The Lizzie James Vineyard in Mokelumne River, Lodi
In 1904, what was then known as the grape Black Prince (now more commonly called Cinsault) was planted on an uneven site full of fine sand in the Mokelumne River area of Lodi. Eventually the vines were grafted over to Zinfandel. The vineyard named Lizzie James.
This weekend we were able to visit the Lizzie James harvest as the sun came up. Here are pictures of the pick, and more on the history of the vineyard, and its fruit.
The George Mettler family was able to preserve Lizzie James vineyard through purchase, after discovering it was set to be pulled to make way for a new neighborhood development. It is now made into a vineyard designate Zinfandel for their Harney Lane Winery. Kyle and Jorja Lerner manage the vineyards and winery, named for the area Jorja’s family has lived for five generations.
Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA is known for generating distinct style differences between fruit grown on the West versus the Eastern sides of the appellation. The Lizzie James Vineyard sits on the Eastern side, and offers classic Eastside character with clean red fruit focus and just a touch of dusty spice with faint Eucalyptus accents.
Head trained vines of this sort, also offer fruit at various levels of doppled sun exposure and height. The result is variation in fruit character and flavor intensity, but also a lot of up-down hand harvesting at differing heights, which means more work for the vineyard crew.
Over the decades individual vines in the site have been replaced, though the vineyard still predominately features the original age vines. As a result, vine age differences give further complexity to the vineyard.
As older vines are thoroughly adapted to the unique growing conditions of their site, they offer important access to the true potential of a region’s wine quality. Preserving older vines helps to showcase the heritage and character of Mokelumne River fruit, and give insight into the terroir of California in a way younger vines are not yet able.
As part of the Mettler family, Jorja Lerner celebrates 5 generations of grape growers in Lodi. They farm 250 acres of head trained Zinfandel in addition to their extensive plantings of other grape types. In starting the Harney Lane winery, Jorja and Kyle Lerner are part of the movement of Lodi natives shifting from only farming grapes to also making wine. When the couple approached Jorja’s mother with the winery idea she agreed under two conditions — all of the wine had to be from only Estate grown fruit, and they had to plant Albarino. She’d discovered the grape while traveling and fell in love with its wine. As promised, Harney Lane offers a juicy, textural focus Albarino aged on lees for layers of creamy flavor on a clean zing backbone.
Kyle Lerner, also from the Lodi region, originates from a family in law enforcement, and began farming with the Mettler family in order to help his father in law as he recovered from surgery. Today, Kyle manages all of the family’s extensive vineyard farming.
For the Lizzy James fruit, winemaker Chad Joseph and Kyle Lerner work together to keep the focus on the vineyard. They ferment 2/3 of the harvest wild in small open bins, with (due to winery logistics) the rest inoculated in tank. Joseph explains he likes the variation and interest offered through the wild ferments, while appreciating the reliable core given by the tank ferment. The wine is then aged in older French oak barrels.
We were able to taste the current release, 2010, and barrel sample the 2012. Later, we also checked back in on the 2013 fruit. Lerner and Joseph see the 2013 Lizzie James harvest as similar in size to the 2012 but with better quality fruit.
The Harney Lane 2010 bottling of Lizzie James Zinfandel gives lifted red flower and juicy red fruit touched with eucalyptus accents, cocoa hints, and rose cream all on a body of smooth tannin, velvety texture, and a long finish.
Thank you to Kyle Lerner and Chad Joseph. Thank you to Randy Caparoso.
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