Provence? Napa? No, Lodi.

Jordan Mackay | February 18, 2013 | Story Wine and Spirits

Not long ago at Bar Tartine, I was served an astonishing red from the moodily named winery Forlorn Hope. The grape, of which I’d never heard, was alvarelhão. The provenance, of which I had, was Lodi.

Yes, Lodi. In recent years, its wines have often been the hayseeds of the local wine world, standing out like overall-wearing yokels amid the more polished, fashionable swells from the coast. And, for the most part, they still are, but things are—slowly—beginning to change.

Lodi-born wines first registered on my radar a few years ago, when, within a lineup of fine French bottles at RN74, I stumbled across Turley’s El Porrón, an inexpensive cinsault made from 135-year-old vines. Instead of the overripe fruit bomb I’d expected, it had a shockingly Eurocentric sense of balance. Now it has been joined by the similarly styled wines of Forlorn Hope, the solo operation of winemaker Matthew Rorick, who is introducing new vintages of several of his Lodi wines this month.

“Lodi has the best grape growers in California,” says Tegan Passalacqua of Turley, before adding, “It just doesn’t have the best wine growers.” But that mentality is beginning to shift, Passalacqua says, as Lodi growers move from growing grapes for sheer tonnage to growing superior fruit. Not surprisingly, Passalacqua is helping to drive that trend: Last year, he bought his first vineyard in—you guessed it—Lodi.

Passalacqua sold his vineyard’s first vintage to some of California’s most ascendant winemakers, people like Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Roberts of Arnot-Roberts, Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock, and Forlorn Hope’s Rorick. Not only are these Lodi forerunners fashioning wines with new flavors and textures, but they’re also turning to non-mainstream varieties, from aglianico to verdelho. For years, most of these grapes were mixed into the jug blends of large corporations. But today, they are being bottled on their own, appealing to a younger generation of sommeliers and wine drinkers tired of cabernet and chardonnay.

As it did in Sonoma and Mendocino, it may take decades for Lodi to make a larger transformation to the production of more compelling wines. But revolutions always start small.

Drink This:
2009 Turley Cinsault El Porrón ($48)
RN74, 301 Mission St. (Near Fremont St.)

Originally published in the March 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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