Klinker Brick: Six Generations of Nurturing Lodi Grapes
by Susan Montgomery
A highlight of the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, was the Friday night excursions to wineries for tours, tastings and dinner. There were 18 buses full of eager “winophiles” who didn’t know where they were going until they got there. Our only clues about our destinations were cryptic descriptions we chose during registration. Ours was “She’s a Brix House.” Where were we going? The word “brix” suggested "sweet." Maybe we were going somewhere with sweet wines. But that wasn’t the case. While after the winery excursions, just about everyone raved about their experiences, I think we may have really lucked out because the “luck of the draw” took us to Klinker Brick Winery.
Our hosts were the dedicated Klinker Brick owners, Steve and Lori Felten, and their personable daughter, Farrah Felten-Jolley, who is the winery’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Her husband, Stefan Jolley, is the Vice President of Operations. We saw right away that Klinker Brick is definitely a family affair, as are many wineries in the Lodi area.
In addition to tasting the winery’s exceptional wines, our group was also taken on a winery tour where we met talented winemaker, Joseph Smith, who has been producing superb wines for Klinker Brick since 2008. We were especially interested to learn that Joseph comes from Belize.
Lodi, located about 90 miles east of San Francisco and 35 miles south of Sacramento, has been recognized since the early 1900s as a premiere grape growing region because of its sandy loam and wide temperature differential between night and day, both of which combine to create an ideal environment for producing a broad range of varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. While in its early years Lodi was producing grapes for wineries all over California, in recent years it has established a well-earned reputation as a wine producing region in its own right. There are now more than 85 wineries in the area.
Steve and Lori Felton represent the 5th generation of their family to cultivate grapes in Lodi and their daughter’s involvement brings the 6th generation into the venture. Steve Felton emphasizes his family’s dedication over decades to nurturing their vineyards.
Steve Felton says, “Six generations of our family have been committed to producing high quality wine grapes since the late 1800s. When we started making wine in 1995, we knew that having control of the farming of the vineyards to produce the highest quality grapes would be the cornerstone of Klinker Brick wines. It always starts in the vineyard and this is also our commitment to our winemaking team to give them high quality fruit so they can make world class wines.”
The Feltons, who are passionately dedicated to nurturing the ancient vines on their property, produced their first vintage of Old Vine Zinfandel when they opened Klinker Brick in 2000.
We were particularly fascinated with one machine the winery uses in grape production. Called Flash Détente, it can extract more color and tannins from the grapes by concentrating the grape juice and removing impurities and water. So if you have grapes that lack the ripeness you’re seeking, this unique process can bring out the best in the fruit and adds another option for achieving quality in the wine program.
The winery is named after “klinker bricks” that have been used in the construction of many historical buildings in Lodi. These highly admired bricks were chosen by Craftsmen architects in the 1920s because of their deep colors, interesting shapes, and heavier weight than most bricks. The term “klinker” refers to the distinctive sound the bricks make when banged together. The Feltons feel their wines reflect many of these same rich, distinctive qualities.
After our winery tour, we were greeted in the spacious, inviting tasting room with lots of open bottles so that we could taste whatever we desired. The Feltons were so gracious and welcoming. We could tell how much they love what they do and how happy they were to share their exquisite wines with their guests.
As we tasted wines, we sat down to a beautifully prepared dinner of mixed baby greens with rosemary marinated peaches, blackberries and heirloom tomatoes; marinated and grilled citrus herbed chicken breast in a champagne cream sauce; marinated seared skirt steak in chimichurri; colorful roasted fingerling potatoes and vegetables; and a luscious apple cake. Our delicious dinner was provided by Elle’s Catering. We enjoyed trying different wines with each dish and appreciated the food friendliness of the Klinker Brick wines.
Here are tasting notes on some of the many special wines we tasted that evening:
Old Vine Zinfandel 2009: Oaky and rich, with dark berries and hints of vanilla on the palate and a subtle sweetness on the finish. Our verdict was "stunning."
Carignane 2014: A deep purplish, red wine with black cherry aromas and earthy, herbaceous tastes. This was very easy to drink, especially with our rich dinner entrees, such as the marinated strip steak.
Dolcetto 2013: Bold blackberry aromas and flavors with spicy acidity and intense tannins.
Old Ghost: An exquisite and complex wine, representing the best of the Old Vine Zinfandel that the winery produces every year. We savored its rich berry tastes and mellow tannins.
Albarino 2015: Pale golden, clear and refreshing with subtle peach and pineapple tastes, perfect for a warm summer day. Paired nicely with the light peach salad.
Farrah Syrah 2013: Bouquet of chocolate and stone fruit, with delicious earthy tastes that are both floral and fruity. Named after the Felton’s beautiful daughter, Farrah, this is a beautiful wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: Dry, complex, with deep cherry and currant flavors all enveloped in lovely French Oak overtones.
Tran Zind Red Blend 2013: A fruity, spicy red wine blend that went so well with the roasted vegetables.
The winery is just releasing its first 100 percent Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon. Klinker Brick wines are available in its tasting room, online at klinkerbrickwinery.com, and at retailers across the country.
Photos taken by Todd Montgomery.