Remember when we talked about that old Cinsault vineyard in Lodi?
I mean, that REALLY OLD Cinsault vineyard in Lodi?
The tiny, flat, rectangular Bechthold vineyard – all 25 acres of it, or just about 0.0025% of Lodi’s overall plantings – is an organic, own-rooted, sandy-soil patch of Cinsault in the Mokelumne River area, near the town of Lodi itself. Once just a holdover from a time when such vineyards were being ripped out and replanted in the rip=roaring 1990s, it now counts Turley and Bonny Doon among its clients, with a long waiting list for its fruit.
We can thank German settlers for Bechthold’s orerly layout, which is still owned and farmed by descendants of the family that broke vinous ground there in the late 1800s. Given that phylloxera hit the Cinsault plantings of Europe pretty hard, this little Lodi spot is as close as we’re likely to ever get to original, un-grafted Cinsault. In fact, it’s likely the world’s oldest Cinsault planting.
Farming there is a challenge not just in that the vines are still relatively productive, but also because their age (nearly 130 years) basically guarantees disease. As grape grower Craig Ledbetter told me (and a handful of other Right coast media types) at a recent tasting of Bechthold Cinsault wines held at Brooklyn Wine Exchange (I was a guest of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, which Ledbetter chairs): “at 128 years old, you have to assume that it has it, no matter what disease you’re talking about.”
The results of the wines crafted from this special plot of Earth? Well, I’m not going to say that they’re profound wines, because they’re not; at least, not in the way that we typically think of profundity in wine these days, which is basically in terms of complexity and harmony. But more authentic wines you are unlikely to ever taste. In that sense, they’re wonderful, geek-gasm treasures of juice…
2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault (Lodi, $25)
I can feel your jaded wine geek eyes rolling already. Look, Michael David has some good stuff, and they have some deserves-every-beating-it’s-got-coming-to-it, not-so-good stuff. This Cinsault falls squarely into the former category. Yeah, it’s big, and it’s dusty and earthy in its tannins, and not without its sweet richness of red plums. And oak. BUT… there’s nowhere near the oak you might typically associate with some other MD releases, and certainly none of the flab (there’s even some partial carbonic maceration going on here, my jaded friends). This is vibrant stuff, with good energy and a hell of a lot of purity. Pith, grip, and sour cherries (okay, and some oak) lead us out into a long finish. Well worth a look for those craving something different.
2013 Turley Wine Cellars Cinsault (Lodi, $20)
Sure, Turley is capable of kicking ass, but delivering elegance? Believe it. This wine might have been my fave of the tasting lineup. A mere 1000 cases were produced, which kind of sucks for those of us who would not mind having a case of this. A lovely nose – vibrant, peppery, and enticing, with candied red berries and cherries. Then, dusty earth and plumier red fruits. It’s soft and expressive, and the 100% whole cluster treatment adds interesting elements (stemmy green notes, herbs, and litheness). The palate gets chewy, spicy, and focused, and stays pure throughout. It’s so delicious, I almost forgave them for misspelling the vineyard name on the label…
2012 Estate Crush Cinsault (Lodi, $26)
This custom crush facility makes some of its own juice, including this more reserved take on Bechthold’s ancient vine fruit. It has that bechthold dusty earthiness, but its cherries are a little darker, its aromas a little funkier, its palate a little silkier. Still, the pithy sour cherry fruits are there on the palate (hey, we are tasting Cinsault here, folks), along with dried herbs, toast, and even hints of tea. At 300 cases, this isn’t going to redefine a Lodi standard, but it deftly walks a middle ground between the styles of the MD and Turley examples.
2013 Clos Saron “Out of the Blue” Cinsault (California, $35)
A bit of Syrah and Graciano (5% each) were thrown in on this (noticeably more purple-tinged), herbal, and earthy wine. The best way to prepare you for this number is to say “be prepared.” This wine is unabashed, authentic to a fault, and totally unapologetic about the entire business. peppery, bright, but at the same time deep in its berry fruits. It’s also stemmy, green, and lean, but vibrant (sensing a there here?) and pure of fruit. In other words, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of wine, maddening in its presentation but unquestionable in its quality and its stubborn determination to be what it wants to be (in that respect, it’s fittingly a bit like Bechthold itself).