The Northern California wine countries recently experienced some record temperatures for this time of the year. In Napa and Sonoma it was 92 degrees and the Lodi Wine Country hit 106 degrees. It is times like these when summer time favorites like Sauvignon Blanc or a Rosé practically sell themselves. However, wine country travelers need to keep in mind that it can be extremely dangerous to leave wines the car for even the shortest amount of time, so it always advisable to keep a cooler in the trunk.
Fortunately the following weeks received some relief as coastal fog cooled off and the cooling effect of the delta returned the Northern California back to normal. Following the heat wave I traveled out to Lodi to revisit Michael David Winery and do a tour of the historic estate at the Bare Ranch Vineyard.
The name of Michael David Winery is a combination of two brother’s names, Michael and David Phillips. Their family has farmed in the Lodi region since the 1850’s and the 6th generation of grape growers, Kevin and Melissa Phillips, continue to the viticultural heritage. Their ancestor’s agricultural business began by growing citrus, apples, peaches, cherries, and pear trees. The transition to growing vitis vinifera was driven by the demand for grapes for home wine-making during the Prohibition. By the 1970’s the family had extensive vineyards that was foundational to Lodi becoming a viticulutural area. In fact, most wines from this region were simply labeled “California” and the region was mostly known for producing mass production “jug” table wines. But times and the quality of wines in this region have changed as the wineries here now proudly designate their wines with the Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Located about 5.4 miles from the winery and tasting room is Michael-David Winery’s Bare Ranch. In 2007 they purchased this stunningly beautiful property that features a historic Arts and Crafts (Craftsman) home that was built in 1903. The estate was originally named Rancho del Oso Winery (Spanish for “Bear Ranch”) and it was an operating winery until the early 1950’s. It was under the management of Dan Bedford and it had a cooperage capacity of 250,000 gallons. The primary wine produced was Carignan and they also produced Sherry and Port-styled wines. The still, which was four stories high, was capable of making 50 proof gallons for fortifying brandy. Today most of the original buildings remain on the property.
The Bare Ranch estate is surrounded by beautiful gardens, a trickling stream with a waterfall and 180 acres of vineyards. After acquiring the estate, the Phillips Family spent a year and a half renovating the home. They then turned the historic estate into an event center where guests can rent the facility for special events and enjoy Michael-David Winery estate wines.
A tour of the ranch begins with driving over an arching wooden bridge that crosses over a small pond and a beautiful wrought-iron gate. Visitors then drive down a long pine tree lined driveway to the entry of the estate.
As you walk through an archway and head towards the estate, you follow along a winding path on which you pass by a trickling waterfall and stream. The view then opens up to a beautiful botanical garden in front of a Craftsman home, a picturesque sight for having an outdoor wedding or hosting an event. On the other side of the property is an adjoining pool and another garden area with fountains. The historic building is encompassed by an expansive lawn and a low stonewall that allows visitors to view the surrounding grapevines.
Michael David Winery has a team of winemakers that includes Adam Mettler and Derek DeVries along with assistant winemaker/laboratory manager Jeff Farthing.
Adam Mettler is a 5th generation Lodi wine grape grower who studied winemaking at the U.C. Davis and San Joaquin Delta College and has a B.S. degree in Enology with minor in Chemistry from CSU, Fresno (class of 2002). He is also the winemaker for his family’s winery, Mettler Family Vineyards. He then furthered his craft by taking a seasonal position in South Australia and then returned to the USA to join the winemaking team for Fenestra Winery in the Livermore Valley in late 2002. Three years later in 2005 he joined the Michael-David winemaking team.
Derek DeVries comes from a 4th generation farming family and is also a graduate of CSU, Fresno with a major in Enology and a minor in Viticulture (class of 2004). After graduation he began his winemaking career in Lodi at Turner Road Vintners. Then in 2007 he joined the Michael David Winery team as Assistant Winemaker/ Cellar Master, at Michael David.
Jeff Farthing has a B.A. degree in Biology from University of Kansas (class of 1998). He then went on to become the first person to receive an M.S. degree with the combined disciplines of Viticulture and Enology from CSU, Fresno (class of 2004). He also received the Graduate Student Achievement Award from the Viticulture and Enology Department as well as the Andre Tchelistcheff Scholarship Award in 2004. Jeff has been on winemaking teams for Fresno State Winery, Quady Winery in Madera, Stonehouse Vineyards and Winery in Shenandoah Valley as well as Beaulieu Vineyard, Daviana Winery and Rutherford Hill Winery in the Napa Valley.
The Vines and the Wines
All 750 acres of the family’s vineyards are third party certified. Starting with the 2011 vintage 100% of the Lodi grown fruit crushed at Michael David Winery is certified sustainable. Michael-David Vineyards produces eight brands of distinctive wines including 6th Sense Syrah, 7 Deadly Zins, 7 Heavenly Chards, Incognito, Earthquake, Don’s Lodi Red Windmill and Sparkling Duet. One of the most well-known of their wines is the “7 Deadly Zins” which is widely distributed and it is one of the largest selling Zinfandel in the United States, second only to Ravenswood’s Vintner’s Blend.
After touring Bare Ranch I headed to the tasting room and winery on Highway 12 (Kettleman Drive) where I sampled the following wines:
The first pour was the 2012 Incognito White – a blend of 63% Viognier, 21% Chardonnay, 7% Muscat, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Roussanne. This wine is clear pale straw yellow in color. On the nose it has pronounced floral aromas followed by a bouquet of lemonade, mandarin oranges and dried pineapple. On the palate it is crisp with a medium(-) body and a lingering citrus finish. It is a pleasing white wine that might pare well with lighter chicken dishes. The wine sells for $18 a bottle.
