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Bringing home the gold: Lodi wineries score big at national competition

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Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:00 am, Thu Jan 20, 2011.

A team of 66 judges showered Lodi vintners with awards at a national showcase earlier this month. More than 5,000 wines from across the country were entered at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and a total of 133 Lodi wines came away with medals. The trophy cache is the region’s best showing in the 26-year history of the competition. But one competition official said Lodi’s success in the event is becoming an annual trend.

“Within the last six or seven years, Lodi has not only won a large quantity of awards, but also won prestigious ones,” said Bob Fraser, executive director of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Bokisch Vineyard’s 2008 Garnacha and Michael~David’s 2009 Incognito Rhone white blend were each dubbed best in their class, while McCay Cellars Truluck’s Zinfandel and Ripken Vineyards and Winery’s 2008 Petite Sirah took home “Double Gold” medals. Double Gold medals are awarded when the five judges unanimously agree the wine has earned a gold medal in its category. Nineteen Lodi wines were awarded gold medals, while 60 silver medals and 50 bronze were bestowed on area wineries.

Besides winning best in class, Bokisch’s Albarino and Tempranillo also earned gold medals. Every wine Bokisch entered earned an award.

“After hearing that, I was thinking maybe we should’ve entered something else,” said Liz Bokisch, co-owner of Bokisch Vineyard.

Other wineries also reaped multiple awards.

In their first appearance at the competition, Fields Family Winery entered five wines and each earned a medal. The awards were a mark of validation for their efforts, winemaker Ryan Sherman said. Fields Family Winery celebrated its grand opening in June but Sherman has been making wine for amateur competitions for close to a decade.

While pleased with all the Fields wines that gathered awards — especially having the only Lodi Syrah to medal — Sherman said he was most proud of his red blend “Big Red,” a 2009 vintage not yet released to the public. The red blend is a mix of Lodi Zinfandel and Syrah with Napa Cabernet and Merlot. Sherman has made the wine for amateur competitions for years and said it has always been poplar with friends and family.

The winners of the competition will showcase their wines at a public tasting event in February and Sherman said he was eager to participate as a presenter instead of a taster.

“It’s be the first time we’ll be on the other side of the table,” he said.

How the judging works

While 66 judges assembled to preside over the competition, each judge didn’t taste each individual wine. Instead, judges are broken into separate smaller panels and given samples from a variety of categories. To insure impartiality, the judges are only informed of the varietal of wine and its price range.

For each category, judges are given a flight of 12 wines to sip, score and discuss. As a judge, Mark Chandler, executive of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, said he spent about five hours daily for three consecutive days devoted to the cause. He sampled about 140 wines a day, he said, and the judges were given sparkling water, cured olives and thin slices of roast beef to cleanse their palates.

“The fat in the olives and beef lift the tannins off your tongue,” Chandler said. “It also reminds you of what a great pairing red wine and prime rib is.”

Reds dominate for Lodi

Red wines accounted for the overwhelming majority of Lodi vintages that took home awards at the competition. However, Chandler said people can expect to see more Lodi whites take home awards in the coming years. Not only does the region grow the lion’s share of California’s Chardonnay grapes and a significant portion of the state’s Pinot Grigio grapes, but European varietals are gaining ground, he said.

Grapes historically grown overseas will continue to be seen in Lodi vineyards in the coming years because winemakers have a passion for bringing grapes from their families’ homelands to grow here, Chandler said.

He pointed to the efforts of Bokisch, which offers Spanish varietals, and Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, which cultivates German white varietals like Gewürztraminer and Riesling.

“While you hesitate to say this is a wine country that can be all things to all people, we can make a wide range of varieties very well,” Chandler said.

About the awards

The 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is an annual event that pits wineries from across the country against each other. Formerly known as the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, the competition features thousands of wines broken down by category and price. Writers, winemakers and industry experts from around the country are selected as judges.

While judges can make repeat appearances, Fraser said they look to rotate officials to keep things fresh and provide more exposure.

“It’s a national competition, so we want representatives from other wine regions and we want to get the winning wineries to be recognized nationally,” he said.

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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