Monday, March 17, 2014

Heritage Oak Winery in Lodi, California

If there is one wine region in California that I rave most about and has flown under the radar, it is Lodi.  It is a small rural town south of Sacramento on highway 99 and has very little in common with Napa or Sonoma on the touristy scale.  We frequent an artisan winemaker called Heritage Oak for its stellar zinfandels.  Over the year or so that we've (well, The Dutch) been members of its wine club, we've cultivated a soft spot for their excellent wine, and for the people who own the winery and make the wines, Tom and Carmela.
Heritage Oak is a small-batch winery which is probably the reason why each bottle we open that come from this vineyard is astounding.  I'm not a sommelier or a an oenophile, but I know a good bottle of red.  And Heritage Oak zinfandels in its boldness and character is one of the best ones I've had.

I never pay attention to wine labels, but over dinner, while savoring a glass of 2011 Zinhead, the Dutch suggested I read what's inscribed on the back of the bottle.  Here's what is written:

"I'm a zinhead", John Henry Snyder told me as I poured it into his glass.  The passion in his eyes told me it was true.  He swirled the dark liquid.  Nostrils widened as he inhaled its perfume.  
I sat at the piano and played.  It was Bach.  When I was done his glass was empty and a tear was on his cheek.  "That was beautiful," he said.  I'm certain he meant the wine.
This wine's for you, John Henry.  And for your friends.  And for the friends of your friends and all other uncompromising, unwavering, Zin Loving, Zin drinking Zinheads out there, who will never, ever settle for anything less than the lusty, seductive taste of Zinfandel.  
The guy who wrote that label is this guy, Tom:

This is the spirit of patronizing small scale and artisanal farmers.  It is a very personal experience each time, and that is what resonates with me.  Robert Mondavi has a winery in Lodi as well. We have been there for a tasting but it felt more like an oil refinery than a winery with its massive production facility.  We tasted the wine, but it was a blase' experience.  Forgettable.  Mediocre.  The wines were not memorable and neither was the winemaker.  Robert who?

Meanwhile, at Tom's, the experience is very different.  Sometimes he pours wine when he's not out tending to the grapes during the growing season. Sometimes he plays the piano randomly.  He doesn't hard sell his wine.  Actually, he's pretty nonchalant about it, because he knows it is outstanding wine. We've picked bags of oranges twice from his overflowing tree.  His wife, Carmela, told us that when his grandparents still owned the house, little Tom would ride his bike to this house (which they now own) so he could have freshly squeezed orange juice from oranges that came from the same tree.

Simply put, when you come to Heritage Oak, you come for wine and leave with something more.

Heritage Oak ( is located at 10112 E. Woodbridge Road, Acampo, CA 95220. If you go, tell them you read about them on this blog!

Stop for lunch and European-style bakery cafe at Dancing Fox located at 203 School Street, Lodi, CA.

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