Time flies, as this is the 22nd  release of DUMOL!  I remember meeting Kerry Murphy way back when he started DuMOL and tasting through the first bottles of what has now turned into a real success story.  The “Designated” releases are always something special, and this year is no different.  Andy Smith rolled up his sleeves and put together an amazing selection of limited production wines.
With still lower than normal production levels this vintage will sell out in no time! The 2017 DuMol releases are turning out to be quite spectacular! I would say that several of these may the best ever from this winery. Look for some rave reviews from the wine critics! As you know DuMOL is always in high demand, you can bet that this means the allocation will sell out quickly.

DuMOL 2017 Pinot Noir “Ryan” Jentoft Vineyard ~ 97 Points
GGWC 94.99
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Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 97 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir Ryan Jentoft Vineyard is a stunner. Sweet, rich and explosive, the 2017 boasts striking inner perfume and fabulous balance. Sweet purplish berry fruit, lavender, spice and mint all lift from the glass in this vivid, exceptionally beautiful Pinot Noir. All the elements fall into place.”

Jeb Dunnuck 97 Points: “From a Russian River Valley site planted in 2007, the 2017 Pinot Noir Jentoft Vineyard Ryan is a selection of Swan and Calera clones and sees 15 months in 45% new French oak. This brilliant wine knocks it out of the park with its complex bouquet of darker fruits, smoked earth, and spice. Medium to full-bodied, incredibly layered and multi-dimensional on the palate, it’s a complete, flawless balanced, incredibly impressive wine that will benefit from 2-3 years of bottle age and cruise over the following decade. This lineup is stacked with terrific wines, but this is one of the standouts.”

Winemaker Notes: “The wine opens with a sense of tiny dark intense wild berries, tart and explosive, pine needle freshness and hints of cedar amplifying the aromas. The palate is sappy, dark and elevated with Rainier cherry, cassis and huckleberry fruits. There’s laser-like intensity to the wine’s driving flavors as they expand along the dry, firm palate, exotic floral, gravelly nuances extending the lingering finish. No need to decant. Drink between 2020 and 2027.”

DuMOL 2017 Chardonnay “Chloe” Ritchie Vineyard ~ 95 Points
GGWC 74.99
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Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2017 Chardonnay Chloe Ritchie Vineyard is another super-impressive wine in this range. Creamy and voluptuous in the glass, with lifted aromatics, the 2017 has so much to offer. Today, it is remarkably complete for such a young wine. Yellow orchard fruit and lifted floral notes add shades of nuance. The wine’s total sense of poise is remarkable.”

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “Lemon curd, chamomile, orange blossom, and a touch of tropical fruit emerge from the 2017 Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard Chloe, an exotic, full-bodied effort that offers a singular character. Upfront and with a big, mouth-filling texture, it shows a terrific sense of salinity and minerality on the finish and shows a more Burgundian side to this Grand Cru site.”

Winemaker Notes: “The wine shows aromas of orange blossom, mixed stone fruits and honeysuckle. Thyme leaf, wet stone and almond paste notes lend complexity. The palate is immediately broad and mouth-filling with tangerine oil and orange sherbet flavors. The wine’s center is rich in extract—deep and almost chewy. It finishes with mineral signatures and a lingering citrus zest note.”

DuMOL 2017 Chardonnay “Isobel” Charles Heitz Vineyard ~ 95 Points
GGWC 74.99
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Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2017 Chardonnay Isobel Charles Heintz Vineyard beautifully expresses the personality of the vintage in its rich, viscous feel. White flowers, mint, chalk, white pepper and chamomile all grace this vivid, pretty layered Chardonnay. I can’t wait to taste it from bottle next year.”

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “I loved the 2017 Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard Isobel, one of the standouts in the lineup. Named after winemaker Andy Smith’s daughter and from a site far out on the Sonoma Coast, it has a beautifully rich, layered, textured style as well as impressive notes of white peach, white flowers, and honeysuckle. With plenty of fruit, an awesome texture, great balance, and a singular character, it will be better in another year and I suspect will keep for upwards of a decade.”

Winemaker Notes: “Pungent lemon curd, honeycomb and ginger aromas open the wine as lemon verbena and white flower blossom notes add intrigue. The oily glycerol intensity is immediate on the palate with grapefruit, lemongrass and a hint of tropical fruit leading to a round and full mid-palate before saline oyster shell acidity takes hold. The exotic tangy citrus oil finish is mouthwatering and long.”

DuMOL 2017 Pinot Noir “The Estate” Vineyard  ~  95 Points
GGWC 99.99
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Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard is powerful and also very tightly wound. In fact, the Estate is the least expressive of these Pinots today. Black cherry, lavender, spice, menthol, licorice and dried herbs open up, but only with great reluctance. The tannins remain forbidding at this stage, but it is very early days here.”

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “The 2017 Pinot Noir DuMol Estate Vineyard is more earthy and savory, with a concentrated, foursquare style that’s going to benefit from short-term cellaring. Notes of black cherries, bouquet garni, earth, and chocolate all define the bouquet, and it has building tannins, a great mid-palate, and impressive length.”

