Say “Uncle”! Sugar, yeast and other fun in Lodi

DSCN0439

Hanging out in Lodi

About five years ago, a very good friend of mine, Tom Lowes, brought me a bottle of his “uncle’s wine”. At the time, I was a wine steward in SE Portland, and many of my new friends from the hood would bring in some their favorites. A typical scene would go something like this:

“Hey Jared- Mary and I decided to make our own wine last year and we wanted your opinion.”

“….Oh! Wow — thank you. I’ll take it home and let you know what I think. What’s that? You want me to try it right now? Right here. In front of you. (gulp) Well, O.K…”

Glasses are brought out, the cork is popped, strange and funky aromas of sulfur and prunes would make their way out and find my big schnoz. And then the sip… “Hmmm. Interesting. Lots of… earth.” Pleasantries and deeper conversation would ensue and when the impromptu tasting would end, I would go rinse.

I always appreciated the intentions, and I sure don’t know how to make wine myself so it was still a learning experience, albeit a painful one at times. I was never one to pull punches with Tom, so when he handed me a dark bottle with no label and some crunched-up aluminum foil over the neck, I gave him a big ole’ sarcastic smile and teased “What have you got there, homey? Some of uncle Willie’s backyard hooch?” He didn’t bother to defend this mystery juice, but just quietly replied “It’s petite verdot. Pretty good…”.

So I took it home that night and braced myself for the usual funk and fear so prevalent in home-made wine. The first thing I notices was how dark it was. “Well, he got that right anyway,” I thought. When I stuck my nose in the glass, I had to pull back, not because of anything off-putting, but because of the sheer intensity of all the dark, spiced berry aromas. After a minute more of intrigued sniffing, I went in for the kill. My palate was bombarded with rich, velvety flavors of ripe blackberry, cherry, and licorice. The finish lasted forever. “Whoa…,” I brilliantly concluded.

DSCN0477

“Uncle Dave’s wine” became a bit of a cult wine for myself and others Portlanders in years to follow. Uncle Dave is better known as Dave Huecksteadt, or “Hux” as he was nick-named growing up.  When Tom said he was going down to visit Dave, some of his less than proud – ahem – friends would give him a puppy-dog look and ask if he was bringing anything back with him. “You know, you should come down with me some time. Help out with crush,” he offered.

I never did get down there — until now. I arranged to meet Tom at his uncle’s farm/winery in Lodi on my way back to Oregon. Over the years, I was treated to samples of tempranillo, syrah, petite sirah, roussanne, late harvest viognier, and other home-made beauties. I repeatedly asked if Dave was ever going to try and sell his wines, and for the love of God, let me sell it!

And so, on a late, breezy evening in Lodi, I met the man responsible for “Hux Vineyards”. The three of us tasted barrel samples of grenache blanc, tempranillo, mourvedre, and maybe my favorite, roussanne. Roussanne is a white/green varietal that is home to France’s Rhone valley, and often used as a blending partner to marsanne and viognier. It can be a real pain to grow and is often subject to mildew, but as Dave informed me, Lodi’s cooling evening winds help keep the grapes healthy and balanced. His small plot of vineyards are meticulously cared for, trained in a “quad” system, and situated well above the ground for maximum sunshine and air flow through the canopy.

DSCN0486

Not to be labeled as a complete and utter slacker, I got my hands dirty (sort of) and helped punch down several vats of fermenting red grapes. The smells and sounds of this process is amazing; witnessing first-hand the magical interaction of yeast and sugar is something to behold. There are lots of stories of over-zealous cellar workers getting their head a little too close to this action, and suffering the debilitating effects of the carbon dioxide that comes off the breaking “cap” of this purple soup. An unwilling (and dangerous) bath can ensue if you’re not careful.

The beauty of Dave’s wines, aside from the variety and overall quality of them, is that he admits to knowing virtually nothing about the selling, marketing, etc. phase of wine making. “I just want to make the stuff,” he said at one point and asked me how much I thought some of his wines could go for. I told him that he wouldn’t need to make a whole lot of his wines, as these were, in my opinion, “premium” wines for serious winers. That is, you would likely sell these in 6-packs rather than cases. That is, they wouldn’t be stacked at the local shop-n-save. And why not? Small, fairly unknown newcomers from areas like Walla Walla are charging an arm and two legs for their wines, and there’s always a market for this combination of power and elegance (Owen Roe anybody?).

I don’t know where Hux Vineyards will land, or if these special wines will even make it to retail. I sure hope so. It would be a shame if more wine lovers never got their lips on these. Dave and family are, fittingly, as down to earth as you get, and in a state teeming with wineries and winemakers full of themselves, this is one Californian label I’ll brag about knowing before they were (really) known.

*    *    *

DSCN0455

“Uncle Dave” attending to his babies

It was a real treat to spend some time with Tom, Dave and the rest of the family down in Lodi. I never felt “stuck” there (har-har), and learned quite a bit. My most gracious thanks to the whole “Hux” crew for their hospitality. Lodi wine is a lot more than high-octane zinfandel…

And more fun was had on the drive back to Oregon, as Tom, the leech that he is, hitched a ride with me. I could tell you about our adventures with towering mountains, dragons, rainbows, monster burritos and more, but enough’s enough. Or is it?

With good cheer, always,

Jared

DSCN0518

Advertisements

~ by Jared on October 5, 2009.

12 Responses to “Say “Uncle”! Sugar, yeast and other fun in Lodi”

  1. I remember Tom giving me a bottle of Uncle Dave’s Wine. It was awesome !! Put me down for a case!! You look intense in the picture. I hope you and Tom stayed out of trouble.

  2. […] Say “Uncle”! Sugar, yeast and other fun in Lodi « Jared Wines Up […]

  3. Thank you for your post. We share your love for Dave and his wine. We are part of the Kernville contingency that makes it’s way up there a couple times a year and we will “wrestle you for any wine” from the Hux vineyard anytime

    • Hi Lori,

      What great wine, and an even better person.

      I haven’t been training lately, so a wrestling match would be brutal. How about thumb wrestling? Lord of the Rings trivia? Wait… drinking contest!

      Cheers,
      Jared

  4. Well done, did you bring any samples back? I’ll trade ya.

  5. dear folks,flagstaff,az.has been the traditional base for the consumption of hux wines(whether they knew it or not)from brown paper bag to patrician stemware many have enjoyed the non-label.while not the competive type,i am willing to flip the coin,odd one wins.

  6. Jared- It was great seeing you in Lodi. Thanks for being there and letting me tag along on the trip back. I thought rainbows pointed one to Leprechauns, not DRAGONS! Hopefully, that doesn’t confuse too many people. Don’t forget I have a few bottles here with your name on it.

    • Oh believe me, buddy, I haven’t forgotten…

      Great to see you too. It was a great “ending” to the trip across the country, and I’ll even give you credit for that rainbow picure!

      “…. THE DRAGON!!!!”

      J-red

  7. Ok, you made this Hux wine sounded too good. HOw do I find some and buy it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: