Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Lucas Winery – A World Class Winery in the Lodi Wine Country

After visiting Sorelle Winery I headed to the north-west side of Lodi to visit The Lucas Winery. It was founded in 1978 by winemakers David Lucas and Heather Pyle-Lucas who create vineyard designated Zinfandels from their historic 80+ year old ZinStar Vineyard as well as an estate Chardonnay. 
David Lucas and Heather Pyle-Lucas both worked for many years at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. While working for Mondavi, David became the vice-president of grape supply and grower relations. Later he became the first winemaker to start a boutique winery in Lodi. In 1978, after serving in the Peace Corps, he made his ‘78 Lucas Zinfandel from a 20-acre vineyard planted in 1933. Meticulously caring for his vineyard he went on to prove that premium wines could be created in Lodi. 
Heather Pyle-Lucas was born in 1960 in Scotland to British and Australian parents. When she was 8 years old her family moved to California. Fourteen years later years later Heather studied at U.C. Davis (MS 1989). In 1985, she went to apply her studies at the Robert Mondavi Winery. There she worked on the winery’s Pinot Noir program (1988-1990) and the winery’s Cabernet and Merlot programs (1990 to 1997). Then she oversaw Mondavi’s Italian varietal production at La Famiglia (1997-2001). In 2001, she left Mondavi to become a consulting winemaker for start-up wineries throughout California. She is the winemaker for Vicarmont Vineyards and Winery, Ilsley Vineyards, CalNaturale and Lucas Winery. She is also the consulting winemaker for St. Jorge Winery and Acquiesce Winery. In addition to consulting and working with her husband at Lucas Winery, Heather also tends her own two-acre vineyard and makes her own wine under the Tangles Vineyard and Winery label. The Tangles “portfolio” consists of a single wine personally attended estate Cabernet Sauvignon which is available at Lucas Winery.
The Lucas Winery estate vineyard is CCOF Organic Certified. Both the ZinStar and another five acres of Lucas’ Zinfandels are on ungrafted rootstock. This is possible in the Mokelumne AVA because sandy soils are less hospitable to phylloxera, they are well suited controlling for vine vigor and, with additional verasion pruning, limit summer bunch rot.
The tasting room is housed inside an antique barn that has been retrofitted to serve as a winery. Adjoined to the rustic barn is a modern barrel room that is naturally kept cool as the entire winery is 100% solar-powered. The servers in the tasting room are very friendly and personable, offering a brief tour of the vineyard and barrel room while you sample their wines.

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2010 Estate Chardonnay. This wine underwent 70% stainless steel fermentation and 30% new French oak. The result is a balanced Chardonnay with aromas of apples, pears, mild stone fruit and just a hint of butter. On the palate it is crisp with medium+ acidity, a light body (medium-) and a lingering medium + length finish. Rarely am I ever impressed with a Chardonnay from the central valley but if I tasted this blind I never would have guessed that it was from Lodi. This wine is reasonably priced at $31.95 a bottle.

The second sample was the 2011 C’T’Z’N Pinot Noir. I’m not sure exactly where the grapes are sourced from but the server stated that they were from the central valley. It is generally known that Pinot Noir is a cool-climate thin skinned grape which is why it does well in cooler regions along the California coast or near rivers or the San Pablo Bay (Carneros). Yet once in a while I’ll find a winery growing it in a hotter region and the result is always the same – a simple, fruity soft wine that lacks the finesse that is found in great Pinots. Sadly, this wine is no different. On the nose I picked up strawberries and cherries, it has low tannins, medium body and medium acidity. On the palate it is fruit forward and fairly simple with a hint of pepper and spice on the finish. This wine sells for $29.95 a bottle but you can buy a similar wine from Clarksburg (such as Bogle) for under $10. The wine isn’t bad, but the price isn’t justified.

The third wine pour was the 2010 C’T’Z’N Zinfandel. The grapes come from 55+ year old vines and on the nose I picked up subtle notes of strawberry preserves, black cherries and dusty black berries. On the palate it is dry with medium body, medium acidity and a medium+ length finish with just a hint of pepper on the return. Unlike many other Zins from this region, this isn’t a fruit bomb or heavy in alcohol and it is well balanced. This wine sells for $26.95 a bottle.

The fourth wine sample was the 2009 Estate ZinStar Zinfandel. The grapes for this wine come from 80+ year old vines and the wine spent 1 year in oak and 2 years in the bottle before release. The aromas of this wine are much more pronounced than the previous Zin but otherwise it is similar in profile. On the palate it is restrained in its fruit profile with medium tannins and acidity and it is well balanced. If you’re looking for an over-the-top fruit bomb, then this wine is not for you. Considered to be Lucas’ flagship wine, it sells for $38.95 a bottle.

The fifth pour was the 2007 Tangles Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 90% Cabernet and 10% Merlot. Tangles Cabernet Sauvignon is a single vineyard wine from an organically farmed vineyard in south east Napa.  The soils are loamy and well drained with volcanic material referred to by geologists as Tufa. This is perfect soil for Cabernet Sauvignon and, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Like Lucas’ estate, the vineyard is certified organic by the California agricultural certifier CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). 

I would have expected that this wine would have been poured after the Chardonnay, but the sixth wine was the 2011 C’T’Z’N Rosé. Although this wine is made from Zinfandel it does fit the typical California “White Zinfandel” plonk profile. This wine exudes aromas of watermelon, cranberries, and fresh strawberries. On the palate it is dry, light bodied, very crisp and refreshing – the perfect warm weather wine. It was 90 degrees that day and I was in the mood so I brought a bottle home for $19.95.
The final sample was the Late harvest Zinfandel which they label “Late Harvest Straw Wine” (Non-Vintage). Most wineries that produce LHZs allow the grapes to hang long on the vine until reach around 32+ Brix and then stop the fermentation when it reaches around 8% residual sugar. This is either done naturally as the increase in alcohol stops the fermentation, they stop it by inoculating or filtering out the yeast, or they create a Zin “port” by fortifying it with Brandy in which the sudden increase in alcohol stops the fermentation. Lucas Winery uses a unique and very “old school” method which is similar to the way in which Amarone is created, but without Boytrytis, which is based on the “passito” method of winemaking. This classic method dries clusters of grapes on mats of straw in the sun. The technique dates back to pre-Roman times, and most production of these wines has been in Italy (Vin Santo) and the French Alps (Vin de Paille). The only drawback for the consumer is the low yields and labor-intensive production usually results in a hefty price tag. On the nose this wine exudes aromas of dried dark fruits (dates, raisins) and maple. On the palate it is sweet and delicious but not cloying with a prolonged finish and yet without the heat or burn of many Port-style wines. This wine has 17.2% Alcohol and sells for $49.95 for a 375 ml. bottle. But a little of this wine goes a long way in flavor!

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

To visit or for more information:

Lucas Winery
18196 Davis Rd
Lodi, CA 95242
Phone: 1-209-368-2006

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