Oak Farm Zinfandel
Oak Farm Winery was a long time in the making, an estate with a long history, but only recently one that included wine. But with a picturesque setting, a unique approach and fantastic estate vineyards, they’ve become a fine and popular producer.
The history of the estate itself goes back to 1860, and gold rush days. While not prospectors, the DeVries family were successful cattle farmers and wheat growers who made a fortune selling provisions to the many who had come rushing over to California to make their fortune from gold. The estate also, as the name suggests, had a magnificent oak tree plantation. Many of the great trees grown still stand today and the white colonial house, sympathetically restored, is considered one of the finest in the county.
In 2004 the Panella family, of Italian descent, purchased the ranch and set about growing grapes to sell to other wineries. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah were popular as they could be sold outside the state to provide bulk and colour to wines.
However, vintage challenges and fluctuating prices of grapes meant it was an up and down endeavour, which led the family to replant the entire estate in 2013. With a renewed focus on their specific terroir and the varietals, clones and rootstocks that would suit their land, they ended up with 14 interesting and often Italian style grapes - they’d found the sandy, loam soils and warm temperate climate of Lodi to be quite similar to that of the Mediterranean.
In 2014 they built the state of the art tasting room and winery, now so beloved by locals and visitors alike.
From a wine perspective, while Oak Farm aren’t exactly boutique, with 20,000 cases produced annually, they do take a boutique approach - they make lots of small batch wines, sometimes multiple from the same grape variety, and their focus is on variety and telling the whole story of the land, rather than simply producing lots of commercial style wine. With single varietal Barbera, Sangiovese, Primitivo, Albarino and Fiano alongside Californian stalwarts Zinfandel, Cabernet, Chardonnay etc, theirs is a fascinating portfolio. As owner Dan Panella puts it…
“We are continually trying to strive for balance. Not just with the flavour profile of the wines, but also the number of wines we actually produce. I don’t want our wines to be bland and formula driven so as to be pleasing to a mass audience. Those wines often come off as safe and a bit boring. On the other hand, I’m also not interested in being avant garde just for the sake of being different; there has to be a balance in between. This is true of the sheer number of wines we produce as well. We offer over a dozen different varietal wines, sometimes with more than one option per varietal depending on whether we offer a single vineyard. When you add in blends, on any given vintage, we can have over twenty wines.”
There is no doubt the wines from Oak Farm are highly drinkable, excellent and interesting examples of their grape, which nod both to their Italian influence and their Lodi terroir. Wines that please in a big way with their juiciness, their freshness and their unique character.