Lodi, located about an hour and a half east of Napa and 40 minutes south of Sacramento, is viticultural mélange of wine makers pushing boundaries and charting a territory which has remained quiet in comparison to its louder neighbors in Napa and Sonoma counties until recently.
One winery in particular is championing the spirit of experimentation and offering wines remaining true to the varietal with some unique grapes one might not expect from a California winery. Oak Farm Vineyards, operates over 70 acres of vines and produces 14 different varieties of grapes. What I find most interesting about the winery is its use of grapes normally found in Spain and Italy. It is the precise location of the winery (along the 38 degree north latitude marker), that mirrors this up and coming wine region with those from well-established old world territories.
In 1860, the property came into ownership by William Devries who used the land to cultivate grain and raise cattle with his wife, Cornelia Crowe. Sixteen years later, Devries built a beautiful colonial style home on the property that you can still see nods to its heritage to this day. In 1936, the Panella family arrived in the area and several generations purchased the property in 2004. In 2012, the ground was replanted with grape vines and wine production could begin lead by owner and director of wine making, Dan Panella and his family in what Panella describes as a “family affair.”
Panella is joined by head wine maker Sierra Zeiter, a Lodi native, who started at Oak Farm in 2017. After studying at Cal Poly and spending time abroad in New Zealand working harvests, Zeiter, 24, returned to her hometown where she continues to put Lodi on the map for delicious and unique wines.
A few weeks ago, I tasted these wines with Sierra and Dan, albeit over Zoom. We tasted a handful of delicious expressions of Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, a Grenache Rosé, and a Barbera.
The 2019 Oak Farm Sauvignon Blanc (retail $20), was a refreshing break from the grassy Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and offered a delightfully acidic wine with flavors of lemon, lime, and tropical fruits of mango, melon, and pineapple for a perfectly balanced sip. With this wine there’s a hint of pyrazines, but subtle enough as to not overpower the fruity qualities.
Zeiter says the perfect duality comes from the two pickings done within the vineyards which allows the winemakers to maintain balance and avoid grapes becoming over ripened in the warm California climate. The grapes are picked between 4-5 a.m. while the grapes are still cold from the night. They are then crushed and cold fermented to maintain vibrant citrus and acidity in the wine.
Next we sampled the 2018 Oak Farm Albariño (retail $24), a grape most commonly known throughout the Rías Baixas wine making region in Spain. These wines are perfect for when you want more body and substance than a Sauvignon Blanc, but without the oaky qualities of a Chardonnay. The stainless steel fermentation used in this wine’s production allows for fresh, crisp flavors, of green apple, tropical fruit, and minerality to deliver a refreshing and complex wine. Zeiter recommends pairing with a summer salad with radish, octopus, and a lemony balsamic vinaigrette. If you find yourself with a bottle of this wine, other options might include grilled white fish complete with roasted summer vegetables, or even a citrusy summer ceviche.
As the warmer temperatures begin to approach, Rosé, of course, has to be nearby. The 2018 Oak Farm Rosé (retail $24) will be the perfect addition for any patio gathering. This Grenache (think Northern Rhone) offers an elegant pink hue achieved from grapes spending between 8 to 10 hours in the press. On the palate, flavors of strawberries, grapefruit, and melon come together with subtle floral qualities with each sip. During wine making Zeiter and Panella employ the use of malolactic fermentation which decreases harsh malic acids and replaces them with lactic acids imparting a buttery and elegant mouthfeel in the wine. To pair, Zeiter recommends a spread of cured meats like prosciutto, accompanied by fresh summer melon. You could also try to pair with barbecue (a favorite in our household) which beautifully accentuates the sticky sweet sauces and offers a refreshing finish on hot summer days.
To finish off our tasting with Oak Farm, we tasted the 2017 Oak Farm Barbera (retail $25), hailing from two different vineyard sites, 10% Petite Sirah is used in the production of this wine which account for its rich purple hues beautifully dancing in your glass and intensity in flavors. It delivers strong flavors of dark cherry, cola, pomegranate and spice that are complex yet elegant. Rich and robust, and at 15% alcohol, this wine delivers a strong and bold expression in line with its old world heritage. Spending 20 months aging in new oak, winemakers Panella and Zeiter use a combination of French, American, and Russian oak as part of their process and experiment each harvest to find the perfect combination showcasing the best the grape has to offer. Highly acidic, this wine is perfect for rich foods like pork belly with fruit reduction, or a parmesan and wild mushroom risotto, which accentuates the fruity qualities in the wine and highlights and complements its earthier qualities.
As a wine enthusiast, I’m always looking for something new, different, and unexpected. The team at Oak Farm Vineyards not only takes the spirit of experimentation to new meaning, but is ought to be commended for delivering wines that push the envelope of what California wine making is known for. While Pinot Noir and Cabernet will always have a dear place in my heart, I wouldn’t be surprised if you start hearing the names Barbera, Albariño, and Oak Farm a lot more in the years to come.
Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.
Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or email@example.com.
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