimista Cellars “Ancient Vines – Jessie’s Grove” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, excellent acidity makes flavors of strawberry, blackberry, and sour cherry boisterous on the palate. Hints of pepper and dusty earthy linger in the finish with faint tannins. Wonderful. This wine is sourced from a section of the vineyard known as the Royal T. Score: around 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

1900 Block – Block 4 – Spenker Ranch

Jessie’s Grove – Spenker Ranch “1900 Block 4”

In 1900, Spenker planted another 8-acre vineyard block, this time with Carignan on its own roots. The White Zinfandel boom of the 60s and 70s is largely responsible for the continued existence of so many old-vine Zinfandel vineyards. Other varieties, such as Cinsault or Carignane had no such “protections,” making blocks such as this 1900 all the more precious. The sandy soils here host scraggly grasses underneath the thick trunks of these Carignan vines built like wrestlers.

2018 Precedent Wine “Spenker Ranch” Carignane, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries and floral cherries. In the mouth, juicy bright acidity is fantastically bright as a gorgeous stony earthy quality suffuses cherry and red berry notes. Light powdery tannins accompany notes of black pepper and pink peppercorns in the finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $22.

Wegat Vineyard

The Wegat Vineyard

Wegat Vineyard

Somewhat “young” by Lodi’s old-vines standards, the Wegat Vineyard was planted in 1958 primarily to Zindfandel. It is part of a homestead that has been farmed by the ancestors of its current owners since 1869. Its spur-pruned, layered vertical cordon vines have a regal reach, casting big patches of shadow on its sandy soils. The rootstock here is St. George, to which were grafted cuttings from the Acampo vineyard, which was the source material for what some consider to be among the best Zinfandel vines in Lodi. Consequently, the Wegat has become one of Lodi’s most distinctive sources for single-vineyard Zinfandel.

2017 Maley Brothers Vineyards “Lodi Native – Wegat Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of gorgeous blackberry and blueberry aromas with hints of floral overtones. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and black cherry fruits mix with floral notes and a hint of bright citrus acidity. Faint tannins and a long finish round out a mouthwatering, juicy package. Score: between 9 and 9.5. $35

Soucie Vineyard

The Soucie Vineyard

Soucie Vineyard

The oldest block of the Soucie Vineyard, shown above, dates back to 1916. Own-rooted and 100% dry-farmed, it has been worked by three generations of the Soucie family. Kevin Soucie meticulously cultivates the 105-year-old, head-trained vines, and continues to be amazed at how healthy the vines remain at this age. “There are a lot of newer vineyards planted in the 90s that are petering out now, and need replanting,” he says. “They were just pushed too hard when they were young.” Soucie says he’d never plant a vineyard this way if he was putting in a new one now, but as long as his old vines are still kicking, he’s going to keep giving them the love they need to do their thing in the deep, powdery soils that mark this prized source of Zinfandel. The soils here are soft and velvety as talcum powder, and the archetypally shaped old vines cast striking shadows on the spotlessly turned bare earth.

2018 m2 Wines “Soucie Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass this wine smells of black and blue fruits. In the mouth, notes of blackberry and ginger mix with black pepper and juicy bright acidity. There’s a touch of heat on the finish of this wine, but also some lovely rumbling earth. Aged in 25% new American oak. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32 click to buy.

2017 m2 Wines “Cemetery Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and strawberry fruit. In the mouth, the wine is rather high-toned, with excellent acidity. Notes of flowers and pepper linger through the finish. Missing some substance in the middle of the palate. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28 click to buy.

Marian's Vineyard

The Mohr-Fry Ranch’s Marian’s Vineyard

Marian’s Vineyard

Planted in 1901 by the Mettler Family (the descendants of whom still make wine in the region), Marian’s is one of Lodi’s most prized sources of Zinfandel. This 8.3-acre plot features a rare set of limestone “lenses” that have kept these 120-year-old vines spry and healthy in their old age, still yielding sometimes up to 4 tons per acre. Widely regarded as having its own unique clone of Zinfandel, the vineyard’s vines and the fruit they produce are distinctly different than other nearby sites, or indeed, even adjoining vineyard blocks.

2019 St. Amant “Mohr-Fry Ranch Old Vine” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass with hints of ruby, this wine smells of blackberries and spice. In the mouth, spicy black pepper, blackberry, and boysenberry flavors are juicy with excellent acidity. Barely perceptible tannins, and a long finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2019 St. Amant “Lodi Native – Marian’s Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry. In the mouth, gorgeous silky, fine tannins give structure to flavors of juicy blackberry and black cherry, with a hint of blueberries. A touch of white pepper and dried flowers and herbs lingers in the finish. Great acidity. Good length. Score: around 9. Cost: $35 click to buy.

Fathom Vineyard

The Fathom Vineyard

Fathom Vineyard

The oldest segments of this own-rooted Zinfandel vineyard date to the mid-1920s. Some of the trunks of these vines are huge, much thicker than my torso, and the classic, head-trained shape of the vines make for a remarkable variety of beautiful silhouettes. The soils are quite sandy, with something of a packed appearance at the surface between the vines, with the remains of the cover crops scraggly between the rows.

