Smack in the valley’s middle is the city of Lodi, home of the Michael David Winery, a fifth-generation family-owned operation producing some of America’s most highly acclaimed and enjoyable wines, including the popular Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon.
To date the winery, co-owned by the Phillips brothers Michael and David, has managed to survive the difficult conditions through strict conservation efforts employed on its 650 acres of irrigated vineyards. Every precious drop of water coming from the Mokelumne River, which is fed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is sparingly and strategically used to keep the vines going.
Cherry farmers have not been so lucky. This past year saw five large orchards go up for sale, victims of the drought which resulted in the worst crop ever. Things were so bad, the cherry pies featured in the annual Leona Valley Cherry Fesitival in June were purchased from local supermarket chains rather than homemade.
On Oct. 3, I caught up with Michael Phillips, the winery’s CEO, at the Wine ConneXtion in North Andover where he hosted a fabulous complimentary tasting of 13 Michael David wines. The drought, he said, is a “major concern” for all farmers and it has pushed them to establish sustainable water measures. Despite the drought, he said the 2015 vintage should be a very good one. The vines don’t need consistent rain to prosper, Phillips said, just enough to “starve” them into producing highly concentrated fruit with unique terroir-driven characteristics.
Phillips said he’s expecting great wines from the 2015 harvest, even if some yields might be lower than normal.
As for the present Michael David stock, it remains high quality at nearly every price point.
Here are some of my favorites which I sampled. (All prices were special Wine ConneXtion offerings as of Oct. 3):
• Michael David Petite Petit Sirah 2013, $12.99 — Wine Enthusiast magazine rated this Petit Sirah and Petite Verdot blend 94 points, well ahead of many notable California houses that sell theirs for $40 or more. The retail price is $18 a bottle. This is the best bargain in America today, if you can still get it. The violet color is absolutely stunning in the glass, and the dark cherry, plum and chocolate flavors burst forth like shooting stars.
• Ink Blot Cabernet Franc 2013, $25.99 — An ageworthy, power-packed wine. The name says it all: It makes me wonder if we could print a newspaper with this full-textured, blackberry-infused wine. It’s got some peppery kick on the finish which makes it even more enticing.
• Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, $19.99 — The tasting notes say this will last five to seven years in the cellar, but I found this to be drinking quite well right now. It’s smooth on the palate and layered with dark berry jam and black licorice flavors. Noted wine expert Robert Parker gave it 90 points, and I think he was being conservative.
• Freakshow Cabernet Sauvingon 2012, $15.99 — The 1.5-liter bottle is selling for $29.99, a $3 savings for twice as much wine. This remains one of California’s top “fruit bombs” and I applaud Michael David’s consistency year in and year out for crafting this delicious, 100 percent Cabernet.
• Michael David Chardonnay 2014, $11.99 — While Lodi’s red fruit puts Michael David on the map, this white is remarkably well done. Outstanding tropical fruit aromas and flavors plus a balanced creamy, oak touch make this truly enjoyable. The price should not be ignored.
• Lust Zinfandel 2013, $42.99 — Hey, it’s a fun wine through and through. Not only will it wow the party crowd for its label, but it’s got a taste that won’t easily be forgotten. What happens after you drink this hedonistic wine is your business.