As part of my journey to discover Lodi wine at the 2016 Wine Blogger Conference, I was very fortunate to be hosted by St. Jorge Vineyards. St. Jorge is a breathtaking vineyard and estate in Lodi’s Mekolumne River AVA, which whisk you away to the Mediterranean beauty of Portugal. Vern and Jenise Vierra have been making Portuguese wine in the heart of California wine country since 2006. Upon arrival, fellow wine bloggers and I were handed glasses of crisp Verdelho, the perfect wine to sip on a hot day in Lodi (cover photo).
I had never had Verdelho before (sad to admit). Verdelho is a white grape that grows in the northern part of the island of Madera, Portugal, known for aromatic characteristics and high acidity. It is the ideal accompaniment to seafood dishes like, Bacalhau, a salt cod dish of stewed red ripe tomatoes, capers and olive oil, the centerpiece of our sunset dinner. Lodi is first an agricultural community, and so food and wine pairings are a natural way to present the wine. Not only does Vern grow Verdelho in California (one of a small number of wineries growing it in the United States), but Vern also makes three different versions. He couldn’t help himself as a perfectionists in both the vineyard and the cellar.
Version 1: 2011 Verdelho Seco, Silvaspoons Vineyard – Vern started to make this version through experimentation with his wine, like most winemakers like to do, to push himself beyond the usual. Tank fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, this version has aromas and flavors of pineapple, lime leaf, and green apple. It has a distinct balance of acid not found in most California white wines; made with a more a delicate winemaking technique, the pure fruit characteristics show through, including a beautiful musty aroma, like you might find in the finest Chenin Blanc from France. it grows in loose clusters, which allow for uniform ripening and mitigates any potential for rot. My favorite of the three wines we tasted (two strings, $18).
Version 2: 2014 Verdelho Vierra Estate – One of their most popular wines, it is golden yellow in color, with robust flavors of yellow peach, mango, candied pineapple, and medium plus acid that goes very well with Portuguese cheese as well as aged gouda. Delicious. It is also fermented in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation. Vern stops the fermentation process so there a natural residual sugar. It leaves a rounded texture and richness to the wine (two strings, $18).
Version 3: 2011 Maria, Silvaspoons Vineyard. As we got to know Vern and his wife Jenise over the course of the evening, I discover Vern’s dedicated passion to no only bringing his heritage to Lodi, but to incorporate Lodi’s distinct geography and rustic culture into his wine. In doing so, he pushed the envelope a few times, and was met with local enthusiasm. Notably, he decided to make a fortified wine, Madeira. Before I took WSET 3, Madeira was only something I had read about in historic novels taking place on the high seas, and that no one actually drank and enjoyed Madeira. Especially in the California, where Cabernet and Chardonnay rein. But here it was – authentically made Madeira in Lodi. Vern not only aged it in barrels for three years in the heat of Lodi (which can reach high temperatures of 100 during the day, and then dip into the 50s at night) but he meticulously checked on it, everyday thinking…is today the day it’s reached perfection? I imagine that was a pretty intense time waiting for it to mature. His patience paid off. The wine, golden in color, retained it’s beautiful acidity, but developed a rich nutty flavor of almond, marzipan, and orange marmalade. It was a deliciously rich taste that I felt very privileged to enjoy (three strings).
Visitors to St. Jorge will not only be greeted by beautiful scenery and family-style hospitality, but will have the ability to taste one-of a kind varietals not found outside of Portugal.