Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend the weekend winetasting in Lodi, California. What’s that you say, you’ve never heard of Lodi? Of course you have. It was the title of a song by Credence Clearwater Revival back in the last 1960’s. Okay, maybe you don’t remember that far back, but you could look it up.
For the uninitiated, Lodi is a small town in the northern central valley of California, generally known for agriculture and specifically known for wine. Really. Robert Mondavi, who helped make Napa wine specifically, and California wine in general, world famous, grew up in Lodi. He started in the wine business there before moving on to Napa, and for decades it’s been the center of large-scale, mass-produced California wines. Sort of like Napa’s rougher, blue-collar cousin.
But the cousin’s moving up in the world. Instead of just massive wineries putting out ba-zillions of cases of just-okay table wine, now small craft wineries are popping up like mushrooms putting out excellent, small lot wines made with grapes chosen because of how well they grow in that specific climate instead of how many gallons can be pushed through regardless of quality.
Yes, I have an opinion on the subject. Can you tell?
Actually, it’s a phenomenon that’s happening all over California, and I think all over the country. Maybe the world, which would be exceptionally cool, but I can’t speak to that. Today I’m sticking to my own backyard, figuratively at least.
From where I’m currently sitting, which is northeast of Sacramento, there are wineries in literally every direction. Most of them are relatively tiny operations, where the winemaker is passionate about the wine and the chances of overwhelming financial success are seriously slim.
One lovely winery just east of here has its vineyard on a sloping hill behind the winemaker/owners’ house with a view all the way across the Sacramento Valley, and they’re doing some great things with Zinfandel and Barbara (among others). North of here is an actual monastery where the monks are supporting themselves by restarting a winery on land used to grow grapes since 1846, now specializing in unusual varietals. In other directions, families that have been grape growers for generations are moving into the production side, often with spectacular results.
One of my favorite things about wine is that it’s constantly evolving. A bottle of wine reflects so much more than the grape it’s made from. It reflects the soil, the location, how much sun and how much rain the grapes receive, and the winemaker’s every decision in the process. The bottle you open today will taste different, subtly perhaps, than it will in six months or in a year. To drink a bottle of wine is to capture a moment, one moment, in the wine’s life and in ours.
Is all the wine great? Sadly, no. But a lot of it is. And that’s what makes it worth searching out. I’ve had people tell me any number of times, oh, I don’t like white wine, or I don’t like red, or even I don’t like wine at all. I tell them you just haven’t looked far enough. The ranges in flavor and body and character are so diverse for different grapes and styles that perhaps all you need is to try something new. I thought I didn’t like sparkling wine when I thought it all tasted like what California puts out. Turns out I like Italian prosecco and French champagne, and Spanish cava quite well, thank you very much.
So I’d encourage you, whoever and wherever you are, so long as your old enough and are not avoiding alcohol for medical or other reasons, to go out and find a new wine. At a local shop, at a winery, or wherever. Something new, something different, and preferably from someplace small, where the wine is more passion than profit. And then savor the moment.