The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2012

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Page 129 of 132

Kevin Phillips and Wanda Woock Bechthold brought the old-vine Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard from obscurity to cult status. From Obscurity to Cult Status Woock Bechthold is credited with preserving the vineyard that was planted as Black Malvoisie by her grandfather, Joseph Spenker, in 1886. In 2004, she published Jessie's Grove: One Hundred Years in the San Joaquin Valley, which documents the early history of her family and the Jessie's Grove winery. During that period, the ranch was planted to wheat and watermelons, with grapes occupying only a small place in the region's economy. The longevity of the dry-farmed Bechthold site, which lies within the larger Spenker vineyard, is attributed to the phylloxera-resistant Tokay sandy loam soils of the Mokelumne River sub-AVA and to the vigor of the vines, which were established when the water table was at a much higher level. For decades, fruit from the vineyard was shipped East to home winemakers at $45 a ton. Today, in addition to Michael-David and Jessie's Grove, rows are allocated to many different producers, including Turley Wine Cellars, Clos Saron, Bonny Doon, The Scholium Project, Estate Crush (which produces Odisea/ Cochon Wines and Lorenza Wines) and former Bonny Doon winemaker Jillian Johnson for her new Onesta Wines label. While the wines they produce vary in style as much as their makers, the astonishing intensity of floral and violet aromas, complex spices like pepper and dried herbs, purity of fruit expression and decided minerality they exhibit are present only in old-vine examples. "Cinsault is very plastic," observes Phillips. "This vineyard exhibits unique, site-specific markers like white pepper and lingering garrigue-like herbs in the finish of the wines." The Michael-David Ancient Vine Cinsault from the Bechthold Vineyard. Artisanal Producers It's fair to say that the Bechthold site has achieved cult status. In May, a group of nine producers presented a collective tasting of rosés and reds, hosted at Phillips Ranch. Rosés from 100 percent Bechthold fruit pro- duced by Jillian Johnson for Phoenix Ranch and Abe Schoener of The Scholium Project, along with blended rosés that included smaller but still perceptible percentages of the ancient-vine Cinsault bottled by Melinda Kearny of Lorenza and Adam Webb for Cochon, were superlative across the board. Mineral-driven with floral, red-fruited aromas, there were spice and earth evident in some and sheer, effortless tannins and crisp, bright acidity present throughout all. The red wines included medium-bodied, pepper- and spice-forward styles by Johnson for Onesta, Gideon Beinstock at Clos Saron and Loyal Miner of Miner's Leap. Weightier, oak-forward styles by Greg Burns of Jessie's Grove and Adam Mettler for Michael-David and richer, more extracted styles are made by Abe Schoener at Scholium and Tegan Passalacqua for Turly Wine Cellars. (Comprehensive tasting notes by THE TASTING PANEL contributor Randy Caparoso from this tribute honoring Wanda and Al Bechthold can be found online at A red and rosé from Clos Saron, both driven by old-vine Cinsault. Phillips, a sixth-generation grower, sees the Bechthold site as instrumental in establishing the pedigree of the Mokelumne sub-AVA: "This vineyard is an eye-opener for winemakers who only see Lodi as the workhorse AVA." Michael-David Winery could easily absorb the total produc- tion of about 6,000 cases annually from the site, but Phillips and Michael-David winemaker Adam Mettler see that it serves a larger purpose in demonstrating the history and unique qualities of the region. september 2012 / the tasting panel / 129 PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL-DAVID WINERY PHOTO: RANDY CAPAROSO PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG

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