A taste of history:
Jessie's Grove Carignane
This month's picks from the Lodi Wine and Visitor Centerby Randy Caparoso
When you stroll through the Royal Tee Vineyard belonging to Lodi's Jessie's Grove Winery, you literally brush up against history: this 5-acre vineyard was originally planted by Joseph Spenker in 1889. Today, these majestic vines-twisting, whirling arms rising from tree-like trunks-produce red wines that are emblematic of the recent growth of Lodi as a region known for ultra-premium, old-vine wines.
Spenker's great great grandson, Greg Burns, is Royal Tee's current gatekeeper and winemaker/proprietor. Walking us through the vineyard this past November with the grape leaves turned to deep reds and golds, Burns shared some of the family history.
"Although there was a good market for wine grapes 121 years ago, we never produced wine of our own until Jessie's Grove was bonded in 1999. The winery was named after my great grandmother, Jessie Spenker, who really was the one who kept the ranch going after Joseph Spenker's passing at the beginning of the last century," says Burns.
"Up until the mid-nineties, our grapes were sold almost exclusively to E&J Gallo. Before I took over in 1996, the vineyard was farmed by my great uncle, Joe Beckman. For many years, Julio Gallo used to fly into Lodi in his helicopter to make his yearly rounds, and then he'd come over to our little shack, which is still on the property, sit down, and play cards with great uncle Joe. After a couple hours talking about everything but, they'd finally get around to hammering out an agreement on the sale of grapes. Of course, in those days, all the contracts were strictly by handshake."
The change came in the mid-nineties, when Larry Turley-the owner of Turley Wine Cellars (if not California's most prestigious Zinfandel producer, certainly the most cult-like)-came knocking. According to Burns, "During the harvest, they drove the tractors pulling the macro-bins themselves, and there were some fantastic Turley Zins made from our grapes in '96, '97 and '98."
"Naturally, that motivated us to start our own winery. Of the original vines planted by my great great grandfather, 42 acres were struggling, so in 1996, we made the heartbreaking decision to pull most of them out and replant; keeping the healthier ancient vines, with the deeper root systems in loamier soil-and that's the Royal Tee Vineyard." The good news: The new Zinfandel plantings now produce incredible wines of their own; including arguably the finest $12 Zinfandel made today, the Jessie's Grove Earth, Zin & Fire. Burns says, "The vineyard is interplanted with several grapes-only about four of the five acres is actually Zinfandel. The Carignane adds up to about three-quarters of an acre, and the rest is a mix of Black Prince, Mission, and the classic, old, pink table grape, Tokay."
"I believe Carignane vines really need to be at least 100 years to truly express the grape. Even so, not every year. Maybe we're picky, because we know what a phenomenal wine it can be, from great vintages like '02 and '04. We didn't make an Ancient Vine Carignane in '07 or '08. The past vintage (2010) was a great one for all of Lodi; but in the fermentor our 2010 Carignane did not quite hit us with the aromatic power and structural intensity we look for, and so we decided to blend it into our Westwind Zinfandel. But here's some inside information: the 2010 Jessie's Grove Westwind is going to be intense!"
The newest of Incognito vintages have seen subtle changes on the outside, but what's most impressive is corked up inside the newly screened bottles. The winemaking team at Michael-David has worked up two intriguing blends, one red and one white. Both wines are blends of multiple complimentary varietals, each showing the complexity and balance that come from experienced blending in the cellar.
Soft and very approachable, this blend is laced with fresh picked blackberry, eucalyptus, and exotic spice. Well balanced with sweet polished tannins this wine will tantalize with its full fruit and integrated flavors.
4580 W Highway 12
Lodi, (209) 368-7384