Rosé Bechthold Vineyard Lodi
13.5% ABV | Price: about $18*
In 1886, a German immigrant named Joseph Spenker plowed up a 25-acre wheat field in Lodi, California, and planted it with grapes. He thought the vines were dark-skinned Malvoisie, more commonly known by its Italian name, Malvasia Nera. They weren’t, but it took 117 years to figure that out.
Wanda Woock Bechthold, who with her husband Al now owned the site, met Kay
Bogart of U.C. Davis’s viticulture department, and idly mentioned she was thinking of ripping out the vines. Demand for
the fruit was negligible; nobody in California wanted “Black Malvoisie.”
Bogart, her curiosity piqued, took samples back to her lab and determined that the vines were, in fact, Cinsaut. This black-skinned grape from southern France is commonly used in blended wines, but when made as a varietal exhibits delicate perfume and a fine-boned structure not unlike Gamay.
Instantly, winemakers began clamoring for the fruit from Bechthold’s old-vine vineyard. Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard was first in line, having become nearly desperate in his search for local Cinsaut to blend into his Rhône-style reds.
Which brings us to our hero, Jillian Johnson. She was Bonny Doon’s winemaker when the fruit was correctly identified, and has been working with grapes from the site ever since. Now making wine under the Onesta Wines label, she lays claim to a section of the vineyard where the soil is poorest and the fruit is concomitantly most concentrated. This spring she released a varietal Cinsaut plus this rosé.
It’s wonderful. The palest salmon peach color, it offers aromas of strawberry, kiwi, and melon yielding to flavors of guava, kiwi, and green melon with a hint of mint. But this is not a fleshy, fruity wine; it’s bone dry, precise, and elegant. It’s also a terrific gastronomy wine, because while it’s lovely and complex on its own, its restraint allows it to sit comfortably with a range of fresh summer fare.
I’m glad those vines were saved.
*I received this wine as a press sample.