2018 Neyers Vineyards “Vista Notre – Fathom Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, boysenberry fruit is shot through with fine-grained tannins that have a tight muscular quality suggesting a little time in the bottle to relax. Notes of cherry, raspberry and black pepper linger in the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

Noma Ranch Vineyard

The Noma Ranch

Noma Ranch

Once a full 15 acres of Zinfandel planted sometime between 1900 and 1910, Noma Ranch is now less than half of its original size, having been parceled off and sold to real estate developers. The site, farmed by Leland Noma, is marked by its unusually stunted vines, some of which almost lay directly on the sandy loam soils. It has been dry-farmed for possibly its entire existence, and its unique clonal selection yields the smallest clusters of berries that many Zinfandel producers have ever seen, rarely topping 1 ton per acre of yield. Painstaking to work, vineyards like this demonstrate what a true labor of love old vines have to be.

2018 Macchia Wines “Outrageous – Noma Ranch” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine offers heady aromas of blackberry pie. In the mouth, sweetish blackberry fruit has a nice bright acidity which keeps the wine juicy, but there’s a bit too much oak flavor on the palate for my taste. Comes across as somewhat high octane (15.5% alcohol). Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.

Rous Vineyard

The Rous Vineyard

Rous Vineyard

Planted on St. George rootstock in 1909, this is the second oldest St. George-based vineyard in the region (planted in 1907, the Stacie Vineyard is the oldest such planting). Sitting almost in the center of the deepest, most homogenous alluvial sands in the region, what locals refer to as the “Victor Triangle,” this 10-acre vineyard takes its name from its current owner, Craig Rous. Rous helped Mondavi build the Woodbridge brand back in the 80s and ended up buying the vineyard in 1990 from a fellow coworker at Woodbridge. The vineyard is now Rous’ “retirement project” and justifiably a source of pride and passion, since according to him, farming vineyards like this “barely make any financial sense.” The vineyard’s soils are extremely fine, though perhaps not as powdery as those found farther to the west side of the AVA, and the vines have a mix of silhouettes, some more traditionally head-pruned, others resembling a vertical, spur-pruned approach.

2018 Ironstone Vineyards “109 Reserve Ancient Vines – Rous Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blueberry and blackberry with a touch of cedar. Dried flowers, faint tannins, and a sort of nutty character merge with the dark fruit. Good acidity keeps things relatively energetic on the palate. Ages for a year in older oak barrels. Score: around 9. Cost: $30 click to buy.

Charles Lewis Vineyard

The Charles Lewis Vineyard

Charles Lewis Vineyard

The squat, muscular vines of the Lewis Vineyard have a distinct presence. These own-rooted, head-trained vines were planted in 1903 in the fine, sandy soils and are sustainably dry-farmed to yield a distinctively red-fruited rendition of Zinfandel made by the LangeTwins Family, who purchases the fruit from the Lewis Family every year.

2014 LangeTwins Family Vineyards & Winery “Centennial – Lewis Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and raspberry with a hint of soy sauce. In the mouth, wonderfully bright acidity keeps flavors of raspberry and blackberry bright and juicy while muscular tannins exert a somewhat firm grip on the palate. There’s that umami note again on the palate. Comes across as slightly hot with alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $56. click to buy.

Lizzie James Vineyard

The Lizzie James Vineyard

Lizzie James Vineyard

Planted in 1904 the oldest sections (which make up about 40%) of the Lizzie James Vineyard are Zinfandel grafted onto Black Prince rootstock, which was a vitis vinifera cultivar popular at the end of the 19th Century. A mix of head-trained and vertical spur-pruned vines, these vines dig deep into soils that resemble beach sand, which at one point were dug and measured down to a depth of 95 feet. Some of the older vines were replaced in the 70s but the core of the vineyard remains the 117-year-old vines.

2018 Harney Lane Winery “Lizzy James Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blueberry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, powerful blueberry and raspberry fruit mix with cherry and cedar notes. Hints of floral aromas emerge on the finish. Broad-shouldered and powerful. Sees around 25% new oak. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

Scottsdale Vineyard

Scottsdale Vineyard

This 2.5 acre block of own-rooted, head-trained, dry-farmed Zinfandel features some of the fluffiest sandy loam soils I saw while in Lodi. Planted in the first decade of the 20th century, the vineyard also includes some replanting from the 1970s. Some of the oldest trunks are thicker than my thigh, and sit squatly close to the ground above the wonderfully voluminous soils. For the last 15 years, the vineyard has been farmed by Harney Lane Winery, whose owner Kyle Lerner refers to the site as the “Blueberry Block” thanks to the blue and red fruit character that its small bunches typically produce.

2018 Harney Lane Winery “Scottsdale Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and blueberries. In the mouth, the wine is floral and bright, with red fruit flavors and excellent acidity. Nice lift and energy. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

Kirschenmann Vineyard

The Kirschenmann Vineyard

Kirschenmann Vineyard (and Neighboring Blocks)

This 19-acre block of own-rooted, (mostly) head-trained (mostly) Zinfandel was planted in 1915 and farmed by Alan Kirschenmann until his death in 2004. It was briefly named the Baumbach Vineyard until it was purchased by Tegan Passalacqua in 2012 and renamed after its longtime caretaker. Sitting in an old oxbow of the Mokelumne river, the vineyard has striations of limestone and grainy quartz that run through its deep, loamy sands and it tends to stay a degree or two cooler than surrounding areas because of the channel of the river. The vineyard features smatterings of Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Mondeuse Noire and Grand Noir de la Calmett along with the Zinfandel.