Winemaker Notes: “In its youth, the wine is dominated by spicy red fruits and complex savory herbal notes: red currant and underbrush elements. As the wine ages, its inherent dark character begins to evolve and take center stage: black raspberry and dark cherry with woodsy terroir signatures. In whichever phase of development you catch the wine, it always delivers an elevated site signature, the taste of the place, and that’s the highest calling of any great vineyard.”

DuMOL 2017 Syrah “Eddie’s Patch” ~ 96 Points
GGWC 94.99
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Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

Jeb Dunnuck 96 Points: I also loved the 2017 Syrah Eddie’s Patch, which has more of a Côte Rôtie vibe in its spring flowers, black raspberries, and dried earth-like aromas and flavors. Coming from pure volcanic soils and brought up 40% new oak, it’s medium to full-bodied, has lots of tannins, terrific fruit, and a seamless texture. It’s certainly impressive today yet will benefit from 2-3 years of bottle age and keep for 10-15 years.”

Winemaker Notes: “Deep inky aromas of boysenberry and black cherry meld with crushed stone and cracked black pepper. Red and black wild mountain berries are intense and vibrant while an edge of game and rosemary adds nuance. The silky mouthfeel reveals deep succulence and broad supple tannins, aromatic and finesse-driven through the long, detailed finish. Drink between 2020 and 2030 and gently decant for an hour in its youth.  50% Greywacke & 50% Timbervine.”

DuMOL 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
GGWC 104.99
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Mix & match OK with other DuMOL wines

A ripe, friendly style, with a creamy-textured core of cassis and cherry preserve flavors underscored by anise and apple wood notes that stay nicely melded with the fruit on the finish. 

Winemaker Notes: “With its harmonious layers and textures, this wine reminds me of the 2012 Napa Valley vintage. Dark, inky and opaque, it presents aromas of plum, violets and graphite. Beautiful fruit cascades almost immediately to more savory flavors: crushed rock dustiness, cocoa and cedar. A good, firm mineral spine runs through to the long, bittersweet finish. Ever-evolving in the glass, this wine is poised now and will age beautifully over the next 10+ years.”  

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97 Point Carlisle Fall Releases are now in stock!

The eagerly awaited Carslisle 2017 Fall Releases are now in stock! Better get yours before they are all gone!

Carslisle 2017 Papera Ranch Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
GGWC 51.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more
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Mix & match with other CARLISLE OK

Medium-dark to dark garnet-ruby. An incredibly high-toned, expressive nose of raspberry coulis, briar, and tobacco. You can’t help but smile when smelling this! On the palate, pure silk and grace. Deftly balanced, texturally nearly ethereal, with intense raspberry, blood orange, and briar-like flavors. Ho-hum. Papera knocks it out of the park again. Drink this archetype Russian River Valley Zinfandel from 2020 through 2028.

Winery Notes: “With irrigation available to these vines planted in 1934, this vineyard weathered the Labor Day Weekend heatwave quite well. Even after our aggressive sorting, both in the vineyard and at the winery, we were still able to produce a normal amount of this flagship wine. Picked three times over a two-week period in the second half of September, each lot was cold soaked for five days before being pressed to French oak, an average of 25% new. Unfined. Unfiltered. “

Jeb Dunnuck 97 Points: “The 2017 Zinfandel Papera Ranch comes from a site close to the Mancini Ranch and vines planted in 1934. Notes of plums, blueberries, violets, and earthy, herbal notes all flow to a full-bodied, incredibly deep, layered and concentrated 2017 that certainly makes the most of the vintage. With ripe tannins, remarkable purity of fruit, no hard edges, and flawless balance, it’s another gem in the vintage.”

Carslisle 2017 Integral Proprietary Red, Russian River Valley
GGWC 49.99
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Mix & match with other CARLISLE OK

Medium-dark to dark ruby-purple. Lifted aromas of black olive, smoked game, and spice. Smells quite savory and delicious. Medium-full bodied on the palate, notes of spice and earth weave in and out of the black and blue fruit flavors. Tannins are quite fine at this early stage but with the high percentage of whole cluster and Mourvèdre, this wine is definitely built for aging.  If you plan to drink it now, I highly recommend a good two hour decanting.  Enjoy till 2030, and perhaps even beyond.

Winery Notes: “In the first two vintages of The Integral, 2015 and 2016, we simply combined all the Mourvèdre and Syrah in tank and let ‘er rip. But with our blocks at Radiant Ridge Vineyard, the source for this wine, now in full production, we took a more measured approach in this vintage. Some of the Syrah was fermented as 100% whole-cluster while we cofermented the remaining Syrah and Mourvèdre in various combinations and whole-cluster amounts. In the end, the 100% whole-cluster Syrah made the final blend along with a tank of 50/50 fully de-stemmed Syrah and Mourvèdre, and a tank of 44% Mourvèdre (all whole cluster) and 56% Syrah (fully destemmed). We really dodged a bullet as two days after picking this vineyard, the fires broke out and the vineyard became inaccessible for two weeks. Miraculously, despite burning completely around the vineyard, the property incurred no significant damage. Phew! “

Jeb Dunnuck 94+ Points: “Coming from a single vineyard in the cooler Bennett Valley (although the site is so unique they don’t label this wine as from Bennett Valley), the 2017 The Integral checks in as 62% Syrah and 38% Mourvèdre that had the Syrah mostly destemmed and the Mourvèdre fermented with 100% whole clusters. Deep purple-hued with notes of smoke blue fruits, bloody minerality, charcoal, and graphite, it’s medium to full-bodied, concentrated, backward, and structured. Hide bottles for 4-5 years and it’s going to keep for over a decade.”

