Since the designation as an American Viticultural Area in 1986, Lodi vineyards have often disappeared within the shadow of those in the Napa Valley, Sonoma County and other regions. Fans of the AVA are aware of the not-so-well kept secret that Lodi produces high quality zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and other red varietals at very competitive prices. Not lack of good soil or water, but lower land costs are the biggest driver of their pricing.
The real secret in Lodi is the movement to create distinct single-varietal white wines, led, to some degree, by female winemakers. I can think of no other region in California that offers this depth of diversity in the production of white wines. In Lodi, visitors can discover and enjoy unusual European varietals without leaving the appellation.
Swiss-born winemaker Markus Niggli, who launched Markus Wine Co. in 2014, believes that wines are made in the vineyards and applies a minimalist approach to winemaking with 55 different red and white varietals, all grown around the Mokelumne River. He sources grapes from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard and others to produce balanced, fruit-driven whites from obscure varietals like kerner, torrontes, Bacchus, riesling and gewürztraminer.
One of Niggli’s current releases, the 2019 Markus Nativo ($22), is a blend of kerner (80%), bacchus (11%) and riesling (9%). It is aged exclusively in stainless steel and exudes a rich mouthfeel without sacrificing any of its natural crispness. Aromas and flavors of citrus, stone fruits and floral hints lead to a minerality that is evident throughout the finish.
Owner-winemaker Susan Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards has blazed the trail for whites in Lodi. She works with varietals that originate from the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation in France’s Rhone Valley including picpoul, viognier, roussanne, grenache blanc and clairette blanche.
As meticulous as the old growers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, she typically drops half of the fruit from each vintage to produce smaller grapes with higher concentrations of flavor. All of her grapes are estate grown, hand-picked, whole cluster pressed, fermented and aged sur lie in stainless steel.
Exploring a single varietal that is usually blended, Susan produced the Acquiesce Clairette Blanche 2019 ($28) with true ties to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The stock that came via Tablas Creek Winery originated from the famed Chateau de Beaucastel estate in the heart of the appellation.
With floral and spice notes on the nose, the Clairette Blanche expressed rich baked fruit flavors and a natural acidity on the finish. Aside from her Rhone blend, Ingénue, Susan produces single varietal releases of roussanne, bourboulenc, grenache blanc and picpoul.
Markus and Liz Bokisch have been producing Spanish wines at their Bokisch Vineyards in the Clement Hills region of Lodi for two decades. After a stint living in Spain, they returned in 1999 with Spanish “budwood” in hand, bent on planting them in Lodi spoil.
Theirs was the first local vineyard to produce albariño. Today, Markus’ grapes combine with the skills of winemaker Elyse Perry to produce three releases, each from a single vineyard including the Albariño 2019 Terra Alta Vineyard ($22), the flagship wine in its 13th vintage.
Captivating aromas with citrus, notes of orange blossom and tangerine provide a pleasant introduction to a natural acidity and balanced tropical and grapefruit flavors. Using clones from the Rueda region of Spain, Bokisch also produces a 100% verdejo wine.
Only a few people have been producing wines in Lodi longer than twin brothers Randall and Brad Lange who grew up there. They are fourth-generation Lodi farmers who started LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in 1973.
LangeTwins and winemaker David Akiyoshi produce a wide variety of red and white wines following local sustainability guidelines. One of their top releases is the single-vineyard 2018 LangeTwins Sauvignon Blanc Jahant Woods 01 Vineyard ($20), crafted from the Musqué clone.
Aged sur lie for six months in stainless steel tanks, the Jahant Woods has floral hints on the nose and palate with layered citrus and tropical fruit flavors delivered with a luscious mouthfeel.
To honor their southern Italian roots, the Panella family of Oak Farms Vineyards produces the single vineyard 2019 Fiano ($26), a grape varietal that shares their heritage in Avellino, Italy. Cool fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral oak barrels, the flavors are rich and complex, both crisp and elegant.
As we open up, the opportunity to explore obscure white grape varietals will be reason enough to celebrate being stuck in Lodi again.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email email@example.com.