I owe the discovery of St. Amant Winery (sorry, no website link) to Derrick of An Obsession With Food. When I told him I was heading out to Lodi to blog, he recommended I get in touch with Tim Spencer, owner, winemaker, and chief cook-and-bottle-washer of St. Amant. Don’t confuse this St. Amant with the same winery in Louisiana with the same name; they are completely winery. Also, I’ll confess up front, of the six or seven wineries I visited in Lodi during my first excursion, St. Amant was my favorite stop.
Completely unpretentious, the "winery" is housed in an industrial complex near the edge of town. You have to make an appointment as there is no fancy building, no wine-related decorations, and no grapevine-bedecked clothing to be had. Entering the warehouse, don’t be put off by the plastic chairs around the fold-up table or the plank of wood atop a few barrels as the tasting bar. None of that matters when you taste the wine and when you meet Tim.
In the wine business for over 33 years, Tim Spencer had no intention of owning a winery. His family had been farming in Lodi and Amador since the 1800’s and in 1972, he planted grapes which he sold. After one of the wineries he sold to went bankrupt, he decided he could just as easily utilize the grapes himself, have the fun of making wine, an go bankrupt himself. Not only did he not go bankrupt, he has travelled the globe lecturing on California winery practices, planted extensive European varietals, and has established himself as the first California Vintner to be honored by the French government with the title "Honorary Frenchman for a Day."
One of the wonderful things about hanging out with such icons in the industry, are the additional characters that you meet in passing. In the hour or so I was tasting wines with Tim, Ernie Dosio stopped in "just to hang out." Dosio runs Pacific Agrilands, a vineyard management company. What is so special about that? Tim let me in a little secret — Ernie manages somewhere close to 55,000 acres of wine-making agriculture (mostly for E&J Gallo). I think that is very, very cool.
You can tell that I think pretty highly of St. Amant and I imagine telling you about the wine will help. Part of it is the grapes. Along with the stalwart Lodi standard, Zinfandel, Tim Spencer grows a number of Portuguese and Spanish grapes which he feels are better suited to the warmer climate of the West Sierra Foothills. As the proof is in the pudding, it was tasting these wines that blew me away – amazing quality wines at stunningly low prices. Being used to paying $50 for a concentrated, inky Zin, I could barely contain my glee at finding wines at less than half that cost!
2004 Verdelho – Grown in Amador and bottled only a week before it was opened for me, this is a Portuguese white grape I had never tasted before. It produced bright, grassy aromas with hints of green apple. The perfumey and enticing notes segued into the mouth with a tantazling green honey sensation with a creamy finish. Outstanding at $15.00
2003 Mohr-Fry Ranchers Lodi Zinfandel – From old vines planted in 1944, this dark, inky red exhibits jammy tones of plum, raisin, and fig. There is a hint of earthiness that opens up with swirling. The port-like entry is concentrated, thick, and rich with an extended ripe and chewy finish. A lovely fruit bomb. $18.00
2003 Marian’s Vineyard Zinfandel – These vines were planted in 1901 and produce an almost blackish/purply wine. Plummy and elegant, with a sweet essence of chocolate and blackberry. Rich, but heightened with a tangy mid-palate that is bright and engaging with a spicy, hedonistic finish. $24.00
2003 Tempranillo, Amador – I’ve never seen such an inky-dark Tempranillo before. This wine is Syrah-like with its bright cherry bouquet and even, smooth entry. A tobacco and balanced tannic mid-palate give way to a mineral finish. As dark as it is, the aromas and dry, even tannins are incredibly balanced. $18.00
Veno Do Sol – The first time this wine was made, this is a white Port made with fortified Verdelho grapes from 67-year old vines. Surprising that a clear, golden-colored wine produces sweet, red apple scents (I might have anticipated GREEN apple, but not RED apple!) While the entry is honey and sweet, it is not syrupy whatsoever, but crisp with a floral finish. $18.00
Here is where my admiration for Tim Spencer grew, for both his red Port offerings were produced from a blend of the five classic Port-wine grapes; Touriga, Tinta Cao, Alvarelhao, Souzao, and Tinta Roriz. He keeps the varietals separate and evaluates the lots to determine which blend of each grapes goes into his two Ports:
2002 Bootleg Port – Complex clove and dark fruit. Inky color with cocoa and lighter chocolate offerings. Engaging and complex, for those times when I like drinking a young, über-rich Port. $18.00
2003 St. Amant Vintage Port – Over-the-top opulent. First fruit, then herbs, then some sweetness but very accessible. Chocolate-covered cherries that keeps going with an intensely smooth mouth feel. I’m going to hold onto this bottle for ten or 15 years. $30.00
St. Amant Winery ~ One Winemaster Way ~ Lodi ~ CA ~ 95240 ~ 209-367-0646