Carslisle 2017 Piner-Olivet Zinfandel Russian River Valley
GGWC 41.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more
Use code CARLISLE during checkout

Mix & match with other CARLISLE OK

Medium-dark to dark garnet-ruby. Intense aromas of cherry, cactus pear (tuna or higo chumbo in Spanish, I ate a lot of them as a child), pomegranate, and a subtle note of baking spice. Full-bodied but so well-balanced. Flavors of red and black fruits linger in the long and powerful finish. Compared to the ’16, slightly darker in profile yet this offers more immediate enjoyment. Drink this lip-smackin’ Zinfandel from release through 2026.

Winery Notes: Blending is always surprising. You can have two great components for a wine, both worthy of being bottled on their own, but when fully blended together, they do not result in the best wine. As a result, sometimes a portion of a component gets left out. Such was the case when it came to blending our “Big 3” – Carlisle, Papera, and Montafi. Fortunately, the “leftovers” of these three wines melded seamlessly together to create an insanely yummy wine showcasing the terroir of this cool growing area of the Russian River Valley. Twenty-six percent new oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Vinous 94 Points: “The 2017 Zinfandel Piner-Olivet Ranches is absolutely gorgeous. Silky and inviting, with lovely creaminess, the Piner-Olivet Ranches has so much to offer. Juicy dark red berry, blood orange, mint, spice and pomegranate infuse a super-expressive Russian River Zinfandel endowed with tremendous class. The 2017 is a blend of fruit from Carlisle, Papera and Montafi, all top sites in their own right. This is one of the highlights in the range.”

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ARE YOU KIDDING? An UNDER $55 Thomas Rivers Brown 95 Point Napa Cab

The farmer works to produce the best crop possible, knowing once it leaves their hands, they no longer have control. The winemaker, regardless of skill and ability, can only work with what comes through the winery doors.

Matt Hardin, a 6th generation Napa resident and farmer, is a partner in Barbour Vineyards, one of the most renown vineyard management companies in Northern California.

Thomas Rivers Brown, winemaker for some of Napa and Sonoma’s most iconic labels (Schrader Cellars, Outpost and his own Rivers-Marie), has more than 20 100-point wines to his resume.

Working together for many years over many different projects, a friendship was developed. Out of that friendship the idea of working together, utilizing the strengths of the other, Caterwaul was born.

Caterwaul 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap Napa Valley
GGWC 54.99
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

This Cabernet was sourced from one of the most historic and pedigreed sites in Stags Leap. An alluring wine that is dense, plush and beautifully layered in the glass. Bright aromatics play off the super-ripe, racy fruit in a wine that conveys the essence of the vintage and this site to great effect. Hints of pomegranate and white flowers add a decidedly exotic touch to the explosive finish.

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “The 2017 showed beautifully and it is certainly in the same ballpark as the 2016. The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is crazy good for the price and boasts a rounded, sexy style as well as upfront notes of black raspberries, cassis, orange blossom, and dried flowers. This medium to full-bodied effort will drink well right out of the gate.”

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Surprise Blind Tasting Winner

One of the last wine tastings of the year with my tasting group, we conducted a blind Chardonnay tasting. An impressive lineup and a surprise result!

Our group of 15 tasted the following wines:

  • Cattleya 95 Points
  • Hirsch “Estate” 96+ Points
  • Auteur “Durrell” 95 Points
  • Tor “Durrell” 95 Points
  • Carte Blanche 95 Points
  • Senses “Charles Heintz” 95 Points
  • Chateau Boswell 95 Points
  • Hudson “Little Bit” 98 Points
  • Paul Hobbs “Dinner” 96 Points
  • Grgich Hills “Miljenko’s” 95 Points
  • Rivers Marie “Platt” 96 Points
  • Tyler “Zotovich”

Tyler received 8 First, 3 Second and 2 Third Place votes
Rivers Marie received 4 First, 4 Second and 3 Second place votes
Cattleya received 2 Frist , 5 Second and 4 Third place votes

Tyler 2017 Chardonnay “Zotovich” Santa Rita Hills
GGWC 52.99
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

Vinous 94 Points: “The 2017 Chardonnay Zotovich Family Vineyard is pretty, floral and lifted, as wines from this site on sandy soils tend to be. Soft contours and light tropical notes give the wine a lovely sense of immediacy, while bright acids add energy. Justin Willet has done a terrific job in bringing texture to a vineyard that often yields airy wines. The 2017 will be even better with a few years in bottle. It is such an elegant Chardonnay.”

Click here or on the links above to order!


Honoring Our Veterans

Today, we salute the heroes
who have fought for the integrity of this country and the freedoms we enjoy.

Our hearts and minds are filled with thanks and respect.

