Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Meeting Lori and Steve Felten from Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi, California and Tasting Their Delicious Zinfandels

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Lori and Steve Felten from Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi, California

I had been to Lodi in California last year, when I visited my daughter in Berkeley, but I had not visited Klinker Brick Winery - named after prized bricks that adorn homes in Lodi – nor had I tasted their wines. So, I was thrilled when I could sample the Klinker Brick Old Vine and Old Ghost Premium Zinfandels at the Curious Grape Wine Store in Arlington Virginia and talk about the wines to Klinker Brick owners and fifth generation grape-growers Steve and Lori Felten.

Lodi in California

The Lodi wine region is located between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada Foothills. It is famous for their older vines which produce their world famous Zinfandels. Lodi has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850s. Grapes were always part of the local landscape, growing wild, dangling from the trees along the riverbanks. Early trappers called one stream “Wine Creek,” due to the abundance of wild vines. Today, more than 750 growers and about 60 wineries are located in this picturesque rural area. With 500.000 acres, it is one of the largest appellations of California, about double the size of Germany. Lodi has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Deep, sandy clay loam soils predominate.

Picture: California's Wine Regions

California accounts for nearly 90 percent of the American wine production. The first wineries were established by missionaries in the South of California. The Gold Rush in the mid-19th century brought waves of new settlers to California. At the turn of the 20th century, nearly 800 wineries existed in California and worldwide recognition seemed imminent, when Prohibition hit the industry in 1920. By the time that Prohibition was repealed in 1933 under President Franklin Roosevelt, only 140 wineries were still operating in California. Californian re-entered the international stage at the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition, when Californian wines beat out French wines in both red and white wine categories. Today, there are more than 1,200 wineries in the State, ranging from small boutique wineries to large corporations. In general, by German or French standards, American wineries are large.


Lodi focuses on Zinfandel but also produces Syrah wine. Zinfandel is a red grape variety planted in over 10 percent of California vineyards. It was long considered to be the “American Grape”. But new research revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski, and also the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the "heel" of Italy, where it was introduced in the 1700s. The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century.

The arrival of Zinfandel in the US may have been via the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, Austria, which likely obtained the vines during the Habsburg Monarchy's rule over Croatia. After World War II, medium sweet White Zinfandel became immensely popular in the US. At the end of the end of the 20th century, red Zinfandel wines came back into fashion.

Klinker Brick Winery

Steve and Lori Felten, fifth generation grape growers in the Lodi region, continue the tradition of cultivating “Old Vine” Zinfandel vineyards that their ancestors planted in the early 1900’s.

With roots in Germany and Russia, the family settled in Lodi, first producing watermelons. Recognizing that the soil and climate were ideal for growing grapes, they began to plant varieties that included Zinfandel, Tokay, Carignane, and Alicante. For over one hundred years, the family has cultivated the land with the aim of producing top quality fruit. Zinfandel was one of the first grape varieties to be planted in the Lodi appellation, although it had also been established in other parts of the California.

In 1996, the Felten family began to produce Zinfandel for the bulk wine market. In 2000, Steve and Lori made the decision to start their own winery with the mission to produce exceptional Zinfandel. They continue to make wine from all of the vineyard blocks, culling only the very best lots for bottling Klinker Brick and designated vineyard wines. They produced their first Syrah in 2001.

The Vineyard

The Felten Family own and manage fifteen individual vineyard blocks of “Old Vine” Zinfandel that range in age from 35 to 110 years old. Each vineyard is planted in sandy loam soils along the Lodi Mokelumne River Region and up into the Clements Foothills. These vineyards are generally head-trained and dry farmed, yielding an average of 2.0 to 3.5 ton per acre. Some of the oldest vineyards have yields as small as 0.25 ton per acre. While there are significant limitations in the quantity of grapes produced, the quality of fruit is exceptional. The grapes come from several different vineyards within the Lodi Appellation, depending upon the highest quality of fruit produced each year, and has included several vineyards in the Mokelumne and in the Clements Hills region. The vineyard area totals 400 acres.

The Wines

Lodi has a very small portfolio; it produces only 3 wines. I was able to taste the 2 Zindfandels, but not the Syrah. The notes below are winemaker notes.

2008 Klinker Brick, Old Vine Zinfandel

This wine offers aromas of black cherries and fresh strawberries and toasty oak. On the palate, there are layers of dark fruit intermingled with sweet vanilla and spice. Smooth and long, lingering finish.
Aged in American oak. 20.000 cases. National Retail Price: $19.99

2008 Klinker Brick, Old Ghost, Old Vine Zinfandel

The 2008 Old Ghost is a blend of two old vine zinfandel vineyards, 89 and 98 years old. Yields were well under one ton per acre. The wine has exotic spices of cardamom and black pepper on the nose, infused with bright, black cherry fruit. On the palate, it is rich, round and full-bodied with flavors of brambleberry and chocolate covered cherries yielding to a long and lingering finish.
Aged in American oak. 1500 cases. National Retail Price: $39.99

2008 Klinker Brick Syrah Farrah

The wine is named after Steve and Lori Felten's daughter, Farrah. A single vineyard wine with a deep, rich garnet color. It shows tobacco, mint and cherries on the nose. With dense silky layers of raspberry and chocolate, this full-bodied wine finishes with hints of earth and spice with a long, smooth finish.
100% Syrah, aged in new French oak. 5000 cases National Retail Price: $19.99

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