Chocolate lovers will get an early trip to heaven this Saturday and Sunday during Lodi Wine Country's 14th Annual Wine & Chocolate Weekend, February 12-13. Along with over 40 Lodi wineries pouring their best chocolate-pairing wines will be Lodi's newest tasting room.
The doors will just be hung and the parking lot still unchipsealed, but pent-up demand has been so great that the Felten family couldn't wait any longer to finally open Klinker Brick's tasting room at 15887 North Alpine Road, between Kettleman and Hwy 12.
It's been over ten years since 5th generation winegrape growers Steve and Lori Felten started Klinker Brick with the simple words, "Let's make a little wine." Steve recounts, "We did one block and made 800 cases. That was about 600 cases too much."
Since then, Steve brought on President of Sales and Marketing Lynn Barnard and focused increasingly on the winery.
"I like to go out and kick a few clods, but this business consumes all your time. Growing. Bigger bottlings. More equipment. But I don't want to be a big winery, just a really good one. Building relationships, that's what this business is all about. You meet a lot of great people."
Heading up the tasting room and maintaining a fierce travel schedule to sell 30,000 cases per year is Farrah Felten, daughter to Steve and Lori, whose name graces their "Farrah" Syrah ($20).
Fresh from earning a business degree from U.O.P., Farrah's first official day on the job was in 2007 when Steve hustled her in the white company pickup over to pour at ZinFest straight from tossing her graduation cap.
But she had become smitten with Klinker Brick long before: "We were walking out back in the vineyard when I was in 5th grade. That's when I told my dad I want to be part of the business."
Farrah, 24, tells far-off friends complaining of heading "back to the 209" for the holidays, "I'm never going to leave. Lodi is my home. My roots are here."
Playing crucial supporting roles are longtime vineyard manager, Les Dunning, and Geri McEnerney, whose title is "Controls Everything." Humbly, Geri says she's been holding down the job in the world headquarters bunker under the family residence for nearly 6 years because, "I can get past the dogs," referring to the Feltens' extremely playful and loud "doorbells."
Native Belizean Joseph Smith has been Klinker Brick's winemaker at their facility in Acampo since it was established in 2009, working under the longtime tutelage of Barry Gnekow, winemaking maestro to many Lodi wineries.
Perhaps Joseph's 5 sisters and 6 brothers helped prepare him for his first crush in 1997, because, "The first harvest at Gnekow (Family Winery) was so chaotic, and I really enjoyed it. Every day was different. I like the daily grind of making wine. I love putting wine in the bottle and seeing the expression on people's faces after they taste it."
Klinker Brick's top Zin is Old Ghost ($37), first harvested in 2003 from an abandoned vineyard. Per Steve, "Somebody told me about it. Barry and I took a look at it at 6:30 in the morning. We thought, ‘It looks like a Ghost takes care of this place.' We went ahead and took it because we needed some grapes to top some tanks. Lynn took a taste of the wine and said, ‘This isn't just another Zin. This is too good.'" So they bottled it. But don't ask where the original Old Ghost currently dwells.
The Klinker Brick team is finally seeing the fruits of all the years of brand building.
After last month's pouring at ZAP in San Francisco, Joseph said, "People went out of their way to find us. They said, ‘We have to taste you guys before we get out of the building.' It showed we're doing something right."
The real celebration will be in March sometime for their Grand Opening, once the parking lot and tasting room are completely decked-out. Tasting room hours will be Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment.
Purchase advance $45 tickets for this weekend's event at LodiWineAndChocolate.com or at participating wineries either day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for $55 each.