During last year’s Washington D.C. International Wine Festival, we spend a considerable amount of time tasting various Zinfandel wines at the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission exhibit. These wines were full-bodied reds, full of fruit flavors with a smooth-spicy finish. One of our favorites was the Gnarly Head Zinfandel, produced by the Delicato Family Vineyards and this wine will be available at the 6th Annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Wine was first produced commercially in the Lodi region in the mid 1850’s with the opening of the El Pinal Winery. At the time, grape growing was a smaller industry as compared to the farming of melons and grains. However, in the 1880’s the prices for grains and melons fell dramatically and farmers looked to grapes as an alternative source of revenue. Although many varietals prospered, Zinfandel and Tokay flourished in the Lodi environment, with its sandy soils and warm summer days followed by cooling night-time breezes. At the turn of the century, grape growers in Lodi were thriving and some even prospered during prohibition by selling grapes to home wine makers which was still legal) instead of making their own wine. With the rise of the seedless table grape, the farming of Tokay disappeared and more vines were allocated to Zinfandel and other wine-making varietals. In 1986, the stature of the Lodi wine grapes were elevated with the designation of the Lodi Appellation (American Viticulture Area). Winemakers in Lodi could now label their wines: "Lodi" labeled wine. Today close two dozen wineries produce hundreds of "Lodi" labeled wines from thousands of acres of premium wine grapes.
In the early 1920’s Gasparé Indelicato immigrated to California from the small village of Campobello in Italy. He planted the first grapes for Delicato Family Vineyards in 1924, just as his father, grandfather and several generations did before him. Within a few years, winemakers across the country knew of the quality of Gasparé's California grapes. After Prohibition Mr. Indelicato allocated a portion of his grapes to wine production and “in the old hay barn by the vineyard, Gasparé, his brother-in-law, and their twin wives took turns with a hand driven press to produce their first vintage consisting of 3,451 gallons of wine (that's just under 1,500 cases of wine).” Over time, his winemaking reputation grew and “other producers in the budding California wine industry approached Gasparé and his family for custom-made wines. To meet the demand, the family acquired additional vineyard land. Gasparé's three sons, Vincent, Frank and Anthony, joined the family winery as the business grew. Today, Chris and Jay Indelicato, third generation family members and Anthony's sons, are leading the business into the future under the name DFV Wines.”
DFV Wines recognized the excellence of Lodi grown Zinfandel and began forming partnerships with local growers in order to add a Zinfandel to their offerings. DFV hand-selects their grapes from some of the oldest and most respected vineyards in the region. The vines are 35-80 years old and produce fewer grape clusters, but the small berries yield intense, concentrated fruit. The result: a full bodied red wine with plum, pepper and chocolate flavors and a lingering and spicy finish. And why the name, Gnarly Head? According to the DFV, “the old Zinfandel vines were grown as free standing “head trained” vines. They resemble wild bushes with twisted old trunks and branches that spread out in all directions sprouting leaves like unruly umbrellas – truly gnarly heads. “
Thanks to the efforts of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) and the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, wine consumers are beginning to recognize and appreciate Zinfandel wines. And for those for believe that many high-alcoholic cabs are beginning to taste the same, Zinfandel is a great alternative. Today, Gnarly Head Zinfandel is the fastest-growing zinfandel in its price category, wine selling for under $15. But what makes Gnarly Head unique? It is the only Zinfandel wine in this price range that is made from 100% Lodi-appellation Zinfandel grapes. The other big name Zinfandel wines are all California appellation. Even if you can not attend the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, we strongly recommend trying a Lodi produced Zinfandel, and in particular the Gnarly Head. And in the future, look out for a Dry Creek reserve wine called Gnarlier Head.