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Lodi making waves in winemaking

By Dave Buchanan
Last week I talked about a fall wine tasting held recently at the DoubleTree Hotel which featured not only some of the major brands but also a few independent distributors, including Mickey Smith of Mayberry Imports. Smith has a wealth of wine knowledge about smaller producers and among his standouts at the show was the Van Ruiten Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel ($20). There are several things about Van Ruiten’s zinfandel that stand out, not the least of which is the full-bodied flavors of dark berries, cherries and blueberries. The Van Ruiten vineyards are in Lodi, Cal., an appellation unfortunately pinned with John Fogerty’s musical lament about being stuck there. Lodi was one of the few wine-grape areas that thrived during Prohibition. According to the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, because the Volstead Act allowed home winemaking, the demand for Lodi’s wine grapes actually increased during Prohibition. Fortunately for wine lovers, Lodi, long a source of bulk grapes for mass-production wineries such as Gallo and Fetzer, now has more going for it than Forgerty’s iambic ramblings. In recent years, Lodi has been rediscovering itself by taking advantage of its dark and luscious zinfandels from some of the state’s oldest vineyards. The Van Ruiten Family Winery began more than 50 years ago but didn’t’ get into the winemaking end of things until 1999. Today, the winery makes a line of affordable (roughly $16-$25) wines that rival those of its more-pricey neighbors Napa and Sonoma counties.