We are forever grateful for their sacrifice of life, limb, and time
for the greater good so that we might have a better life
and a place to call home.

Let us raise a toast to our veterans.
Happy Veteran’s Day!


Ten More Grapes to Know!


Lodi Growers

One of the joys of the annual wine harvest is being able to get up close and personal with a good variety of grapes, bursting with ripened flavors on the vine. Since there are over 100 wine grapes grown in Lodi alone, this time of year is paradisaical for a professional oenophile able to walk freely among the vines.

In light of that, we’d like to share close-ups of ten grapes that we find of particular interest (starting below).

Why ten? In her recently published book Ten Grapes to Know (2019, The Countryman Press), Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis focuses on “ten essential grapes and the wines they make,” the knowledge of which would help the average American consumer “navigate most wine situations with confidence and ease.”

The ten grapes covered by Fallis:

Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)
Sauvignon Blanc
Pinot Noir
Syrah (Shiraz)
Cabernet Sauvignon

Yet as anyone who has recently stepped into a specialty wine store well knows, there are far more grapes to know – not only among the selections of domestically produced varietal wines on the shelves, but also grapes going into imported wines which account for 33% of all the wine sold in the U.S. (Thach, U.S. Wine Industry In 2019).

Jancis Robinson, who is probably the most widely read wine author in the world, recently posted a column in FT Magazine (On the demand for exotic grapes) that makes note of the fact that there are currently some 1,450 different grapes cultivated around the world for commercial wine production. A handful, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, are obviously the most important economically, but there are many others that Robinson describes as more “fashionable,” at least according to her own observations of today’s international market.

Robinson cites how “the wine world has been transformed from one dependent on a handful of ‘international’ (mainly French) grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay into one that seems increasingly fascinated by alternatives to them — the more local and obscure the better.”

Robinson’s list, adding up to 14 grapes:

Assyrtiko (Greece)
Fiano (Italy)
Furmint (Hungary)
Godello (Spain)
Malagousia (Greece)
Pecorino (Italy)
Petit Manseng (France)
Savagnin (France)
Xarel-lo (Spain)
Aglianico (Italy)
Mencía (Spain)
Nebbiolo (Italy)
Nerello Mascalese (Italy)
Touriga Nacional (Portugal)

Looking at Robinson’s list, the average American wine consumer would probably say: What the hey? Aside from Fiano, Aglianico, Mencía, Nebbiolo and Touriga Nacional, none of the grapes on this list are grown in Lodi, which accounts for approximately 20% the grapes going into California wines (and according to the Wine Institute, California produces 81% of the domestic wines sold in the U.S.).

According to Robinson, despite their “obscurity,” these fashionable grapes are currently “celebrated” because of “the growing admiration for indigenous varieties” which “tend to thrive in their native region, as well as producing truly local, distinctive wines.”

In other words, as Robinson suggests, the wine world is gravitating more and more towards an appreciation of wines made from grapes that are naturally suited to their original environments, as opposed to wines made from grapes chosen purely for commercial purposes. Robinson’s list of today’s most “fashionable” grapes, in fact, consists nearly entirely of cultivars indigenous to Mediterranean wine regions – particularly those of Greece, Italy, Southern France and Spain.

If we were to extrapolate Robinson’s logic and apply that to California, this would suggest a gravitation towards grapes that are most easily adaptable to a Mediterranean climate, which characterizes the growing conditions of not just Lodi but also most of the North Coast (including Napa Valley and Sonoma County) and Central Coast (stretching from Livermore Valley all the way down to Santa Barbara).

Hence, our own list of “ten more grapes to know” share that commonality: All but two of our chosen ten originated in Mediterranean wine regions. The exceptions are a white wine variety called Kerner and a red wine grape named Dornfelder, both widely planted in Germany – a good distance from the Mediterranean Sea – although cultivated in the warmest wine regions of Germany, including the Palatinate, Rheinhessen and Württemberg (some Kerner is also grown in Northern Italy, while Dornfelder has made tiny headway in Switzerland and England).

Our ten grapes, and why it is important for you to get to know them:

1)  Vermentino
Lodi growers started planting Vermentino – an important white wine grape in places like Corsica, Sardinia (where the grape is called Pigato), and much of Southern France‘s Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon regions (where it is called Rolle) – in the early 2000s and have been shouting “Eureka!” ever since for the obvious reasons: Despite the grape’s golden, large berried and generously weighted cluster morphology, it absolutely thrives in warm-to-hot Mediterranean environments, producing white wines with ample amounts of natural acidity and intriguing aromas and flavors suggesting citrus, melon, suggestions of leafy green herbs (sometimes thyme, sometimes lavender), yet just enough restraint in its fruitiness to give firmly dry, flowing mineral sensations in the nose and palate-feel.

This is not to say that Lodi grown Vermentino has been setting the wine world on fire. Yet slowly but surely, it continues to increase in popularity among more handcrafty producers (look for those of Uvaggio Wines, Peltier Winery, Avivo by DaVero Farms & Winery, Fields Family Wines, m2 Wines, or PRIE Winery). No wonder, as Uvaggio’s Jim Moore has often said, “Vermentino is the thinking man’s Pinot Grigio.”

