It is hard to believe that it has only been one year since our inaugural visit to Lodi wine country. In that time, we have made several return trips and have added three Lodi wines to our web wine store: http://www.topochines.com.
A couple of weeks ago, we decided that it was time to take advantage of a break in the persistent rain and make a return visit to Lodi. We were able to align schedules with our good friends Kent and Robyn and scoped out some wineries to try that were new for both of us. For this trip, there was one definite standout winery of the three that we sampled – Harney Lane. What did we love about it? The wine, of course, that is a given. But the entire tasting and hospitality experience was simply excellent. The tasting room is a beautiful structure and the fire pit and spacious outside seating areas are ideal for spring, summer, and fall wine tasting. The people were friendly, fun and genuine – about what you would expect from people who have been tending to this land for the past six generations. The Mettler family has been living on Harney Lane for 100 years, long before anyone in the family thought to press grapes and bottle wine.
Our visit started with an introduction to Kyle Lerner, one of our new favorite Lodi wine people. Kyle is not a Mettler but he did have the good sense to marry one – Jorja Mettler to be specific – and he is elbow-deep in the farming and winemaking at this multi-generational family winery. With an undergraduate degree in business, Kyle might reasonably have expected his career to go in a different direction. But he had the good fortune, after marrying Jorja, to be mentored by her father George Mettler and learn from him essential principles of sustainable farming and vineyard management.
With a glass of Harney Lane 2017 Chardonnay in hand, Kyle took us on a tour of the estate vineyards.
With the sun finally out and warming us on our walk through the vines, the Chardonnay was a very nice choice. If you’re wondering whether it was a “Napa style” Chardonnay . . . it was not, at least not the buttery and oaky type that many people associate with California Chard. However, I could not fairly call it “Old World”-style either, with its 14.5% alcohol, partial malolactic fermentation, and oak aging regimen. Let’s call it a “tweener” Chard, something between a stainless steel, acid-driven wine, and that Rombauer-style butter bomb. A very drinkable Chardonnay in my opinion, with a very nice texture, contributed by the oak but also having been on the lees.
After our tour of the vineyards and grounds, Kyle took us to the barrel room where we conducted the remainder of our tasting.
We tasted through a half dozen of Harney Lane’s red wines, which gave us an appreciation for their approach to farming and winemaking.
We started off with the Harney Lane 2016 Tempranillo, a varietal to which not many winemakers in California do justice. As fans of this Spanish varietal, we already knew that Bokisch Winery in Lodi produces an excellent Rioja-style Tempranillo. However, we were not aware that Harney Lane did until Kyle poured us a taste. Made from 20-year-old vines, the 2016 Tempranillo (14.5% alcohol) is a medium-bodied wine with plenty of fruit on the nose and palate and an elegant, almost silky texture.
Our next wine was unique, to say the least. As most people know, Lodi is Zinfandel country. As most wine geeks are aware, Primitivo and Zinfandel are closely related varietals (both of them descendants of Croatia’s Crljenak Kastelanski, also known as Tribidrag). Harney Lane produces two Zinfandels but also a Primitivo, which they call Lot 18 in reference to the year in which it was released.
This wine, though, is non-vintage as it includes grapes from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages. Of all the wines we tasted, this was my favorite and it reminded me of a more Old-world winemaking style of Primitivo/Zinfandel: more earthy, a bit more acidic, most definitely not the classic California Zin bomb.
Following this Primitivo we had two additional Zins – 2016 Harney Lane Zinfandel and 2016 Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel. Both of these wines are very good, the “regular” Zin a very nice wine to pair with pasta or meat dish. However, the Old Vine Zin was, not surprisingly, a cut above – a richer wine with more aromatics, flavor, and texture.
Our final wine tasted in the barrel room was another unique one, even secretive: Patriarch’s Promise Lot 18. An homage to Jorja’s father George Mettler, who passed away from cancer in 2013, this wine is also non-vintage. However, the twist on this wine is that Harney Lane has historically not disclosed the varietals that make up the blend, although many people have guessed and attempted, unsuccessfully, to cajole Kyle and others to spill the beans. After we all made our own futile attempts to guess the blend, Kyle let us know that this particular lot of Patriarch’s Promise was, in fact, a single varietal wine. And no, he didn’t tell us which varietal.
As we were winding up our tasting and heading in to put in our orders for wine (we enjoyed the tasting so much we loaded up our respective cars), someone mentioned a Zinfandel Port. Those of you that know me can guess that I finagled a pour (or two?) of this gem.
A non-vintage, 19% port wine made from the Lizzy James Vineyard – old vines planted in 1904 – this is a spectacular dessert wine. Some Zinfandel ports we have tasted are overly sweet, like syrup; the Harney Lane Zin port, by contrast, does not overwhelm with sweetness and has a nice nutty flavor to complement the Zin’s fruitiness.
After purchasing our wines we sat in the garden and just hung out for another 45 minutes to an hour, enjoying the shade of Harney Lane’s majestic trees and the view of their many plants and flowers. We don’t always say this about a winery, but “we’ll be back.”
April 24, 2019