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Category Archives: Lodi Winegrape Commission

A New Tradition at Harney Lane Winery

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
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Celebrating National Zinfandel Day in Lodi Style

Though Zinfandel is not the most popular varietal wine, it is certainly one of my favorites! I may have waded into my wine journey pool with Pinot Noir, but when I first tasted a quality, red Zinfandel wine, it was like diving head first from the high dive!

Today is the third Wednesday in November, which means it’s National Zinfandel Day! In celebration, I encourage all of you to drink some Zinfandel today. You’ll be glad you did! Done right, Zinfandel is a balance of bold, fruity, and spicy. It is a great wine to pair with food, especially casual fare, making it the perfect bottle to crack open on a Wednesday evening. Pizza, burgers, barbecue, steak, and even rich chicken dishes all pair with Zinfandel.

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Photo Credit: VinePair

The Zinfandel Events website, powered by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), has this to say:

“Bold and celebratory, independent and unpretentious, versatile and individual, Zinfandel has charted a course all its own, and National Zinfandel Day offers many ways for our members to chart their own course to help celebrate and draw positive attention for America’s Heritage grape.”

“Zinfandel Day is a worldwide celebration of the Zinfandel grape variety, intended to give Zinfandel lovers around the globe a platform to express their passion for grape and the wines made from it.”

Throughout California, Zinfandel grows well in a number of regions. It was introduced in the Sierra Foothills during the California Gold Rush by resourceful entrepreneurs who realized the hoards of miners were getting mighty thirsty in their backbreaking quest for riches.  They were right. Zinfandel gained a strong foothold, and is now knows as “America’s Heritage grape.

One of the most famous Zinfandel regions in California is Lodi. In fact, Lodi has declared itself the Zinfandel Capital of the World. Roughly 40% of the Zinfandel grapes grown in California come from the Lodi AVA. That’s about 110,000 acres under vine, tended by 750 grape growers!

Over the years, Zinfandel’s reputation has ebbed and flowed. We all know about the White Zin craze that started in the 1970s. In fact, I’d bet that White Zin was the first wine many of you tried. I know I drank my fair share of it before my first Pinot Noir encounter! As more wine drinkers started embracing red Zinfandel, and production increased in the Central Valley, many Zinfandels produced were in the jammy, high-alcohol, fruit-bomb style. You know the ones; open with corkscrew, consume with tablespoon! Jammy! While the masses loved this style, more discerning wine lovers abandoned Zinfandel. (Is my snobby showing?)

It is true that during this time, more subtle and restrained versions of Zinfandel were available in other California regions, and even some from the Central Valley, they were somewhat difficult to find, and often outside the price range of the average consumer. In recent years, however, a group of Lodi producers have started to revisit the more nuanced, minimalist approach to Zinfandel. The Lodi Native Project started as a collaborative project by six Lodi wine growers who are committed showcasing the merits of the heritage plantings. Their goal is to highlight the terroir of the vineyards themselves, and to produce small, artisan wines that reflect the character of the grape.

Just in time National Zinfandel Day, I received two samples of Lodi Zinfandel for review. Both were subtle, restrained, and delicious. I can heartily recommend either, or both.

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Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel – Family Vineyard

Mokelumne River AVA

Retail: $28.00

Brick color with pale ruby rim. Earthy nose with restrained raspberry and cherry aromas. On the palate, bright, juicy flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, and plum, with spice, black pepper, and a hint of licorice. Medium body and tannins with a bite of zesty acidity. The finish lingers with red fruit and spice. We paired this with Margarita pizza and it was delightful. A very nice example of what Lodi can do with a lighter, more restrained version of Zinfandel.

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Tizona by Bokisch 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel – Kirschenmann Vineyard

Mokelumne River AVA

Retail $32.00

Deep ruby color with brick rim. On the nose, soft aromas of blackberry bramble, black cherry, and a hint of anise. This is going to be something special! On the palate, the magic continues with a soft, round mouthfeel and flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry, white pepper, and baking spice. The tannins are silky smooth, and there is light acidity. The finish goes on for days, with raspberry and spice notes. This one went down way too easily with a combo pizza. Noticing a trend? We really don’t eat that much pizza! But…Zinfandel! This easily falls into the category of best Zinfandels I’ve ever had! Spectacular!

Head on over to the Zinfandel Events page for five suggestions on ways you can participate in the celebration today. On the top of the list, of course, is “Share a Bottle with Your Friends!” I can’t think of any better advice!

Please share in the comments what bottle (or bottles) you opened for National Zinfandel Day!

Cheers!

(Both of the wines in this article were submitted for review. I received no other compensation, and all reviews, opinions, and observations are my own.)

  • By Kent Reynolds