2)  Kerner
Kerner is a crossing of Vitis vinifera (i.e. cultivars belonging to the European family of wine grapes) originally developed in 1929 by a grape scientist named August Herold for the German winegrowing industry, and at the height of its popularity in 1990 there was some 20,000 acres of it grown in Germany. Herold crossed Riesling with a black skinned red wine variety called Trollinger, and the result was a beautifully pale green-gold tinted grape with tell-tale brown specks that yields a beautifully dry and minerally style of white wine, as nuanced as any with suggestions of citrus and stone fruit, airy light and svelte in feel.

There is less than an acre of Kerner grown in Lodi, which has not been enough for the Sidebar Cellars brand produced by David Ramey, one of California’s most iconic winemakers. Since the 2014 vintage, Ramey has been producing a Sidebar Kerner that has been selling in some of the most glamorous restaurants in the country. Lodi’s own Markus Wine Co., owned by the widely heralded Markus Niggli, has been producing a fascinatingly sleek and minerally Kerner based white wine (blended with Bacchus and Riesling grapes) called Nativo, which enjoys cult-like status among the few wine buffs and journalists who have come across it.

And all of this Kerner – essentially, the entire production for the state of California – has been coming from one Lodi grower, the Koth family who own and farm Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. While it all adds up to less than a drop in the proverbial ocean constituting the entire world of wine, these wines have been making lots of waves among the cognoscente. Someday, we suspect, more growers may catch on and begin to plant Kerner to meet a growing (even if modest) demand. Just look at the history of varietal categories in California, such as White Zinfandel which started as an experimental wine made by a handful of tiny producers. Sometimes tiny drops turn into hurricanes.

3)  Fiano
Oak Farm Vineyards GM/partner Dan Panella grows and produces Fiano for the best of reasons: Because his family is originally from Avellino in Italy, where Fiano has been one of the three most important white wine grapes since the first centuries of the Roman Empire, starting in BC.

Fiano is a grape that has endured, like, forever in Italy (today it is accorded the country’s highest ranking as a DOCG) because, plainly, it makes beautiful wine. Although Oak Farm is Lodi’s first – and as of today, the only – grower and producer of Fiano, they are already producing a white wine that only underscores the wisdom, or common sense, of planting Mediterranean grapes in Mediterranean climate zones: The Oak Farm bottlings absolutely sings with flowery, honeyed fragrances suggested toasted nuts (think pecan, veering towards hazelnut or filbert), manifested on the palate with a lemon/lime zestiness cushioned by a silk-textured viscosity – sensory qualities the grape appears to effortlessly produce in Lodi’s sun-soaked climate and sandy soils.

When you look at the success of a grape of Fiano in Lodi it only makes you wonder how so many other classic wine grapes of the Mediterranean might do in a region like this. Particularly white wine grapes that go into imports long esteemed by connoisseurs and soaked up by ravenous wine consumers: Grapes like the Garganega that goes into Soave, the Ansonica (a.k.a. Inzolia) of Sicily, Campania’s  time honored Greco and Falanghina varietals, Piemonte’s Cortese and Arneis grapes, the Friulano (a.k.a. Sauvignon vert) of Veneto‘s Friuli region, the Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes of Umbria’s Orvieto, the Assyrtiko of Greece’s Santorini, Ribolla Gialla of Slovenia and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the Loureira grape of Portugal’s Vinho Verde (Lodi already has tons of the Albariño grape also widely planted in Vinho Verde), and so many others.

Baby steps, of course… big journeys always start off with baby steps. But it’s the success of grapes like Fiano and Kerner that bode well for more leaps to come.

4)  Clairette Blanche
At the moment, there is only one grower/producer in Lodi (Acquiesce Winery) that grows Clairette Blanche, one of the 18 grapes that go into the wines of the Rhône Valley’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. Clairette Blanche is a white wine grape, but bear this in mind: White wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape – usually blended with grapes like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette blanche and Bourboulenc – now retail for somewhere between $50 and $100 on average. Anything this “prestigious” is worth looking into.

Accordingly, in other California wine regions (notably Paso Robles) specialty winegrowers have been upping their plantings of Clairette Blanche. The practical reason: By itself, Clairette Blanche not only produces a generous crop of healthy fruit, it yields a dry white wine with crisp acidity, sleek and minerally textures, stone fruit and herbes de Provence-like nuances; but when blended with other white wine grapes with a similar penchant for warm Mediterranean climates, it adds a racy, stony touch that is almost magical. More simply put, a no-brainer for regions like Lodi.

5)  Carignan
If you are a wine history buff, you might be familiar with reports similar to the 1971 California Crop & Livestock Reporting Service document listing the most widely planted grapes in California at that point in time. At the very top, Carignan is listed with 30,472 planted acres. Zinfandel is second with 27,226 acres, Barbera is fourth (20,435 acres), and right behind are both Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache (both with just over 18,000 acres). Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? Barely more than 7,000 acres each. And Merlot? Listed among “Other Red Wine Grapes,” with less than 100 acres planted.

