A Taste of Tradition in Lodi
By Mallory Ambrose | August 25, 2022
It is said that adventures are the best way to learn, and sometimes business trips can lead you to exciting places and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that open your heart, broaden your mind and fill your life with stories to tell.
Recently, members of IMI Agency traveled to Lodi, California on behalf of Michael David Winery to explore the region’s historic enclave of ancient vines, extraordinary generational grape-growing, community of winemaking family legacies, and forwarding evolution into wine country’s most remarkable territory.
The trip delivered an immersive learning experience of the unique beauty found within the sprawling vineyards of Lodi Wine Country, as well as the 150+ year legacy and culture of Michael David Winery.
Lodi Wine Country
East of San Francisco Bay and West of the Sierra Foothills, lies the Lodi American Viticultural Area (AVA). An appellation of tradition spanning multiple generations of winemaking, Lodi Wine Country is a cornucopia of ancient vines and once forgotten varietals. There are more than 125 different varietals growing in Lodi. Commonly recognized as the Zinfandel capital within the California wine region, thick, rugged vines produce “old vine” Zins, a Lodi specialty. Lodi wines boast stunningly expressive, bright flavor profiles. The unique taste and balanced acidity of Lodi wines can be attributed to the region’s loamy soil and Mediterranean climate that boasts the heat of daytime sun and cooling influence of the Delta breeze, ideal for premium wine grape growing.
Michael David Winery
On behalf of Michael David Winery, Jennifer Lumley, On-Premise National Accounts Manager for Michael David Winery, hosted IMI team members showcasing all that Michael David Winery has to offer, and what makes their wine so unique.
The Phillips family has been farming Lodi soil since the 1850’s. Michael David Winery founders, brothers Michael and David Phillips, are 5th generation grape-growers who have continued the legacy, raising the 6th generation who have now joined the team. They pride themselves on the foundation of family legacy, love of Lodi, and sustainability. Michael David Winery is renowned for their award-winning portfolio of distinct varietals.
The Michael David Winery portfolio consists of numerous brands that span across a variety of whimsical flavor and eye-catching labels, including: Freakshow, Petite Petit, Sixth Sense, Earthquake, Michael David, and other small production and reserve level wines.
Nestled beneath a vibrant green band of lofty pines, beyond an elegant iron gate lies the historic 200-acre property of Bare Ranch, our home for three days.
Our first evening in Lodi began with a tour of the magnificent property as we enjoyed a glass of chilled Michael David Winery Chardonnay.
The working vineyard property is encompassed by old Zinfandel vines, and small-scale parcels of Petite Sirah, and Chardonnay. Previously owned by the Bare family, Bare Ranch was purchased and restored by Michael and David Phillips.
A breathtaking relic of Lodi’s past, the beautiful Bare Ranch mansion stands in the center of the 200-acre property emanating an opulent glimpse into that of a forgotten era of quiet beauty.
Built in 1903, luscious vines adorn the exterior walls of the historic two-story, seven-bedroom home. Secluded within towering trees, the property boasts a stunning landscape complete with a botanical garden, incredible stonewall, roaming stream and waterfall, and a saltwater pool. The entrance into the mansion is accentuated by a gently effervescing fountain surrounded by bright varicolored flowers and greenery bestowing a peaceful ambiance on to all who visit.
Once inside, it’s as if you stepped back in time. To keep the home and grounds true to its original condition while undergoing renovation, the Phillips family filled the interior with antiques, while also preserving several of the home’s authentic characteristics like the original billiard table and light fixtures.
Dinner was served beneath the historic home in an elegant wine cellar where we were joined by Jeff Farthing, Director of Winemaking for Michael David Winery. As we sat around the table everyone spoke of their personal journeys in the industry and what ignited their passion for viticulture.
Emerging from the cellar, we were greeted by a breathtaking sunset and the evening Delta Breeze, brought to Lodi from the neighboring San Francisco Bay. Jeff spoke of the importance of this breeze within the vineyards as we walked along the soft path of the vines. Our first night in Lodi was an evening filled with great conversation and the enjoyment of Michael David Winery’s many varietals.
Michael David Winery Viticulture
The following morning, we joined Mike Klouda, Director of Grower Relations & Viticulture for Michael David Winery, at the Chardonnay vines.
It felt as though the minute we stepped out of the car Mike had us elbow deep in harvesting Chardonnay grapes. As we worked within the vines he explained the incredible alchemy of grape-growing and the sustainable practices they honor as Lodi Rules Certified Growers.
Lodi Rules is a sustainable viticulture program committed to the preservation of the Lodi regions agriculture. There are over 100 sustainability practices carried out in vineyard management that work to enhance biodiversity, monitor pesticide use, manage soil health, etc.
Providing us with the proper equipment, Mike asked us to cut down fruit from different vines within the row to test the sugar level of the fruit at this stage of harvest. After gathering several bunches of beautiful green grapes into a bucket, we crushed the fruit into a liquid. Using a refractometer, an instrument used to determine the refractive index of a liquid sample, we were able to measure the amount of fermentable sugar that would soon be converted into alcohol.
As we continued walking the vineyards, we were joined by 6th generation Phillips family member and VP of Sales and Marketing at Michael David Winery, Melissa Phillips Stroud and her sweet pup, Hazel. She shared touching memories of growing up in the vineyard, and in her storytelling brought the family and authenticity of Michael David Winery right home.
Ancient Vine Cinsaut Vineyard & Pontoon Boat Ride with Dave Phillips
Tucked within the Mokelumne River area of Lodi lies Bechthold Vineyard, an ancient Cinsaut vine vineyard that dates back more than 135+ years. Believed to be one of the world’s oldest surviving Cinsaut vineyards, these thick-trunked, twisted vines are head-trained and resemble that of a small tree paired with a driftwood like appearance.
