Most wineries aspire to prosper for a generation. Many wineries succeed in passing their success on to their heirs. Rarely does such success run for three generations. One notable example of three generations of success is Jessie’s Grove. Starting in 1868, the Spenker family has continuously operated a ranch and farm in Lodi. Today they produce amazing wine from 120 year-old grapes. It was with great anticipation that we visited their tasting room!
Our first wine tasting tour of 2016 had already taken us to the Van Ruiten Family Winery, the Jeremy Wine Company, and the Stama Winery. With the sun racing for the horizon, we dashed (safely and observing all speed laws, of course) over to Jessie’s Grove hoping to get a quick introduction to the winery. To our delight, the staff was gracious and did not point out that we were within an hour of closing. Instead, they greeted us warmly and made sure that we had a full and proper introduction to the winery.
The tasting room was a symphony for the eyes, with tasteful decorations and objects of art along side antiques and artifacts from previous generations of winemakers. The air was full of happy laughter; both from tasters and the wine guides. Our wine guide, Marcie, was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Jessie’s Grove, past and present, that I first assumed that she was part of the Spenker family. When asked, she told me that she was a part-time worker, unrelated to the winery except by a love for the wine and the winery family.
We started our tasting flight with their 2013 Chardonnay. This was a soft, yet crisp Chard. Marcie told us that this wine was aged 70% in oak and 30% in stainless. This was probably the genesis of the soft notes of cream and pear. Whatever the reason, we were off to a great start!
We next tasted their Reserve Chardonnay. The 27 months spent in oak produced a wine with lots of character and oak without overdoing the butter notes. Truly a remarkable Chardonnay.
As we sipped on some Muscat Blanc, Marcie to us for a walk in the “back yard” of the property. As we walked by the pasture with horses, she pointed out the meadow where concerts are given during the summer. We learned that there are even sleep overs, when the morning pancakes are enhanced by substituting some of Jessie’s wine for water in the batter.
Walking tour over, we returned to a taste of Pinot Noir. We enjoyed the citrus zest on the nose and the light-bodied fruit on the tongue. We would pair it with pork or maybe a chicken paprikash. Next was an amazing Carignane, a rambunctious but well-tempered wine with a fantastic finish. This was in contention for “taste of the winery” until our next wine, a Merlot that blew us all away. Aged on Hungarian oak, this was balanced, clean and without the tannic mustiness that can sometimes be part of a Merlot. This wine took the crown and a place in our home.
Next up was the capriciously named Earth Zin and Fire. This is the only wine that has distribution outside of the tasting room. We found it a zippy Zin with a very dry finish. We then tasted another Zin, called Royal Tee, made from ancient vines. To earn the term “ancient” the vines must be over 100 years old. I doubt that I’ll be this productive when I’m 100. This Zin was aged on French oak, delivering a smooth and unusually soft wine.
We were almost out of time, but still had time to taste a lovely Petite Sirah, an amazing Sweet Indulgence dessert wine that reminded us of an orange creamsicle, and finally a Port called Sin So, because it was made from the Cinsault grape (pretty cute, right?).
We had one more winery on our “must visit” list, so we purchased our wine, expressed our appreciation to the amazing Marcie and set off. Our last tasting of the day was our only “do over” of the entire trip. What’s our last winery of the day? One hint: the end of the list was long considered the end of the alphabet. Do you know now? Leave a comment with the answer!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?