Of course, times were different in 1971, but there is a reason why grapes like Carignan, Zinfandel, Barbera and Grenache were still the most widely planted grapes at the dawning of the modern day California wine boom: Because up until that time, these were the grapes that were easiest to grow in the state’s warm Mediterranean climate zones.

Carignan was, and still is, a workhorse red wine grape in Southern France, all over Spain and in Northern Africa. It grows in the hottest of climates and, often enough, in the poorest of soils, and still puts out red wines replete with zesty acidity and effusively bright red fruit. Somewhere along the line, of course, Carignan was supplanted in California by calls for grapes that produce red wines with more classic profiles (re Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir), but that doesn’t mean it no longer produces distinctive wines in regions like Lodi where you can still find Carignan plantings dating back as far back as the 1880s.

Hence, the growing number of specialty producers now lining up for the dwindling supply of Lodi grown old vine Carignan: Including McCay Cellars, Klinker Brick Winery, Jessie’s Grove Winery, PRIE Winery, Michael Klouda Wines, m2 Wines, Van Ruiten Family Winery, and Michael David Winery among local producers; and Holman Cellars, Leaf and Vine Winery, BIRICHINO Winery, Precedent Wines, and Sandlands Wines among the growing number of “outside” brands mining Lodi for Carignan gold, while the going’s still good.

6)  Grenache
Grenache has always been the quintessential Mediterranean grape. As one Lodi winegrower is fond of saying, it is “Lodi’s Pinot Noir.” This is 2019, however, not 1971; and whereas acreage of Lodi Grenache has dwindled down to less than 100 acres, there is now a good 3,476 or so acres of Pinot noir planted in the Lodi AVA (according to the 2018 USDA California Grape Acreage Report). It is ironic that far more Pinot noir – which originated in the cooler climate regions of France, where Grenache is never grown – is now planted in a region like Lodi, but that’s the way the wine world spins.

If Lodi grown Grenache resembles “Pinot Noir,” it is only in one sense, which is a sensory one: Here it produces a soft, gentle, silky textured red wine with a red berry perfume replete with sweet black peppery spice and faintly earthy tones. Most of Lodi’s Grenache – what little there is – still goes into the production of dry style rosé, which makes sense because Grenache produces fantastic rosé everywhere else in the world it is grown (particularly in Southern France and Spain). But when you find a red wine made from Grenache (look for those of McCay Cellars, Jeremy Wine Company, Hunters Oak Vineyard, Jeff Runquist Wines, or the synonymous “Garnacha” bottlings of Bokisch Vineyards, d’Art Wines or Riaza Wines), you should enjoy the rarity of the experience of such a gentle and intriguingly spice scented red wine unique unto itself.

7)  Tempranillo
As in all the California wine regions, there is still not a lot of Tempranillo grown in Lodi – about 140 acres, according to latest reports – but there are over a dozen local wineries that open their doors during the Lodi Tour of Tempranillo each November. Lodi may not produce a lot of Tempranillo (according to a recent California Grape Crush Report, about 14.3% of all of California’s production of the varietal), but what little it does can be strikingly fine and supple in texture, with the red berry, roasted meat and sometimes leather-like varietal complexities recalling the finest of, say, the official DO regions of Spain, where the grape has probably thrived for some 2,000 years (there is no actual physical evidence of the grape’s presence going back that far, but there is a 2,000-year-old Roman mosaic depicting winemaking unearthed in Ribera del Duero, one of Spain’s major Tempranillo regions).

Bokisch Vineyards deserves credit for being a leader in the cultivation and mastery of Lodi appellation Tempranillo over the past two decades, although three wineries – McCay Cellars, Fields Family Wines and m2 Wines – produce exquisite Tempranillo from one of Lodi’s first plantings of the grape (since the late 1990s), now called Lot 13 Vineyard.

Other Lodi based varietal practitioners of the grape include d’Art Wines, Dancing Fox Winery, Heritage Oak Winery, Hunters Oak Vineyard, Peirano Estate Winery, Riaza Wines, Ripken Vineyards, St. Jorge Winery, Toasted Toad Cellars, Viaggio Estate, McConnell Estates Winery, and Durst Winery; and non-Lodi wineries bottling Lodi grown Tempranillo include Fenestra Winery, Odisea Wine Company, Reed Wine Cellars, and Vino Vargas.

8)  Barbera
Barbera is a grape that has seen its heydays, yet is far from forgotten. For instance, 30 or so years ago it was still the most widely planted red wine grape in Italy (today it is a distant second to Sangiovese in that country), just as 50 years ago its 20,000 or so acres made it one of California’s most widely planted grapes.

Today Barbera’s total acreage in California hovers around 4,950 acres – puny compared to Cabernet Sauvignon’s +93,000 acres, but still respectable. In what way? The grape has its fans – fans so crazy, they have their own “Barbera Festival” each year in Amador County. The grape grows beautifully in Amador County just as it does in Lodi for this major reason: It can ripen to spectacular heights of flavor and texture in a decidedly warm climate yet retain more natural acidity than any other black skinned grape in existence. Plus, there will always be room in the world for red wines with good, zesty, high acids (think spaghetti with a meatball marinara sauce – who doesn’t love that, and what wine goes better with that than Barbera?).

