Mention Zinfandel to wine drinkers and you’re bound to get a wide array of reactions from “it’s too big, bold, a fruit bomb, and alcoholic” to “it’s a complex grape that is as diverse as its terroir.” In the past decade, Zinfandel has had an identity crisis. Some vintners chose to go for the big and bold style to please consumers, but many questioned whether this was the best expression of what Zinfandel could become if vintners allowed the grape to showcase its true potential as America’s varietal.
In Lodi, the Zinfandel varietal had become a commodity grape. Most Zinfandels produced in Lodi were inexpensive and mass-produced; they might have been pleasant to drink, but they didn’t have a lot of character and were easily forgotten. Now, a group of Lodi Vintners is changing that perception of Lodi Zinfandel by creating Lodi Native™, a collaborative project by six winegrowers working in the Lodi American Viticultural Area. The Lodi AVA is home to multiple Zinfandel vineyards dating back to the late 1800s, and Lodi Native showcases the area’s vast history of heritage plantings along with sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking practices. The result of the Lodi Native project is a group of wines that are elegant, alluring, and well-balanced with a complexity that’s missing in most Zinfandels. These wines show what’s possible in Lodi, and why we fell in love with Zinfandel in the first place.
The group abides by set of winemaking protocols: In order to be called Lodi Native, each wine must be 100% Zinfandel from a single contiguous vineyard, with an exception for old vine plantings with long established field mixes located within the Lodi AVA. There is a preference for established “old vine” plantings (35 to more than 100 years old), with exceptions made for distinctive younger plantings. Winemakers must use Native yeast (non-inoculated) fermentations only. They cannot use oak chips, dust or similar amendments. No acidification or de-acidification is allowed. The protocols also prohibit new oak or use of innerstaves in the aging process, water addition or de-alcoholizing measures, tannin additions, inoculation for malolactic fermentation, use of Mega-Purple or other concentrate products, filtering or fining, and must concentration, Flash Détente or similar extraction measures. Proposed cuvées are submitted by each producer for sensory evaluation and subsequent approval of the entire group. Preference is given to vineyards certified by the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing and/or CCOF.
The current release six-pack of Zinfandel made under the Lodi Native Project is from the 2014 vintage. All are from older vineyards – the youngest, Maley Family’s Wegat Vineyard, dates back to 1958. Five out of the six wines come from the Mokelumne River appellation, in the heart of the Lodi region. The sixth, Fields Family Wines Stampede Vineyard, is located in the Clements Hills AVA. The other four vineyard sites are M2’s Soucie Vineyard, Macchia Wines Maley’s Lucas Road Vineyard, St. Amant Winery Marian’s Vineyard, and McCay Cellars Lot 13 Vineyard.
As a group, these wines are exceptional with bright berry fruit, balanced acidity and lower in alcohol (ranging from 14.1% to 14.5%) than most Zinfandels made in the area. Each wine is distinctly different from the others, showcasing the difference in vineyard sites.
The Lodi Native wines are sold as a set of 6 for $180 by the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Find more details about the project at www.lodinative.com; directions to the visitor center are at www.lodiwine.com.