While most Lodi old vine vineyards are associated with the Zinfandel grape variety, the 25-acre Bechthold Vineyard hosts the red wine Cinsaut grape. Organically dry-farmed by Michael’s son, Kevin Phillips, this vineyard is famous for its elegant, aromatic Cinsaut which is sold to highly valued clients including Michael David Winery.
Mike Klouda described careful measures taken to preserve the fruitful longevity of this old vine vineyard which includes the use of naturally occurring beneficial insects that ward off destructive insects and parasites. There has also been an increase in the use of biological control methods that act as natural pest control. Of these methods, Mike revealed a pheromone disrupter tag that is hung on the vines to omit female pheromones, thus confusing male bugs during mating season.
For an exciting early afternoon, we head over to Dave Phillips home for a Pontoon boat ride through the Mokelumne River and Lodi Lake. As we traveled through the water Dave shared his memories as Co-owner of Michael David Winery, to hear how it all began from Dave Phillips was such a special experience.
Calivines Winery & Olive Mill – ‘A Taste of Calivirgin’
Following an amazing afternoon filled with the history and agricultural beauty of the vineyards, we made a visit to the local, family owned Calivines Winery & Olive Mill for a ‘Taste of Calivirgin’.
For four generations and over 85 years, the Coldani family has been farming within the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California. With a generational focus placed on the cultivation of various row crops, alfalfa hay, and beef cattle production, in 2005 they ventured into super high-density olive production. The Coldani family now farms six to seven agricultural commodities across over 1000 acres that consists of 150 acres of olives and 20 acres of vines.
Estate grown, Calivirgin extra virgin olive oils and vinegars are organically and sustainably produced from the family owned and operated Coldani Olive Ranch. They kick-off harvest season making their awarded variety of flavored oils using the highest quality olives. While most flavored oils are produced by simply stirring added flavor into olive oil, Calivirgin is one of few olive oil companies that mill crushed fresh produce, herbs and citrus together with the olives essentially drawing out the natural oils and essences from each ingredient to produce exquisite flavor-infused oils with no additives or preservatives.
In 2014 the Coldani family acquired Lodi Olive Oil Company to exhibit the robust, full-bodied flavor of their Lodi/Stockton area sourced hand-picked and mono varietal olive oils.
We enjoyed cold-pressed Calivirgin EVOO, a variety of their renowned flavor-infused olive oils and premium-aged balsamic paired with their outstanding Calivines wine in a unique guided olive oil and wine tasting flight hosted by a Calivirgin tasting room ambassador. Our tasting was completed with an exciting olive oil production tour where we were able to see the detailed journey of olive oil from crop to bottled oil.
Our night ended with a beautiful Lodi sunset as we were joined by Larry Holman, President of Michael David Winery, for dinner. Our time and conversation amongst the table was very impactful. Listening to Larry describe his love for hiking and the adventures he has taken within his career was another heartwarming experience that shed light on the down-to-earth nature of Michael David Winery.
Barrel Tasting and Blending Session inside the Michael David Barrel Facility
The following morning, our hostess Jen coordinated an immersive barrel tasting and blending session at the Michael David barrel facility.
We entered a cool dark room where we were surrounded by a variety of new and old-aged barrels stacked high to the ceiling. The entire barreling process was unveiled before us through the efficient maneuvers of those operating every step. Watching these components come together was such an exquisite experience, I felt as though I was watching a live adaptation of How It’s Made.
Our blending session began with a tasting of six Michael David Winery varietals syphoned from barrels of different ages. We journaled the notes and flavors each wine emitted and from there used methods of trial and error to mix the perfect wine or blend unique to each of our personal flavor preferences.
Tour and Tasting at Michael David Winery
Putting on our neon yellow vests, we began our tour of Michael David Winery and made our way to the “behind the scenes” production of this fabled Lodi wine.
After climbing the metal staircase to the top of the winery cat walks, we had a bird’s eye view of the entire production facility. The intricately designed rows of stainless-steel pipes, pumps, fermentation vats, steamers, and tanks were extraordinary.
All of Michael David Winery production takes place at Phillips Farm. The original houses of the Phillips Farm still remain on the property and are now used as offices. Once just a pumpkin patch, this working farm has evolved to include various fruits and vegetables, a botanical flower garden, and fifteen different wine varietals.
Adjacent to a quaint café, bakery, and market filled with locally grown produce and gourmet treats is the Michael David Tasting Room. A beautiful building with walls lined with the many varietals of Michael David Winery, guests can enjoy a guided tasting through their choice of five wines while also learning about the history behind the winery. The spacious grounds provide a laid-back vibe that invites comfort into both outdoor and indoor tasting experiences.
We enjoyed delicious wood-fired pizzas during a VIP Bistro lunch outside in a private couched section surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Michael David Winery. Our meal was paired with a wine tasting of Michael David Winery favorites under the cool shade on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Our hostess, Jennifer, revealed the significance of each wine label and revealed quirky details that truly set Michael David Winery wines apart from others.
As a new member to the world of winemaking, this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was blown away by the encompassing beauty of the Lodi wine region. I learned so much about not only the science of grape growing, but the impact family-tradition has on winemaking in Lodi.
I am so appreciative of the graciousness, willingness to teach and welcoming hospitality of Jennifer Lumley, Jeff Farthing, Mike Klouda, Larry Holman, Melissa Phillips Stroud, David Phillips, and others.
A destination for beautiful landscapes, breathtaking sunsets, culinary delights, and flavorful unique wines, I now understand the driving force behind Lodi’s forwarding evolution into wine country’s most remarkable territory.
If you are looking for an amazing place to visit, then look no further because a piece of paradise can be found at Michael David Winery in Lodi, CA.