Joy and I were invited to attend the first "Wine Camp" put on by Riaza Wines, Saturday 7/22/17, which we graciously accepted. Rick and Erin Taylor are long time wine industry buddies. Rick and Erin come from family roots in the wine industry and thought they would give it a go at making wine after falling in love with Spanish wine in Spain. After more than 10 years of making wine and building a boutique winery from scratch Rick has become a master winemaker.
In response to many requests about how Rick makes wine, he and Erin decided that they would start the very first Wine Camp in the area.
The day started at 8am at the tasting room, 20 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA. There were 12 campers who all received wine camp t-shirts. After changing into our new digs we all loaded up in two SUV's driven by Rick and Erin. We drove out through the northwest end of Lodi on the way to the vineyard. When we arrived to the vineyard on Forest Lake drive we were greeted with donuts, muffins, and mimosa's made from the private label sparkling wine. The sparkling wine is actually a joint venture between LVVR and Riaza. LVVR, owned by Eric Donaldson, is an old school producer of sparkling wine. He hand riddles every bottle with care. Eric private labels sparkling wine for quite a few wineries in the area and has a tasting room in Lockeford.
While enjoying the morning feast and libations we were introduced to the vineyard owner, John. John and Rick went through the growing process through to picking the grapes while in the vineyard. This vineyard was on trellises vs. head trained, which is planted mainly to be picked mechanically. The other advantage is that the grapes get more sun and air flow, which will help produce healthier grapes. John told us that he has a long term contract with Gallo for the grapes, however he set aside a small section for Rick and Erin where they hand pick all of the grapes in the early morning during harvest time. Rick described the process of how he determines when the grapes are ready. In an effort not to make this way too long, we will just leave the vineyard to this...according to most vineyard owners and wine makers 80% of the wine is made in the vineyard.
We took some pictures in the vineyard, packed up our stuff and headed to the barrel room. There we were greeted by glorious barrels of wine all stacked around the perimeter of the room. In the center of the room were 6 barrels with three bottles of unlabeled wine. Rick took us out to the patio and showed us the de-stemming process and the pressing process using several machines. We all went back into the barrel room where a challenge was issued. Rick told us there was one bottle of wine that was from a really bad batch of grapes, another bottle of wine from an okay batch of grapes and a bottle from Johns vineyard. The challenge was to first pick out which was which and then to blend the wines to make a new and interesting blend of wine that we thought everyone would like using a measuring beaker. We all had a note sheet so we could track our progress.
Joy and I were able to pick out the wines exactly as described. We began mixing using what we thought would be a good combination. We were really, really wrong. Our assumptions failed us. So we went back to work and after 7 different combinations we finally came up with a good wine we thought everyone would like. At that point everyone shared with each other. What we found was there were 6 completely different wines, some good, some not so good. It was quite fascinating to learn about the challenges wine makers go through to make good wine. We definitely have a new found appreciation for wine makers.
We again all packed up and found our way back to the tasting room. Erin brought out a cheese pairing of 6 different cheeses for 3 different wines. All of the wine came from our Lodi's amazing little cheese shop, Cheese Central, located at 11 N. School St., Lodi, CA. Cheese Central has an amazing assortment of cheese from both local dairies and from dairies all over the world. They have a cheese for any occasion. We sat with the other campers in the Riaza tasting room with Rick and Erin describing each wine and how they paired with each cheese until about noon. At that point we bought four bottles of wine, because it was awesome! We took our wine with us down to Smack Pie pizza, also on School St., and enjoyed our build your own pizza on the patio with a very nice bottle of Tempranillo from Riaza.
Thank you Rick and Erin for allowing us into your world and sharing your passion.