Two other historic vineyards sit adjoining Kirschenmann and share its soil profile and aspect. Across a narrow dirt road, lies the Rauser Vineyard, and just behind Kirschenmann, towards the river, lies the Faith Lot 13 Vineyard.

Of the three, the Rauser was planted first, in 1909, and consists primarily of Carignan, interplanted with Alicante Bouschet and a little Zinfandel. The 10-acre Faith Lot 13 Vineyard was originally part of the Kirschenmann vineyard (but was sold separately in 2013) and features own-rooted, head trained, spur-pruned Zinfandel.

2018 Precedent Wine “Kirschenmann Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of exotic spices, red berries, and citrus. In the mouth, gorgeously bright cherry, raspberry, and strawberry mix with black tea and a touch of licorice root. Fabulous, fine tannins and amazing acidity, which lends a bright citrus note to the finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2017 Klinker Brick Winery “Rauser Vineyard” Carignan, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, cedar and oak flavors demonstrate a good amount of wood influence on cherry, cola, green herbs, and dusty earth. Powdery tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 McCay Cellars “Faith Lot 13 Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a gorgeously floral nose of sweet cherry and nutmeg. In the mouth, fantastically bright fruit has a nice cherry and herbal quality with gorgeous acidity. Hints of licorice root and jalapeño spice linger in the finish. Positively electrifying, with remarkably low, 13.8% alcohol. Bravo! Score: around 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

The Süss Vineyard

Süss Vineyard

Planted by C.H. Süss in approximately 1928, this 15-acre vineyard features own-rooted, head trained Zinfandel planted in very powdery soils. The vines here are sturdy and somewhat squat, dwarfed by the metal support stakes that were added here and there over the years. Farming has been done by the Bokisch Family for many years.

2016 Tizona by Bokisch “Süss Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam and herbs. In the mouth, juicy strawberry, cherry, and mulberry flavors have a bit of heat to them, with notes of candied orange lingering in the finish. Great acidity. 15.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32.

Stampede Vineyard

Stampede Vineyard

Also the handiwork of C.H. Süss (and partner J.J. Zechmeister), the Stampede Vineyard (so named due to its proximity to the rodeo grounds) was planted between the 1920s and 1940s. It consists of mostly head-trained, own-rooted Zinfandel, but with some Mission, and Mourvedre vines mixed in. Somewhat unusually for the time, the vines were planted in an offset diamond pattern, which you can possibly see in the photograph above, while still maintaining a 10 foot by 10 foot spacing between plants.

2020 Maître de Chai “Buckaroo’s – Stampede Vineyard” Rosé of Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale peachy pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon and citrus rind. In the mouth, juicy bright watermelon and watermelon rind flavors mix with guava and berry. Excellent acidity adds a nice citrusy brightness. Quite juicy and delicious. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28 click to buy.

2016 Fields Family Wines “Stampede Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cloves and cherries, and cedar. In the mouth, incredibly juicy and bright and spicy flavors of cherry and strawberry and raspberry mix with nutmeg and mulling spices with a touch of heat on the finish but fantastic acidity and length. Aged in neutral Oak. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2018 Maître de Chai “Stampede Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and strawberry and wonderful floral aromas. In the mouth, the wine is floral and bright with a stony tightness. Flavors of cherry and herbs, strawberry and dried flowers are clasped in the firm, muscular grip of a fairly serious fist of tannins. There’s some whole cluster fermentation here which no doubt adds to the tannic structure. 12.8% alcohol, lean, and mean. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

The Dogtown Vineyard

Dogtown Vineyard

It’s somewhat hard to believe that the diminutive little vines in Dogtown Vineyard are so old, but they were planted in 1944, and have been managed since 1997 by Turley Vineyards, who have made the Dogtown name famous through their popular single-vineyard bottlings. The tiny vines yield the least fruit per vine of any of Turley’s vineyards, but what they lack in volume they often make up for in acidity. The vineyard is actually on an ancient embankment of the Mokelumne River, and contains a mix of finer, reddish sandy clay loam with volcanic influences as well as the granite sands found in the neighboring Mokelumne River Ava. In a region where many of the vineyards are typically flat, the minor slope of Dogtown and some of the other vineyards in the Clements Hills AVA set it apart from other Lodi sites.

2018 Turley Vineyards “Dogtown Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of berries and cedar, and flowers. In the mouth, exceptionally juicy strawberry and blackberry, and cherry flavors have a brightness and juiciness, with some salty-sweet flavor that is wrapped in light muscular tannins. Excellent length and brightness. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

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Well, there you have it, a flavorful tour of the ancients. Go buy some and help keep these treasures alive.

A particularly characterful old trunk in the Royal Tee Vineyard.