Oz Clarke's passion and friendly demeanor has helped him become one of the most widely known wine experts in the world. The author of multiple books, including "Let Me Tell You About Wine" and "Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure" visited wineries around Lodi with other writers from the United Kingdom this week and spent Thursday evening winetasting at Wine & Roses Spa and Resort. The animated critic is known for his candid reviews and an aversion to stuffy wine snobs.
In a lightly edited interview, Clarke talked about what he likes about Lodi wine and what the region can build on.
Q: Is this your first time in Lodi?
A: It's not. I was here a few years ago. I was visiting San Francisco and wanted to see other areas nearby. I had stopped in Antioch and Oakley as well during the trip.
I came because I would be drinking Californian wines in Europe and asking the guys where the fruit was from. We get a lot from further south in California, and frankly I don't like that stuff very much. You get south of Stockton and Modesto and you start saying, "This stuff shouldn't be made into wine."
Unfortunately, we get a lot of that stuff in Europe because it's so high-yield. But it has a very low flavor. It's all souped-up, sugared-up pretend wine with a huge marketing budget, and it does California no good whatsoever.
Q: What does Lodi have going for it?
A: The thing about Lodi wines is that they have a softness in texture and an intensity of fruit. You can really taste the difference in fruit varieties in Lodi wine.
Lodi is different. There is something here. You go 20 or 30 miles south, and you've lost it. But it makes absolute sense. You look at the maps with the Delta and the hills and you see how the wind comes through the Carquenez straight and the first place it gets is here. And then it dissipates; south, north or wherever. But once the wind has been here, it's going to lose its power as it travels on. But you in Lodi have this small area. That's the great thing about wine; small areas matter. Napa and Carneros aren't big.
Q: What are some of Lodi's limitations?
A: You have very sandy loams for soil. And loam basically means you can't ripen Bordeaux. You can't ripen Cabernet; you might ripen Merlot. But you should be making rose and looking at white wines.
But to pretend this is like Bordeaux is rubbish. It isn't like Bordeaux. It isn't like Burgundy. It's not like the Rhone Valley.
But the lovely thing is that it isn't like Napa or Sonoma, either. It's different. It's your place. It's a place that should not say, "We should do what Napa does," or, "We should do what Sonoma does."
Q: What could Lodi be doing better?
A: You need to grow more whites, but I think there is too much Chardonnay here. Everyone else makes Chardonnay. You make good Chardonnay, but Clarksburg makes it better.
If you read the tea leaves about what will happen in the next five to 10 years, you see Italian whites are going to become trendy again. The future is in Italian white wines. They don't need oak, and they ripen in quite challenging and hot conditions. Some Italian whites you should be growing out here are Pinot Grigio, Fiano, Garganega, Vermentino and Verdicchio. They all have lovely character and can cope with heat.
Also, some of the Zinfandels out here are 15 to 16 percent alcohol. Why? I don't get it. I find that 14 percent is quite ripe enough because you let the acidity sit.
If you overripen your wines, they all taste the same. If we were sitting in an orchard with an overripe peach, apricot and a nectarine, they'd all taste the same. One day before they are ripe, though, they all taste fantastically different. Complexity in wine is about imperfections in the fruit.
Q: Where does Lodi go from here?
A: Lodi has not yet created its own image. People don't know about Lodi around the world. We've had some very good Zinfandels in Britain and we have a very good supermarket there that uses a lot of Lodi fruit for its own labels, but a lot of people don't know about it. If they don't know, it's up to you to create your own image. But I don't think you should try to copy the rest of California by making Cabernets, Chardonnays and Merlot. They can do it better than you.
Q: What do you like most about Lodi?
A: The people in Lodi are fantastic. If I was going to go out and have some beers and go dancing and get a bit lit up, I think the Lodi guys I've met are some of the best. That's important because it means they have a vision of pleasure and flavor. There are people here who want to make Lodi matter.
What I really like is that most of the land out here is already owned. You don't have to answer to the Bank of America every time you open your mouth. You can say, "I'm going to put five acres down to this and that" and see if it works. If it doesn't work, you still have 75 percent of your acreage to the other stuff you are growing; but it will work.
In 10 years time, Lodi will have all the varietals that Napa and Sonoma don't have. The millennial generation will be coming here saying they buy your Tempranillos and your Petite Syrahs. You can be the engine room for change in California. You can afford to be. You have an adaptable climate and nobody is trying to charge you a couple hundred thousand dollars for an acre of vineyard.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.