Tenacious Growers and Crazy Winemakers at Mokelumne Glen

“Tenacity Dick, you have to stay with the bastard till he’s on the bottom.”

World War II SS-39 Wahoo Commanding Officer Mush Morton to his XO, 13 hours into a life or death running gun battle between the submarine and a destroyer.

Who’s Your Hero?
Who are your heroes? Mine are those crazy people with a vision and with the guts to stick it out, no matter the odds. Maybe that’s why I love grape growers and wine makers with a personal vision, willing to go against the grain.

100+ year old Zinfandel vine at the Roos vineyard in Lodi, California

100+ year old Zinfandel vine at the Roos vineyard in Lodi, California

Lodi is Zinfandel
Sure, Lodi is Zinfandel. 111,000 acres planted to grapes, and the large majority are Zinfandel.  Lodi makes great Zinfandel. Big, ripe Zinfandel and nuanced wines from ancient vines. Lodi is the home to a number of vineyards with vines well over 100 years old. Still, there are those with a different idea. (click on any photo to see slide show, escape to return to the post)

Crazy Grapegrowers at Mokelumne Glen Vineyard
There’s another Lodi, a hidden Lodi. A place where crazy grape growers are experimenting with grapes you would never expect to see in what seems like a hot climate in Lodi, California. I was one of a group of bloggers who had the opportunity to meet the Koths and walk in their Mokelumne Glen Vineyards as part of a pre-excursion with the Lodi Wine Commission. We learned the family story first hand, and I could see there was a bit of crazy at work there!

Back in the 1990’s Bob and Mary-Lou Koth traveled to Germany and Austria to visit their daughter on an exchange program. There, they fell in love with German and Austrian wines. After their return, Bob decided they needed to grow those grapes… all of them! ( I can just imagine the dinner table conversation: “You’re Crazy!”) And grow them they did.

Mokelumne Glen Vineyard
There are small test plots of 47 different varieties of German & Austrian varieties at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards. That’s only counting Riesling as 1, even though they have 8 different clones!

They grow more of the grapes that do well in their little corner of Lodi. They have multiple rows of Riesling, Kerner, Gewurztraminer, Bacchus, Weiss-Burgunder, Dornfelder, Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt. Even a German/Austrian wine fan would be hard pressed to know all those grapes!

Crazy Winemakers
Today, passionate (read: Crazy) winemakers are looking for alternate approaches and grapes other than Zinfandel. Bingo! The next stop on our tour was a break in the glen with an opportunity to meet crazy winemakers and to sample their wines from these vines.

Crazy + Crazy = Crazy Good!
I would never have guessed the beautiful wines we sampled at Mokelumne Glen could have come from Lodi. As it turns out, Lodi has similar temperatures to Napa and Sonoma (although less morning fog), and there are pockets of cooler microclimates, like Mokelumne Glen along the river.

Winemakers made sure grapes were picked a bit on the early side, and fermented at cooler temperatures. Most saw little or no oak and had inhibited malolactic fermentation. All these choices produced very lean, crisp and refreshing wines, the polar opposite of what you might guess from seeing “Lodi” on the label.

  • Sidebar Cellars – Kerner was tart and crisply acidic, mineral and refreshing
  • Holman Cellars – Bacchus impressed me as soft, medium+ acidity, but hidden under a full body
  • Markus Niggli of Borra Cellars – we sampled several, the “Nuvola” 100% Gewurztraminer had a telltale lychee nose, lean with high acidity which surprised me but so good!
  • Hatton-Daniels –  Zweigelt with an earthy nose and medium+ tannins.

No worries, there is still plenty of delicious Zinfandel coming from Lodi, but don’t be surprised to see a much wider variety of wines from the region.  I know I’ll be seeking these out!

My thanks to the Lodi Wine Commission for the excellent tour of Lodi and for showing us the wide range of wines coming out of this amazing region!

wbc16_lodi_precon 20160811 380

7 Responses to “Tenacious Growers and Crazy Winemakers at Mokelumne Glen”
  1. A wonderful read Jeff. You captured the spirit of what makes Lodi a great wine region!

  2. Awesome! Don’t you just love the renegade spirit of Lodi. A bunch of mad geniuses!

  3. Excellent recap of the Lodi vibe Jeff–great to finally connect in person!

  4. Love your use of photos, Jeff. The post made me nostalgic for the great time we had in Lodi.

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  1. […] Lodi grows a lot of Zinfandel, but there are other grapes grown in the region as well. During a visit at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference, I found that Lodi is much more than just one grape. Recently, […]

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