Lodi also has a reputation for having a wealth of old vine (at least 50 years old) Zinfandel vineyards. Quite a few of these vineyards date back to the dawn of the 20th century. These old vines are renown for producing a modest amount fruit that shows an intense, distinctive character.
But that distinct character can be masked with new oak, and other winemaking choices made in the cellars.
A few years ago, a group of Lodi winemakers including Michael McCay of McCay Cellars, Stuart Spencer of St. Amant, Layne Montgomery of m2 Wines, Tim Holdener of Macchia, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family and Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers came together with the intent of creating iconic Lodi wines that would showcase the unique characteristic of Lodi’s old-vine Zinfandel by focusing on single vineyard wines, made with minimal intervention to highlight each wine’s distinct character and terroir.
Lodi Native™ was born.
The 2012 Lodi Native Winemakers (clockwise from left): Layne Montgomery, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, Michael McCay, Tim Holdener, Chad Joseph. Photo courtesy of Lodi Native
What is Lodi Native™?
Lodi Native is a communal effort of six Lodi winemakers, each responsible for producing its own wine, to be jointly marketed to promote the Lodi appellation brand.
From the Lodi Native website, here is the mission of the project and the winemaking protocols:
THE LODI NATIVE MISSION
To demonstrate to more sophisticated consumers, media (print and blogosphere) and gatekeepers (such as specialty retailers and sommeliers/restaurateurs) that distinguished, distinctly identifiable vineyards exist in Lodi, similar to other great wine regions of the world.
To encourage preservation and appreciation of old vine plantings – well as of Lodi’s long tradition of grower/custodians – by focusing more attention on vineyard sites, vis-à-vis real and tangible sensory expressions in each bottling.
To build professional camaraderie, a culture of information sharing, and new challenges for Lodi’s Zinfandel specialists.
100% Zinfandel bottlings from a single contiguous vineyard (exception: old vine plantings with long established field mixes) located within the Lodi AVA.
Preference for established “old vine” plantings (35 to over 100 years old), with exceptions made for distinctive younger plantings.
Native yeast (non-inoculated) fermentations only.
No use of oak chips, dust or similar amendments.
No acidification or de-acidification.
No new oak or use of innerstaves in aging process.
No water addition or de-alcoholizing measures.
No tannin additions.
No inoculation for malolactic fermentation.
No use of Mega-Purple or other concentrate products.
No filtering or fining.
No must concentration, Flash Détente or similar extraction measures
Proposed cuvées are to be submitted by each producer for sensory evaluation and subsequent approval of entire group.
Preference for vineyards certified by Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing and/or CCOF.
The project created a unique opportunity to truly let the personalities of these special old vine vineyards to shine through.
The use of the protocols essentially meant there would be no manipulation of the wine’s color, flavor, tannin or alcohol levels. The lack of new oak effectively took away the winemaker’s spice rack, and likewise for the use of native rather than commercial yeast. One of the winemakers described the process as “winemaking without a net”.
Key decisions in the winemaking process were mostly around when to pick the grapes and how long to age before bottling.
“Collectively, these are some of the most thought-provoking Zinfandels I’ve tasted in a very long time. They’re deep, complex, lingering, surprisingly elegant and quite food-friendly. They comprise a master class in old vine Lodi Zinfandel” - Terroirist: Master Class in Old Vine Zin
The results of the Lodi Native™ project have been remarkable. Each vintage has produced six beautiful, yet markedly different wines that truly reflect a sense of place.
Lodi Native Zinfandels are available for purchase in 6-bottle packs at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center; each consisting of all six different single-vineyard bottlings or the bottles can be purchased separately at the wineries. The first vintage of Lodi Native™ was 2012. Subsequent vintages include 2013, and the current release, 2014.