Oak Farm Barbera 2016, Lodi
Cost: $26-28
O ne of the enjoyable things about drinking wine is there are always new wines to discover, whether it’s a varietal you are not familiar with or a new producer. And there are always new producers.
Some wineries move quickly and just put a new name on the existing product. Others rip everything out and start over. That method takes longer, but the owners get to create exactly the product they want.
That’s the route chosen by Dan and Dorothy Panella. After buying a historic property in Lodi they took their time deciding what wines they wanted to make and then started ripping out vines and replanting.
The results of all that work are worth it, judging by the Oak Farm Barbera ($26-28). It is a beautiful deep garnet in the glass with lively black fruit aromas. With the first sip you get a dazzling array of flavors, unfolding one after another. I picked up notes of cherry, plums, black raspberry and blackberry. Tannins are muted, giving the wine a smooth mouthfeel.
It is a medium-body wine with vibrancy brought out by the solid acid backbone. The finish is bold and long-lasting.
After the grapes were hand-picked in the morning they were put in a temperature-controlled stainless steel tank for a cold soak. During fermentation there were regular punch downs or pump overs. A small percentage of petite sirah was blended in for color and structure and then the wine was aged in oak barrels.
I love barbera. It is a varietal you don’t see very often, even though it is the most widely planted red grape in the Piedmont region of Italy. It also has a long history in California. Lodi is ideally suited for the grape because it has a climate similar to that in the Piedmont.
For a long time growers didn’t give the grape much respect and planted it for bulk wines rather than fine wines. Gradually growers discovered the barbera grape rewarded a little love with great wines. They panted the vines on better sites and limited yield. The best are known for a smooth core of dark fruit flavors with crisp acidity.
Lodi has been known for their zinfandel and Oak Farm has a wonderfully balanced example. Some of the vines for the zin go back six decades, producing a concentrated wine with fine tannins and a raspberry jam flavor.

Winery: The land for Oak Farm Vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley has been known as one of the most beautiful pieces of property in the state. It was bought by William DeVries and his wife Cornelia Crowe in 1860. DeVries was a wheat farmer, raised cattle, and even became Justice of the Peace.
The beautiful colonial style home was built by William in 1876.The property has been largely renovated with great attention to its heritage. DeVries was an enthusiastic lover of trees, particularly of oaks, and on the home ranch, he never allowed a tree to be cut unless it was a menace. Today, many of the property’s enormous oaks still stand, along with the DeVries family burial plot.
The Panella family arrived in the region in 1936, and began an agricultural journey that ultimately led to the purchase of Oak Farm in 2004. As a third generation California farmer, Dan Panella reveled in undertaking the task of replanting the property’s 60 acres of vineyards in 2012 to fulfill the vast potential of Lodi.
With the replanting and the opening of a new winery and tasting facility in 2014, Oak Farm is just coming into its own as a world-class producer.
The winery specializes in handcrafted, small-lot, single vineyard varietals that express their terroir. All of the grapes used to make Oak Farm Vineyards wines come from the estate vineyard or nearby family-owned vineyards. The well-balanced, food-friendly wines, crafted by winemaker Chad Joseph, are structured yet supple: never over-oaked or overworked. The wines repeatedly earn high scores in competitions.
When the Panellas bought the land, it was mostly planted to a type of zinfandel used to produce white zinfandel. They didn’t want to specialize in any one particular varietal, so they planted the grapes they wanted to work with. They now have an older zinfandel block that is not the white zin clone, primitivo, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec, merlot, sangiovese, barbera, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, albariño, fiano, cabernet franc and petite sirah.
The tasting room is popular among wine tourists. Beautiful grounds and century-old oaks with a mansion and barn dating to 1863 lend an air of elegance to visits. The tasting room includes a spacious tasting bar, floor-to-ceiling windows offering vineyard views, a private room for wine club members, four indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and an inviting covered outdoor terrace.
There is even a historical legacy tour. Sometimes after their tasting, guests take a glass of wine to a special spot near the fishing pond or under one of the oaks to sit back and relax. They also can stay at the Annadan suites, a vacation rental located within walking distance of the tasting room.

Goes with: We had this wine with chicken stew and dumplings. It’s not the same as chicken and dumplings which is popular in the South.
This is a hearty, thick stew served over potato dumplings like they make in the Czech Republic and Germany. My heritage is Czech, so we had these dumplings often when I was growing up.
The stew was a great match for the wine, as the savory, fruity character of the wine brought out more richness in the stew. I wouldn’t serve this Barbera with a lot of chicken dishes, but it worked great with the stew.
The wine also would pair well with most any meaty dish, including pork, steak, duck, lamb and game such as boar or rabbit. I think it also would go well with pizza, spaghetti, meatloaf and salmon.
Here is my dumpling recipe, handed down from my grandmother and mother.

[box] Potato Dumplings

4 Russett potatoes
2-3 cups flour
2 eggs
Boil the four potatoes with the skin on for about 20 minutes or until soft inside. Peel the potatoes while still warm. Push the potatoes through a ricer onto a hard surface covered in flour. After you have a mound of riced potato, create a crater and crack two raw eggs into it. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add more flour and create dough by mashing it all together. I start with a hand masher and end up using my hands to finish the dough. Break off a small bit of dough and roll it between your palms into a ball slightly larger than a golf ball. Then roll out the ball into a log to form the dumpling. The ideal size is 4-6 inches long and about as thick as a banana.
Drop each dumpling into a pot of boiling water and cover the pot, leaving a crack for the steam to escape. Reduce the heat to a simmer so the water doesn’t boil over. You might have to scrape the dumplings from the bottom of the pan, but they will float. After about eight minutes roll each dumpling over and cook for another eight minutes.
Remove from pot carefully and place on a plate to allow the dumplings to firm up for about 10-15 minutes. Slice the dumplings and they will be good with sauerkraut, in chicken stew, oxtail stew, or other thick stews. You also can make a large batch and freeze what you don’t eat immediately.[/box] 
If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at dennis@bottlereport.com

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