The history of Barbera in Lodi parallels the entire state’s in that it has transitioned from a generic wine component into a specialty varietal red. During the 1970s wineries like E. & J. Gallo contracted a number of local growers to plant the grape for its famous Hearty Burgundy program. Today Hearty Burgundy is no longer Time Magazine cover material (as it was in November of 1972), but a few of those old vineyards, particularly on the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA, are still hanging on to their old school “California Sprawl” trellis systems, producing small amounts of exhilaratingly intense varietal reds from miniscule bunches for wineries like St. Amant Winery, Macchia Wines, PRIE Winery and Uvaggio Wines (other old plantings, like that of Borra Vineyards, have recently gone into limbo since that Lodi brand has closed down).

Oak Farm Vineyards, notably, has not only embraced the time honored Lodi tradition of cultivating Barbera, they have made a big-time commitment with new plantings producing a classic varietal style: Red wines that are full, fleshy, pungent and, of course, zesty with mouth-watering acidity. Mediterranean inspired winegrowing at its best!

9)  Nero d’Avola
Over the past 15, 20 years Nero d’Avola has emerged as one of premier varietal reds coming out of Sicily, located smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean. Because of its lineage, it pencils out as a grape tailor-made for Lodi, although only one grower/producer, LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, has made a commitment to this black skinned grape.

But as the wine industry everywhere around the world has seen time and time again, it only takes one to lead the way, and you can already taste it in LangeTwins Family’s first bottlings: A deeply colored red wine that is intense in red cherry and nuanced, floral notes (suggesting rose petal and caraway-like spice); and even more exciting, densely textured flavors couched in a solid, even keeled framework of acid and tannin, coming across as zesty, edgy, yet round and compellingly pliant – all of that, in a wine well under 13% alcohol!

If the future of Lodi wine is in wine grapes in which you can achieve all the flavor in the world without having to pick at high sugars necessitating manipulation in the winery (like alcohol reduction or acid adjustment), grapes like Nero d’Avola may be a poster child. If anything, it just makes sense, given the nature of Lodi terroirs.

10)  Dornfelder
Like Kerner, Dornfelder was developed for the German wine industry by August Herold. It is a 1955 cross of two different crosses: Helfensteiner (Frühburgunder x Trollinger) x Heroldrebe (Blauer Portugieser x Bläufrankisch), and has become, according to Robinson, “Germany’s most successful red crossing, making juicy, deeply colored reds.” Also according to Robinson, Dornfelder compares favorably to other black skinned grapes popular in Germany: It is “easier to grow than Spätburgunder (i.e. Pinot noir), has better resistance to rot than Blauer Portugieser (as well as deeper color, more powerful flavours and more tannin), has stronger stalks than Trollinger, ripens earlier than Lemberger (a.k.a. Bläufrankisch), and achieves higher must weights (i.e., higher potential alcohol levels) than most of these varieties.”

Therefore, like Kerner among white wine varieties, Dornfelder sounds like a good possible match for Lodi; and in fact, it has been producing almost astoundingly intense red wines in Lodi, with a keen sense of balance. At this point in time, Dornfelder is only being grown by the Koth family’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, and the most recent bottlings have been done by  PRIE Winery.

Ergo, our notes from a recent tasting of PRIE Dornfelder, crafted in this boutique sized winery’s customary minimalist fashion: “Opaque, vivid, inky-black purplish color; a harbinger of a deep, concentrated nose suggesting blackberry jam and roasted coffee spices… unencumbered by oak (aged in strictly neutral French oak for 7 months), carrying over to the mouth in a medium-weight body (a refreshingly restrained 12.7% alcohol) bolstered by dense yet smoothly rounded tannin, finishing a juxtaposition of velvet textures and lip smacking, zesty qualities.”

Anyway you look at it, Dornfelder is proving to be uncannily well suited to Lodi’s climate and, in the case of the Mokelumne Glen Vineyards site, deep, sand dune-like soils. In other words, we may not know exactly why it’s been successful. There may have been a touch of lunacy involved in the decision to plant a German grape like Dornfelder (or Kerner, for that matter) in Lodi in the first place. All we really know for sure is that the results have been impressive where it counts, in the glass, when this dense, black, flavorful wine is poured. And that’s all that matters.

~ Randy Caparoso is a full-time wine journalist who lives in Lodi, California.  Randy puts bread (and wine) on the table as the Editor-at-Large and Bottom Line columnist for The SOMM Journal, and currently blogs and does social media for Lodi Winegrape Commission’s  He also contributes editorial to The Tasting Panel magazine and crafts authentic wine country experiences for sommeliers and media.


LAST CALL for the AMAZING Scarlett Cabernets

Scarlett Wines is a family operation owned by the McGah family, who are most notably known for co-founding the Oakland Raiders. Representing over four generations of wine growers, the family’s personal touch can be felt from the soil to the glass. The winery previously operated under the name McGah Family Cellars and rebranded in 2015 in honor of its flagship wine, Scarlett, which is named after the founder’s daughter.

