Tuesday, April 23, 2013

St. Jorge Winery – A Portugese Winery in the Lodi Wine Country

This past weekend I decided to make another trek out to the central valley to take more pictures of some twisted gnarly old vines. With clear skies and summer-like weather in the forecast (90° f) I knew it would be an absolutely beautiful weekend.   

The Napa Valley and the Sonoma County are primarily known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (mostly from the Carneros sub-AVA). While there are wineries that produce these varietals in the central valley and they tend to sell at more reasonable prices, when venturing out to Lodi I prefer to experience what this warm-climate terroir does best – Zinfandel, Rhone varietals and increasingly Portuguese varietals. While these wines may not be as well-known as Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay (which are the top 3 sellers on the market) Lodi does have the perfect climate and soils for producing high-quality Portuguese wines.

 With that in mind, my first stop was at St. Jorge Winery which is located in Acampo on the north side of the Lodi Wine Country. The winery was founded by Vern Vierra and Jenise Vierra whose Portuguese family has been making wine for hundreds of years. His family tree is rooted on the Azores Island of St. Jorge where his grandfather farmed and produced wine. 

 The St. Jorge Winery follows the Portuguese tradition of producing wines that are full fruit flavor using the traditional Portugese grapes such as Verdelho, Tinta Roriz (a.k.a Tempranillo), Souzão, Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira (a.k.a. Tinta Amarela). They also produce an Old Vine Zinfandel and Alicante Bouschet. The grapes are selectively picked by hand and brought into the winery early in the cool of the morning. The red wine grapes are not crushed and de-stemmed only. After clean sorting is finished the grapes undergo a three day cold soak prior fermentation in order to acquire optimal extraction of flavor from the skins. The wine is then is racked into French oak barrels for about 18 months before bottling. The result of this winemaking technique is intense, concentrated and flavorful wines.

The winery sits on a 14.47 acre etsate and the architecture resembles a Tuscan villa. In the front plaza between the tasting room and winemaking facility is a large water fountain and an patio lounge where visitors can enjoy the sunshine while sampling the wines. Behind the winery adjacent to the vineyards is an amphitheater and a commercial kitchen. The interior of the tasting room remains naturally cool and it is beautifully decorated with a baby grand piano and art work painted by Vern and Jenise’s daughter. In fact, on the label of every bottle is a replica of her painting of St. Jorge slaying the dragon.

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2011 Verdelho Seco. This is a clear, dry white wine with aromas of honeysuckle, melon, citrus and lemon custard. On the palate it is medium bodied, crisp with medium (+) acidity and it has a prolonged tangy finish. One of the benefits of this varietal is that it can be served fairly cold without losing any of its aromatic character, unlike Chardonnay which tends to become muted when served too cold.  This makes Verdelho  the perfect summer wine to be enjoyed on hot days. I really enjoyed this wine and brought three bottles home. It sells for $18 a bottle.

The second sample was the 2011 Verdelho. This wine is made in the same fashion as the previous wine except it has 1.2% residual sugar giving it a touch of sweetness and a softer edge. While I preferred the Seco Vern stated that the average consumer preferred this off-dry wine. The aromas of this wine are similar to the Seco except that it has more lemon/lime notes, it isn’t as crisp and the finish isn’t as long. This wine also sells for $18 a bottle.

The third pour and first red wine was the 2010 Tempranillo (a.k.a Tinta Roriz Tempranillo). The Tempranillo grape is known by several other names throughout Spain (Albillo Negro, Aldepenas, Aragones and Valdepenas just to name a few) and in Portugal it is known by a particular clone named Tinta Roriz. But, in the United States wherever it is grown it usually labeled Tempranillo which is why Vern has given it this designation. The nose on this wine has explosive aromas of fresh blueberries, berry pie and cocoa and subtle earthy undertones. On the palate it has intense flavors, silky tannins with medium body and medium length finish. This wine definitely has the delicious factor going on and I brought a bottle home for $28.

The fourth wine was the 2010 Alicante Bouschet – Estate. I had recently tasted a similar Alicante Bouschet at Harmony Wynelands. This wine is clear, deep and bright ruby red and on the nose it has intense and concentrated aromas of blackberries with subtle notes of damp earth, tar, and black licorice. On the palate it has additional subtle notes of dried black fruits (plums, dates, raisins) with tight refined tannins. It is medium bodied with medium acidity and a medium length finish. I purchased a bottle of Alicante Bouschet when I visited Harmony Wynelands but more as a novelty than as a wine I would want to enjoy with friends. I do not think there are many who would enjoy it as I do. So, to be perfectly honest, after tasting this one I am convinced that Alicante Bouschet is better off used as a blending grape to add color to blended wines than as a stand-alone wine (example: Borra Vineyards uses small amounts in their 2010 Red Fusion wine). This wine sells for $28 a bottle.

The fifth wine was the 2009 Souzão - Silverspoon Vineyards. This wine is inky black and on the nose it has aromas of intense black fruits and rich chocolate covered cherries. On the palate it is fruit forward with silky tannins, it is round with a full mouth feel, ample acidity and a medium (+) length finish. It is a delicious wine that sells for $28 a bottle and I brought two of them home.

The sixth pour was the 2010 Trincadeira - Silverspoon Vineyards. This grape is also known as Tinta Amarela and I had never even heard of this grape, let alone tasted it.  In Portugal it is used in Port wine production. The grape is noted for its dark coloring and in the Douro region has been increasingly used in recent years. The vine is susceptible to rot and performs better in dry, hot climates like the Lodi AVA. This wine is lighter in color and less intense in aromas and flavors than the previous wine so I probably should have sampled it earlier. It has mild aromas of blackberries, black tea and hints of herbs. On the palate it has additional notes of cherries and tart raspberries. It has a medium body, medium acidity and soft tannins and a medium length finish. It is an interesting wine but having never tasted it before I don’t have any basis for comparison for quality. This wine sells for $23 a bottle.

The seventh sample of wine was the 2009 Vinho Tinto Belo – a blend of 1/3 Touriga Nacional, 1/3 Souzão, and 1/3 Tinta Roriz. This wine is dark ruby red with subtle aromas of dark fruits. It is dry, medium bodied, with medium tannins and ample acidity  and a medium (+) length finish. Although it is a blend of some of the previously tasted grapes, it is less intense and concentrated in flavor. This wine sells for $28 a bottle.

The eight pour was the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine is dark and inky with aromas of blackberries, dark cherries and cocoa, On the palate it is jammy with silky medium tannins, ripe black fruits and slightly sweet on entry, medium body and a tough of oak on a medium length finish. Almost every winery in the Lodi Wine Country produces a Zinfandel so the competition is fairly tight. This wine sells for $25 a bottle.

The final wine was the 2010 Vinho Tinta Doce Port. This wine is made from Touriga National, Touriga Francesa, Tinto Cao, Tinta Roriz and Alvarelhao. This wine has aromas of fresh black fruits, sweet raisins, and dark chocolate. On the palate it is definitely sweet with good viscosity, not syrupy, full bodied and with a little heat on the finish. This wine is extremely young and it is St. Jorge’s first fortified Port styled wine. I suspect that this wine will greatly improve with age over the next 5-10 years. This wine sells for $48 a bottle (750 ml.) and only 72 cases were produced.

To see more pictures of the St. Jorge Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

St. Jorge Winery

22769 N. Bender Rd.

Acampo, CA 95220

Phone: 1-209-365-0202

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