Greg Burns of Jessie's Grove Vineyard, Lodi

Alquimista Cellars Begins the 2019 Harvest of the Heart

A Vineyard Full of Age and Youth

I always say that I’m the luckiest man I know. How lucky? Let me elucidate…

Yesterday morning at 3 AM I pointed the nose of my bullet-riddled pickup truck, loaded with 4 empty half-ton bins, towards the Mokolumne River AVA (American Viticultural Appellation) of west Lodi. The goal was to pick 1.5 tons from one of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards on the planet at Jessie’s Grove Winery’s “Royal Tee” Vineyard. Planted in 1888, the vineyard is, as were many vineyards planted in those days, a scattering of varietals other than Zin. There are also Carignane and Mission grapes as well as the almost-extinct table grapes Flame Tokay and Black Prince. Flame Tokay was so important to the Lodi region in days gone by that the local high school sports teams are still known as the “Flames”.

Arriving just before a ragged sunrise in this ancient vineyard, I was met by a team of sommeliers from Canada and around the US, eager to pick and sort grapes from these venerable vines. The juxtaposition of this mix of passionate, young wine professionals and these veteran vinous brethren gave me pause to reflect just how lucky I was to be in this vineyard, on this day, with this combination of young and old. As Alexandré Dumas once said two hundred years ago, a vineyard such as this “should be approached bare-headed and kneeling”. To be able to pick from this vineyard is an honor and a privilege not afforded to many. To do so with a crop of our future industry professionals was not lost to me as an opportunity to have my feet firmly in the soil of the past and my eyes on what will be tomorrow. I was once again smitten by my own profession, reviewing how fortunate of a life I have had and continue to live to this very day.

The enthusiasm of our somm picking team, mixed with the piscadores of the Jessie’s Grove vineyard and winery team, was palpable and infectious. The owner of the vineyard, Greg Burns, and the Lodi Winegrape Commission team of Dr. Stephanie Bolton, Randy Caparoso and Stuart Spencer were there to share in the moment. And so I carried away with me not only a couple of tons of fruit from some of the oldest vines on the planet and their shared dirt on my boots, I brought back to my winery a renewed vow to make the best wine I could from this day of toil that represents not only a year of growing or even a lifetime of vine growth but a new generation that appropriately has respect and awe for something very, very old. And I’m not just talking about me, kids!

So how lucky am I? How many people get to do what I just did? Now you can believe that, for many, many more reasons than this but today because of this, I am indeed the luckiest man I know.

Many thanks to Greg Burns of Jessie’s Grove, the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and to the sommeliers of the pick and to all of the somms out there who help bring the stories of wine to the tables of America.

With Much Gratitude,
Greg La Follette – Alquimista Cellars

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