Scarlett 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Rutherford Napa Valley
GGWC 71.99
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

The wine’s aroma is AMAZING! The color STUNNING! The flavors MINDBOGGLING! The wine is loaded with black stone fruit and chocolate aromas. On the palate the wine gushes with more chocolate, black currant, jam and some delicate Rutherford dust. The wine is full in body, yet elegant and refined! Gorgeous from start to finish Only 200 cases of this gem were produced, so better jump on this now! Massively scaled for a Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon.  Great effort from Mike Smith!

Scarlett 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Estate Rutherford Napa Valley
GGWC 129.99
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

A total knock-out, stunner Cab.  The wine is loaded with dark, black stone fruit, offering up hints of licorice, a touch of smoke a good whiff of spice. Offering an extraordinary equilibrium between acidity, alcohol, tannin and wood, stunning purity, a finish that goes on for close to a minute, and a dazzling palate presence from what appears to be an incredible terroir make this an amazing effort in Cabernet Sauvignon Very well balanced with the right acid/fruit ratios.  This is a wine for the ages.  VERY LIMITED

Also check out:

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Frank’s Thanksgiving Suggestions = FREE SHIPPING

Dear Friends,

It is that time a year – The Holidays are around the corner, we will have a time to reflect on things and hope for the best for everyone and continue to live the dream! A time to say “Thank You” and spend time with your family, friends, and loved ones. Remember and cherish the ones that aren’t among us, the ones that are, and especially those serving our country locally and abroad.

On that note, here are a few suggestions for your Thanksgiving Dinner:

  6. MONTHUYS CHAMPAGNE NV BRUT, 750ML Our Best selling Bubbly!
  10. LUCIA 18 ROSE & LUCIA 18 ROSE MAGNUM – $1.00 of each bottle goes to the Breast Cancer Foundation
  11. BELLA 2016 ZINFANDEL “LILY HILL” DRY CREEK  – 125 cases produced


Order 12 bottles (mix & match OK) or more and we’ll pay the shipping*!
Use code THANKS19 during checkout

A 95 Point Merlot FOR Cabernet Lovers

I know what you are thinking, another wimpy wine, soft and silky – WRONG!!  The 2016 Switchback Ridge (made by Robert Foley), is a big, bold red blend of Merlot and Cabernet. Switchback Ridge wines are sourced exclusively from the Peterson Family Vineyard in Calistoga. The rich, rocky soils of this beautiful vineyard property consistently produce low yields of intensely flavored fruit, resulting in extremely concentrated, fruit driven wines that are the hallmark of Switchback Ridge

Switchback Ridge 2016 Estate Merlot, Napa Valley
GGWC 64.99
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The 2016 Merlot is a rich, mutli-layered and well-structured wine.  On the nose you’ll encounter floral red currant, black cherry and anise aromas.  On the palate this wine is bold and complex with luscious flavors of blackstone fruits, chocolate, anise and a hint of spice that lead to big but silky tannin finish. Drink now through 2025.

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: “I also loved the 2016 Merlot Peterson Family Vineyard. This puppy also comes from a site in the northern part of the Valley. It has a true “wow” nose and offers loads of black cherries, blueberries, chocolate, bay leaf, and assorted tobacco and herbal notes. It has its foot firmly on the ripeness pedal, is full-bodied, deep, and has a stacked mid-palate. It’s a pleasure-bent, seriously good Merlot to drink over the coming decade.”

Winemaker Notes: “Enticing red fruit bowl aromas of raspberry, red cherry and cassis are graced with just a hint of savory spice. These flavors flood the palate with a rich mouthful of deliciousness that brings on espresso-like nuances. The structure and balance resolve in a mouth-coating finish that seems to go on forever.” ~ Bob Foley, Winemaker

Also check out their other great Switchback Ridge releases:

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A Great Napa Cab Catch & FREE SHIPPING

Again, a superb, well-made Coho Headwaters. This vintage is a blend of 54%  Cabernet Sauvignon with 35% Merlot from the astounding Michael Black Vineyard add 11% Petit Verdot from the Coombsville area in southern Napa Valley and we have the ingredients for what I believe is one of the best Coho Headwater blends ever produced!

Coho 2015 Headwaters Proprietary Red, Napa Valley
GGWC 54.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code SHIPFREE6 during checkout

On the nose this wine shows gorgeous aromas of black and red stone fruit.  On the palate one encounters a well-balanced, cohesive wine that is flashy and opulent showcasing stellar black and red stone fruit with a touch of chocolate and a whiff of toastiness, it has great vibrancy and an amazing balance of beautiful fruit and subtle acidity.  This is a wine that will age nicely.  The finish is gorgeous and lasts a good thirty seconds. This wine is drinking well now, and should cellar well for 7-10 years.

Winemaker Notes: “A vibrant, richly flavored wine.  With its proximity to the  Bay it imparts spicy aromatic and flavor complexities, while the gravel and volcanic-rock strewn soils contribute to the mineral notes that rolls on the palate and gorgeous long finish.  A focused purity of gorgeous red and blue fruits infuse a core of currant and pomegranate flavors.  This is an elegant wine that despite its early approachability will continue to reveal additional complexities for the next  6-10 years.  The wine is a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 19% Petite Verdot”

Click here or on the links above to order!