When a wine region captures the imagination, and worldwide attention, wineries seem to pop up from nowhere. Don’t get us wrong, We’re fully in favor of more wine! Still, there’s something special and intriguing about a multi-generational, family owned winery that has been growing wine grapes for more than 100 years. And so it is at Harney Lane Winery in Lodi, California.
Recently, we had the opportunity accompany our friends and fellow bloggers, John and Irene Ingersoll, for a tour and tasting at Harney Lane Winery. On our arrival, we were greeted by Kyle Lerner. Kyle is an engaging and friendly man, with a wealth of knowledge, wit, and humor. A business major in college, with no farming background, he married into the family, and was mentored by Patriarch George Mettler. Now, Kyle calls the vineyard his office, and with more than 25 years of farming, couldn’t be happier.
Harney Lane Winery is a 5th generation farm. The family originally purchased the farmhouse on the property in 1900, and started growing grapes in 1907. For 99 years, the family sold all the grapes they produced. In 2006, they decided to put their produce into their own line of wine. That year, they produced 1,000 cases of wine. Today, they produce between 8,000 and 9,000 cases. Their wines are produced from 100% estate grown fruit, and despite the increase in production in the past 13 years, they use only about 10% of the grapes they farm. The other 90% are sold to other wineries. The entire estate is 100% certified sustainable under the Lodi Rules.
After pouring us each a sample of their now sold-out Chardonnay, Kyle escorted us on a tour of the park-like grounds, into one of the vineyards, and then to the barrel room for more tasting. The Chardonnay was delightful; crisp and light, just the way we like it, with only a hint of oak influence. The front grounds of the property are amazing! It’s like wandering through a fairy tale, with centuries-old trees, manicured flower beds, and meandering paths. Fountains, benches, and tables with chairs punctuate the walk, giving visitors the opportunity to sit and really relax while enjoying the beauty.
Wandering from the garden to the vineyard, Kyle explained the family commitment to sustainability. As we were there in early spring, we got to see early bud break in the Primitivo vineyard. From the vineyard, Kyle led us to the barrel room and more tasting. We were met along the way by Jorja Lerner, Kyle’s wife and daughter of George and Kathy Mettler.
As Kyle led us through a flight of reds, he talked about the family history and commitment to crafting exceptional, estate wines, balancing winemaker vision with consumer demand. If you think of Lodi wines, specifically Zinfandel, as being big, jammy, fruit-bombs, think again. While definitely exhibiting the local terroir, Harney Lane wines are elegant, restrained, and delicious. These are wines that are at home at both a fine-dining restaurant, and a backyard barbecue.
We started with a taste of the 2016 Tempranillo. Here’s a grape that most people don’t associate with Lodi, but Harney Lane does it right. The grapes for this wine come from 20-year-old vines, and it is excellent. Next, we tasted the 2016 Zinfandel, a well-balanced example of what Lodi can do with this iconic grape. Moving on, we tasted the Primitivo, Lot 18. Kyle explained that the Primitvio is a Non-Vintage wine, blended from a number of recent vintages. Lot 18 is a rustic and tasty blend of the ‘14, ‘15, and ‘16 vintages. Next up was Harney Lane’s Old Vines Zinfandel offering, and their flagship wine. The name, Lizzie James Old Vines Zinfandel, conjures up images of the Wild West, and such heroines as Calamity Jane and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. In reality, though no less inspiring, Lizzie James comes from the middle names of Kyle and Jorja’s children, Kirsten Elizabeth and Ian James. They opted for Lizzie instead of Elizabeth, since the former sounded more rustic and adventurous than “Elizabeth James.” Don’t you agree?
Finally, Kyle shared with us the Patriarch’s Promise Red Blend. First released in 2012, this proprietary red wine is made to honor George Mettler. George was only able to enjoy the first vintage of this wine, before losing his battle with cancer in 2013. Today, 10% of sales from this wine are donated to the American Cancer Society. The recipe for this wine is a closely guarded family secret. Always up for a challenge, we each sipped, evaluated, and tried to determine the blend. My first guess was a right-bank Bordeaux-style blend; Merlot dominated, based on the cherry and pencil shaving notes. However, Kyle confided to us that the current vintage is, in fact, a single varietal wine, from a rather obscure grape. Despite our best efforts to guess, cajole, and entice Kyle to spill the beans, none of us could identify the source of this deep, rich, delicious wine. Or did we? Kyle would never tell.
We returned to the tasting room for one final treat: a taste of the Lizzie James Old Vine Zinfandel dessert wine. For those of you in the know, you are aware that there are strict rules around the naming of wines, and that U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) must approve any wine names in the U.S. So, for example, with few exceptions, any wine called “Champagne” must come from Champagne, France, and any wine with “Port” in the name, can only come from Porto, Portugal. Wanting to stay compliant, while still letting consumers know what they were getting, Harney Lane designed their label in a unique way, that the TTB approved, thus ensuring that Port fans everywhere would know they were in for a treat! Bravo, Harney Lane!
After the tasting and tour, the four of us returned to the garden where we found a comfortable table in the sun, and enjoyed a final glass of Harney Lane wine, while relaxing and enjoying the new tradition that is Harney Lane Winery.
Next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to stop by for some outstanding wine, the tradition of five generations, and the relaxing surroundings that invite you to relax and enjoy.
- By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
- Photo Credit: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael