Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I Enjoyed the 2016 Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference

A couple weeks ago I attended the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference sponsored by the Lodi Wine Grape Commission. There's always some crumbling about the sessions, and personally I would have preferred more Lodi specific content. But in total I believe #WBC16 was a great success. Here's why.

The Bargain Attendee Fee
Where else can you eat and drink for three plus days for only $95? I often feel unworthy of

Tasting through New Zealand's Yealands Family Wine in the Conference Hallway
An extended lunch caused many of us to miss the A Bold New Look at Sustainability session sponsored by Yealands Family Wines and hosted by chief winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington. Fortunately I met the Palm Bay Int'l reps walking out and they generously donated six Yealands' wines for us to sample. After a scramble for glasses, a pop-up tasting ensued. The wines consisted of a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, and the rest Sauvignon Blanc; the S1 Single Block Yealands Marlborough Estate Sauvignon Blanc being the consensus favorite.

The Lodi Opening Reception at Mohr Fry Ranch
This was the first introduction to Lodi wines for most of us and it reinforced rumors that Lodi was just not all old vine Zinfandel. Yes, there were several nice examples of this signature wine, but I also sampled Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault, Mettler Family Vineyards Pinotage, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc.  We also had our first opportunity to taste the Scotto Cellars Masthead: A Lodi Wine Blended by Wine Bloggers. The 100% Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese was very smooth. Well done.

The Scotto Cellars Masthead Party
The conference's first after party was sponsored by Scotto Cellars in their new downtown Lodi tasting room. They also invited Peltier Winery & Vineyards and Klinker Brick Winery to pour alongside Scotto's wine and Cider Brothers cider. In fact, this was my sole opportunity to drink cider the entire trip and their William Tell Dry Hard Cider with Pinot Grigio was a hit. The party also felt like a family reunion as more friends strolled in. 

Lodi Teroldego
At the Masthead party I learned that Lodi vineyards grow Teroldego, the Northern Italian grape from Trentino. Hard to believe. Yet I sampled at least three versions: the Peltier Winery Reserve Teroldego 2010, the Estate Crush Teroldego, and the LangeTwins Single Barrel Teroldego 2012. All were structured, acidic, and tannic - ready to lay down for a few years.  My next homework assignment is to research why Lodi is a good location for this grape.

Peltier Winery Visit
After meeting owner Rod Schatz and Director of Marketing & Design Ian Bender at the Masthead party, I accepted their semi-invite/semi-I invited myself to their winery. SanCrittenden and I skipped out of the Saturday morning sessions and Ian met us and provided the complete VP treatment. There was a winery tour (with tank sampling from newly hired winemaker Susana Rodrigeuz Vasquez), a crush pad tour (with Pinot Gris being crushed), a vineyard tour, and a tasting through their Peltier and Reserve portfolio. I had previously tasted their wines through their legacy Peltier Station labels, but the depth and strength of their portfolio is impressive. (See post here.)

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaut (Cinsault)
Over the weekend I sampled several excellent Cinsaut - Estate CrushTurley Wine Cellars, McCay Cellars, Michael David Winery -  all sourced from the historic Bechthold Vineyard. First planted in 1886, it is considered the oldest Cinsaut vineyard in the world - older than those in France where it is the fourth most widely planted grape variety. Before DNA analysis confirmed the grapes as Cinsaut, Al Bechthold was selling his crop for as low as $250 a ton. Now the highly desired grapes fetch ten times that amunt; all thanks to Joseph Spenker, the great-grandfather of Bechthold 's wife Wanda. In general, the Lodi Cinsaut wines were lively and intense with smooth and slightly tannic tails. Cinsaut Me with these wines that averaged only $25.

The Craft Spirits Lounge
The Wizard of Whiskey Justin Koury must have spent months acquiring the plethora of spirits he displayed at the #WBC16 #CraftSpirits Lounge. I never bothered to count, but there had to be at least four to five dozen? Besides drinking old favorites like the Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon, there were several highlights like the Few Spirits Rye Whiskey and the Bozeman Spirits Distillery 1889 Montana Whiskey. The lounge was also simply a quiet place to hand out - playing cards or catching up. At least quiet until the Pinata bashing....  Thanks Justin and all the sponsors.

The Friday Night Excursion with 99 Bottles
The vineyard excursion is usually one of the highlights of the conference and this year's equaled the fabulous Bien Nacido Vineyards excursion during the Santa Barbara conference. Our small group was taken to Estate Crush, a custom crush facility with over 80 clients and 120+ brands. Proprietors Bob and Ali Colarossi greeted us with glasses of 2015 Estate Crush Albarino and revealed our assignment. We were to create the final blend for their 2014 Colarossi Estate Old Vine Zinfandel that would be bottled and given as a parting gift to all the WBC16 wine bloggers. Divided into four groups, we all started with 95% Zinfandel and two additional grapes that would comprise the final 5%.  My partner Eveann of Vino Con Vista Italy and I were given Sangiovese and a Cabernet based Red Blend which we turned into a final blend of 97% Zin and 3% Red Blend.  During the blind tasting our blend received only one vote, ironically from me - talking about having a cellar palate. The wining wine was blended by Rachel of rachelvonwine and Heather of 10K Bottles - a blend of 97% Zin, 2% Syrah and 1% Petit Verdot.  After our blending session we proceeded to the Colaross's home where we were fed abundant amounts of Paella de Wetmore, thanks John, and of course wine - even going back to a three or four year vertical of their estate Old Vine Zinfandel. I didn't return back to the hotel until 11:30 - well past the 8:00 pm scheduled departure - and I hear the party didn't wrap up until 1:30. Thank you so much Bob and Ali.

Livermore Valley Wine Country Excurion
I always try to commit to a WBC pre-excursion and chose the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association sponsored tour. This was a fantastic outing, lavishly planned and executed. We had dinner at historic Concannon Vineyard hosted by John Concannon and Karl Wente, the 5th generation winemaker at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery. Both Concannon and Wente have been producing wine continuously since 1883 and we tasted the grapes straight off Concannon’s Cabernet Sauvignon “mother vine,” parent of 80% of Cab vines planted in California.  Similarly Wente's Chardonnay clones are responsible for about 86% of Chardonnay vines planted in California. We also enjoyed breakfast and wine at the Wente family Murrieta’s Well as well as a series of interactive wine sessions at the Wente Winemaker Studio. Finally there were numerous tastings of other producers such as Steven Kent Winery, 3 Steves WineryMcGrail Vineyards & Winery, Las Positas Vineyards, and our new favorite winemaker Collin Cranor. More to follow on this subject.

Generosity of the Lodi Wine Grape Commission and the Participating Wineries
We will never know that total amount of effort put forth by volunteers busing tables, attending meetings, laying cable that enabled the conference to succeed. Neither will we know the total amount of Lodi wine poured on our behalf.  But I completely appreciate the time and money that the Lodi sponsors undertook to make this conference happen. For instance, the converted high school now used for conventions did not have WiFi before our conference. The Lodi Wine Grape Commission through different philanthropic groups raised $60,000 in order to install the much need WiFi. And just days before the conference technicians were tweaking the routers for each individual meeting room.

Then there's the wines and dinners. The Colarossio's of Estate Crush poured our small party an unbelievable amount of wine including the vertical of their excellent estate old vine zinfandel. There's the wines poured during the opening reception,  Scotto Cellars and their Masthead party, and the various lunches, dinners, excursions, etc. And during the conference dinner, Michael McCay uncorked a rare double magnum of McCay Cellars Contenium Zinfandel on top of his generous assortment of other wines. So thank you very much to all the volunteers and participating wineries. Cheers to a fantastic conference. 

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