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Wednesday Wanderings
Stuck In Lodi And Liking It

By Stephen Eliot

Good wine is more than a beverage. Just ask any wine lover. The allure of good wine is not about acid and alcohol and pH or what kind and how much oak, it is about history and place and culture. It is at once both uniquely personal and speaks to each of us in a particular way, and yet its continuity of expression and singular voice is recognized by us all. It seems, at times, to link us to what has been and will be. It can make us feel part of some meaningful continuum.

There is something about tasting a wine made from very old vineyards that drives me to the philosophical brink. Those of you who have walked among venerable, century-old vines know the feeling. It is palpable. You swear that you can, in fact, hear the vines speak.

Last week we spent the day in just such a vineyard in Lodi comprised of own-rooted, old vine Cinsault planted by Joseph Spenker in 1880 and still in the hands of the family that planted it. We tasted our ways through a good number of wines, both red and rosé, born of its grapes. While the wines were good, some of them very good, in fact, it was not a day for scoring and scrutiny but rather one for listening to stories of the past and making new acquaintance of the fascinating ways in which California wines have come.

“Discovery” is not quite the right word as there is a certain arrogance in thinking you have “discovered” something that has been there for so very long, but the day had that feeling of quiet excitement when stumbling on unexpected treasure. Maybe “enlightenment” is a better word to describe the afternoon.

Lodi is too often looked upon with derision by today’s “connoisseurs”, but the oceans of nameless and faceless plonk that comes from it and its neighboring Woodbridge distinct are not all that comes from the appellation. The place has a significant niche in the history of California wines, and it is still the home of more than a few remarkable vineyards filled with very old vines planted in the 19th century.

The best of Lodi’s old-vine bottlings, be they Zinfandel, Petite Sirah or, in this case, Cinsault, are immensely satisfying wines of real character and genuine interest. They deserve more respect and attention than they sometimes receive, and, yes, they have stories to tell to those who are willing to listen.


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