The second wine was the 2011 Ancient Vine Cinsault. The grapes come from Lodi’s oldest producing vineyard planted in 1885 by Joseph Spenker. It is head trained and dry farmed by Kevin Phillips and the vineyard team. This wine is light ruby red in color to pink at the rim. On the nose it has explosive aromas of pomegranates, cranberries, watermelon and cherry jubilee. On the palate it is medium bodied, with crisp acidity and a hint of herbs and anise on the finish. The general profile of this wine is not typical for this varietal as it is almost rosé-like and could undoubtedly be enjoyed slightly chilled. The wine sells for $25 a bottle.
The Earthquake series which includes a Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a Cabernet Sauvignon is Michael David’s upper tier of wines. They tend to be heavier and more intense with higher alcohol levels. Yet they remain under $30 per bottle. I have tasted previous vintages of these wines and with the exception of the Cabernet I have found some vintages to be out of balance as they have too much heat on the finish. However, the 2011 vintage was a cooler year and so where the California Coast, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and other regions struggled to get their grapes ripe, the central valley was getting Napa’s weather. The result is that Lodi may be able to have lower alcohol levels and maintain control for their 2011 vintage wines.
The third sample was the 2011 Earthquake Zinfandel. This is the first wine I have had of this vintage of any red wine from Lodi. I have experienced a few barrel tastings of 2011 Napa Valley Cabs and they all seemed too green as if the grapes failed to achieve optimum ripeness. So, if this wine is a good representation the Lodi 2011 vintage then this will be the place to go. 2011 Earthquake Zin is dark ruby at the core with intense aromas of jammy raspberries, plums, black currants, dark cherries and vanilla. On the palate it has aggressive tannins, it is full bodied with medium acidity, it delivers a velvety texture on the mid palate and ends medium+ length finish. The alcohol on this wine is 15.5% and yet it is well balanced with no heat on the finish which was a pleasant surprise! I think it would be best served with barbequed meats that have spicy rubs, meaty pizzas or served as a cocktail. This wine sells for $26 a bottle so I brought one home.
The fourth wine was 2010 Inkblot Petit Verdot . This wine is dark black at the core to dark ruby red at the rim and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it exudes intense boysenberries, cassis, dark cherries, milk chocolate and vanilla. On the palate it is silky smooth on entry and yet the tannins have a lot of grip on the back end. It is full bodied with medium+ weight, medium acidity and a medium length finish. The alcohol on this wine is 15.5% and yet it is well balanced. This wine sells for $35 a bottle.
The fifth pour was 2010 “Lust” Zinfandel. This wine is dark purple at the core to violet at the rim. On the nose it has aromas of concentrated dried dark fruits, raisins, and black licorice. On entry it is seemingly semi-sweet, very soft with silky tannins and a full bodied mouth-feel and a prolonged finish. It is a luscious wine that is almost dessert-like that is sure to satisfy hedonistic oenophiles with the “Lust” they are looking for in a wine. The alcohol on this wine is 16.9% and yet it has no heat. While many people who are looking for something over-the-top will enjoy this wine I preferred the Earthquake Zinfandel. This wine also comes with an insane price tag at $59 a bottle.
The final pour was… not available!
The only Cabernet Sauvignon from the Lodi region I have ever really liked has been Michael David Winery’s Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. But the only time I have had it when I purchased a bottle from a wine shop. Several years ago, when I was working at Borra Vineyards nearby, I stopped the tasting room to sample the wines. But they were not pouring the Cabernet Sauvignon. So, when revisiting the tasting room I was disappointed that they were again sold out of and not pouring the most recent vintage. I called a couple shops in the area to see if they had any in stock but to no avail. However, when I got back to the Bay Area I stopped at a local wine shop and they had in stock 3 bottles of the 2010 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. I asked a salesperson if they had any more and he said, “We get a limited allotment so that is all we have.” So, without tasting it I bought all three bottles. I then looked on-line and many other places that have it listed are sold out as well.
The following day I opened a bottle to have with my dinner.
The final wine, which I tasted at home, was the 2010 Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Michael David Winery’s website it has “a bit of Petite Sirah blended in.” This wine is deep, dark black at the core to purple at the rim and it stains the glass when swirled. On the nose it has intense concentrated aromas of cassis, dried plums, blackberry pie and vanilla. On the palate it is fruit forward on entry, full bodied with medium+ weight, silky medium intensity tannins and mouth-watering acidity. The weight of this wine (which is probably due to it having 15.5% alcohol) and dried dark fruit notes clearly identify it as coming from a hotter region than the Napa Valley. But other than that I have had many Napa Valley Cabs that sold for $40+ that were similar. When this wine was available it sold for $26 a bottle, which is the same priced I paid at a local wine shop.
To see additional pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:
To visit or for more information:
Michael David Winery
4580 West Highway 12
Lodi, CA 95242
Phone: 1-209-368-7384 / Toll Free: 1-888-707-WINE
 Why it is named “Bare Ranch” and not “Bear Ranch” is a mystery.
 Lodi News Sentinel, September 18, 1936: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=19360918&id=3fIzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7-4HAAAAIBAJ&pg=5183,1464156