August 3: Day 2
Today started with brunch at Fox and Goose, an English style pub that serves killer breakfasts. The additional bonus for me? They have an awesome vegetarian selection including the Vegan Pub Grill made with a tofu scramble. It was delish.
After brunch we headed to Lodi, an appellation just south of Sacramento whose Mediterranean climate yields some distinct California wines. This area, home to just 8 wineries a decade ago now boasts 80. We had only one winery, however, on today’s agenda: Michael David.
As we were a bit early, we spent a couple hours in downtown Lodi, which is sort of like a smaller scale Stillwater. We found a neat cheese shop, Cheese Central, which yielded a nice selection of cheeses and a fresh baguette for later.
Then, after milling around and playing with gadgets in fun kitchen store, we ended up at the Lodi Beer Company for a quick local brew. Brewmaster Peter York was on duty and the beer was great.
At 3:00, we made our way to Michael David Winery. The winery was created by the Phillips family 25 years ago after more than a century of farming in the Lodi region. At that point, the vineyard and winery were small as the bigger focus (as in 90% focus) was on the many fruits and vegetables they grew and sold in farmers markets and stands around the area.
And this is what I’m always reminded of when I travel for wine: no matter what mystique or glamour surrounds wine, the reality is that for the most part, wine is about farming. David (half of Michael David) Phillips was kind enough to spend the afternoon with us, and I loved hearing his stories of working the fruit and vegetable stands growing up and then later driving to San Francisco to sell his heirloom tomatoes to restaurants. Because good wine comes from good grapes. And good grapes come from good farming.
Over the past fifteen years, the Phillips farm has undergone a transformation in what they farm. The predominant part of their land is now vineyard with a small part reserved for their traditional farming. The winery, originally named Phillips after the family name and farm, changed to Michael David (the names of the two Phillips brothers) after concerns from Phillips Spirits over name infringement. While, David told us, they were concerned that changing the name would be devastating to their brand, it didn't. I'm not surprised: wine history has shown that solid grapes and wine techniques can carry one through lots of adversity.
Now known for such labels as 7 Deadly Zins, Earthquake, and Petite Petit, this winery creates big, bold, in-your-face New World wines using both New and Old World grapes. And now they also source grapes from other growers—requiring sustainable farming practices to match their own. And, unlike many other wineries who buy from multiple growers, Michael David keeps each growers’ grapes separate in tank and through fermentation. They get to know and understand each growers’ grapes and how they convert to wine, then—I love this—they invite the growers for a special night where they can taste the wine from each of their plots. Each grower gets bottles of the vino that their particular grapes created, and the experts at Michael David help them understand what their grapes taste like. This may not seem like a big deal, but for growers who only source out their grapes it can be difficult to understand final product. Their grapes are often tossed with other growers’ grapes and are never heard from in their purest form again. This is cooperative growing and vinting at its best.
Michael David wines are not wines for the faint of heart. You’re talking big wines. As in 16% alcohol wines. As in stain your teeth wines. As in yuuuummmmm wines. Although Michael David works with multiple varietals (including a killer Syrah), especially fun today was trying three of their “sin series” Zinfandel wines side by side. These wines were created to really showcase geography and the ways in which different regions can create different flavors. Lust, their Lodi Zin, is all raspberries and caramel with pumpkin bread notes. Gluttony, their Amador Zin, is about brambly blackberries and vanilla. And Sloth, their Mendocino Zin, is all chocolate-covered cherries with spicy cinnamon, clove, and white pepper. I loved finding out that one of the next to come out, Greed, is based on Napa Zin. You gotta love a winery with a great sense of humor.
Beyond the tasting room, there is a bakery and café, a fruit stand (where you can get fresh produce from the remaining Phillips farm land), and gorgeous grounds. We also got to visit the “lab,” where they were experimenting with different tannin and sugar levels as well as trying wine from cask to make sure they were still stable and developing as hoped. Now THAT’S a lab I wouldn’t mind working in.
As our time at Michael David came to a close, we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to David. So we had dinner together at a great Mexican restaurant, Alebrijes, where the table side guacamole, roasted tomato salsa, and wonderful entrees brought us to our knees.
Tomorrow ... Napa!