Thursday we tasted five from Maggio of Lodi. On Friday we tasted the Zinfandel from Blackburn of Paso Robles. All were priced under $15/btl and all impressed me because of what I took to be terroir and "place" in their makeup. Thirty years ago when I really dove into this stuff, I remember tasting the differences that wines from Paso Robles and other venues had from Napa and Sonoma. They were less polished, perhaps a little rough, and because of such, they had a certain charm in their humble distinction. At least that's the way I remember them.
On Thursday the Maggio Petite Sirah was like that. Thirty years ago I don't remember Lodi wines as being anything special. Lodi was actually jug wine country back then as I remember it. On Thursday the Petite was the bottle most tasters affirmed vocally. I liked the whites; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio: not because they were "knock your socks off" good, they were just different. Maggio is obviously an Italian name and I thought these wines may have been an ethnic American attempt at Italian production. At least they weren't cookie-cutter copies of every other California white type out there.
The Blackburn Zinfandel was nothing if not solid as a straight ahead masculine red wine. It was muscular with no nonsense sensibilities and most definitely not that flabby, off-dry, muddy style so many have adopted. I just knew this wine had to be from the dry, eastern inland half of Paso where Zin production seems to be a more serious venture. Blackburn Zin, by the way, was the overall best seller over the weekend out of about fifteen tasted.
If you have been following this blog, you have probably noticed the continuing thread about mega-wine company domination (consolidation) in the industry, bulk wine sales, contract wine making, and industry advocacy through the lobbying group, The Wine Institute. It should be no surprise then that both the Oak Ridge Winery (Maggio) and Blackburn both offer "custom crush" services, ie., they are contractors. Moreover, the whites I liked from Maggio weren't Lodi sourced at all and the Blackburn Zin was not Paso Robles designated as I had thought. "Estate" labeling seems to be no longer relevant in modern America.
On their website Oak Ridge offers these benefits for custom crush clients:
1. Fruit sourcing from a range of appellations.
2. Custom winemaking designed to meet individual styles, volume, and cost requirements.
3. Custom bottling.
4. Bonded tax-paid warehousing.
5. Barrel storage and management.
Blackburn actually doesn't advertise their custom crush services at their website but I suspect their services would be similar.
The remarkable thing for me is that these companies make really good wines from sourced fruit and as we said about the O'Neill Beverage Company, perhaps a historical understanding of where to go for what fruit really makes a difference. Maggio is a longstanding winery with roots going back to 1934. Like their lack of information about their custom crush, Blackburn divulges nothing about their history but having tasted several of their wines, they sure seem to have it right.
So I find myself back at square one and confounded by my plight. The wines I liked over the weekend remain a mystery to me, but a mystery with a happy ending. Maybe the proof really is in the pudding.
Join us this coming Friday the 12th (5-7pm) as we continue our exploration into the contemporary California wine culture with a new lineup of exemplary samples of the genre. Christy Dart of Gusto Brands hosts that event. On Friday October 19th Henry Leung returns with another grab bag of his incredible wines from Hemispheres Global wines.