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McCay Cellars: Old World wines in eclectic surroundings

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Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014 7:49 am

Parachute silks hang from the ceiling. The bar and much of the furniture is made from shipping pallets. Fruit bins covered in graffiti curve to form the far wall. Oh, and the whole place is tucked away in a stark-looking warehouse.

This eclectic wine tasting room is the brainchild of Michael McCay, owner and winemaker for McCay Cellars.

“Yeah, this is kind of a funky location. It’s a warehouse, so you can’t put that much lipstick on it,” McCay said. “But when someone mentions the wine place with the graffiti, you know where they’re talking about.”

The tasting room came to life just about a year ago, during the 2013 Wine and Chocolate Weekend.

McCay needed more storage, so he moved his tasting room out to east Turner Road, where there is plenty of room for a few storage tanks. He wasn’t sure of the public reaction, but said he has been pleasantly surprised by the traffic.

All these oddball elements work together to form an intentional sense of living in Lodi. The parachute club is just north of town along the freeway. Thanks to all the fruit packing and production in this city, wooden pallets can be found in most commercial parking lots.

The fruit bins themselves are a nod to that same produce industry, especially the annual grape harvest and crush. The line of graffiti art stretches to form the idea of a train rolling by, tagged during various stops throughout the central valley.

“Wine is supposed to be fun, not pretentious,” he said. Lounge on the leather couch under the parachute silk, and taste a glass of wine straight from the barrel on any given weekend.

McCay has been making wine since 1994. He had raised grapes for 20 harvests ahead of that venture and learning the ins and outs of vineyards.

His production headquarters has bounced around from the Sacramento area to south of Lodi. But his family and friends were consistent in their encouragement that he start selling his wine under his own label. That milestone happened in 2007.

“We made 500 cases, thinking if we didn’t sell it all, we’d have lots of Christmas gifts to give away,” McCay said. Instead, they sold out. This year, the business makes 5,000 cases and is sold in 14 states, using grapes almost exclusively from the Lodi appellation. This year, he’s adding in some Zinfandel from the coastal region for a new blend.

“We’re trying to grow organically and expand slowly. I don’t want an explosion here,” he said.

McCay’s time in the wine industry has happened while Lodi sees major changes. The area is transitioning from a grape producer into a wine country, with a boom of agritourism along the way.

Currently, the McCay Cellars lineup includes Zinfandel, Carignan, Cab Franc, Grenache, Rose Petit Syrah, a red blend and a Rhone white blend.

McCay swears that Lodi is perfect for Rhone varietals, especially for his own Old-World style of winemaking. A vast percentage of the winemaking work is in carefully tending the fermentation process. McCay aims for elegant layers of flavor that bring out the complexity present on the vines.

There’s no one part of the process that McCay likes best. Making wine, selling it, enjoying it — even harvest has its moments of joy.

He lives in Acampo with his wife Linda and their three children.

“All the kids have been knee-deep in grape juice at one time or another,” he said. “This is truly a family business.”

Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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