WHAT: I have been drinking Michael David wines for years, and judging by their rising sales, many of you have, too. Freakshow is one of their typical offerings, from the distinctive label to the fruit-forward wine inside.
The winery is known for its labels and well-made wine. It’s great to have clever labels, and you might sell a few bottles that way, but if you want to sustain your business you had better produce good wine. Michael David has done just that. I have never tried one of their wines I didn’t enjoy.
The Freakshow label pays homage to oldtime freak shows found in carnivals with a label that looks like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album. You could spend a long time exploring the oddities on the label.
I would rather drink the wine, because it is a treat.
In the glass it is a beautiful deep-purple color, with pleasant aromas of plums, licorice and cedar. With the first sip, the fruit explodes in your mouth; there is no restraint, no waiting for the wine to open. I tasted black cherry, plum and a hint of spice. It has a medium finish and very little dropoff in flavor. We finished the bottle two days after opening it, and it still was bright and full of ripe fruit.
The grapes come from the 2012 vintage, which was outstanding in Lodi and most of California. A small amount of petite sirah was added to the blend, but it is nearly all cabernet grown in Michael’s original vineyard near the winery. The wine spent 14 months in French oak before bottling.
If you have been turned off by the mouth-puckering heavy oak flavors found in some cabernets, this is the one to try. It is a great example of the luscious fruit flavors that made cabernet sauvignon so popular.
WINERY: Named for brothers Michael and David Phillips, the winery is known for premium-quality wines and clever, eye-catching labels.
The roots of Michael David Winery go back to great-great-grandfather Andrew Harshner and his wife, Lucille, who homesteaded 160 acres near Lodi, Calif., following the Civil War in the 1860s.
Originally devoted to vegetables, the Harshner/Phillips’ farms evolved to include many fruits, including 15 wine varietals that soon became an important part of the farm operations. Grapes were shipped throughout the country during Prohibition with instructions on “how not to have the grapes turn into wine.” Wink, wink.
Michael first started his winery in 1984 with the support of his father. He had grown up on the family farm, driving a tractor and helping with the grape harvest. After graduating from the University of California Davis, he honed his skills by planting vineyards with grapes not usually found in Lodi, and produced small batches of wine as a home winemaker.
Brother David also grew up in the family vineyards, and after graduating from UC Davis he worked for an international cork company and later visited many major wine regions of the world. He joined the winery in 1989.
The brothers co-own the winery, with Michael serving as CEO and David as president. David oversaw the early distribution and early growth of the wines, starting with one distributor in Chicago in 1999 and growing to all 50 states by 2004.
After giving up the hands-on winemaking, Michael still frequently confers with the winemakers and works with them on blending wines. Michael says his goal is to show that wines made from Lodi grapes can compete with the best wines in the world. He has met that goal, as Lodi wines now are recognized as among the best.
Michael’s son and daughter represent the sixth generation of the family involved in the business. Kevin Phillips is vice president of operations and Melissa Phillips Stroud is vice president of sales.
The brothers run the winery with an eye to the future. The winery uses mostly natural farming methods on its 650 acres, though it is not certified organic. The vineyards are irrigated by the Mokelumne River, which carries crystal-clear water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, depositing minerals into the rich soils upon which the grapes thrive.
The winery building pays homage to the Phillips legacy. It was built in 1972 around the family’s original roadside fruit stand. Today it also features a cafe serving farm-style breakfasts and lunch, a bakery with pies and gourmet cookies, and a tasting room where Michael David wines are poured.
The family continues to experiment and try new wines, so there is no telling what they might come up with next.
Michael David produces a variety of wines, the best known of which is probably 7 Deadly Zins, a blend of zinfandel from seven of Lodi’s best Old Vine zinfandel vineyards.
Other Michael David wines include 6th Sense Syrah, Lust Zinfandel, Rage Zinfandel, Petite Petit Petite Sirah, Inkblot Tannat, Inkblot Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon, Ancient Vine Cinsault, Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon, Sloth Zinfandel, Incognito White, Gluttony Old Vine Zinfandel and several small-lot and appellation-designated zinfandels.
GOES WITH: I picked up a bottle of Freakshow while my wife, Teri, and I were traveling through Colorado last month, but it is available nationally. When we travel we like to maintain our wine habit. If we don’t have a bottle with dinner, we keep a bottle or two in our room to have before or after dinner.
In this case we drank the wine while sitting on our porch in Estes Park just outside the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park. As we sipped the wine and nibbled on cheese and crackers we stared at the Rocky Mountains and thought great thoughts. Later we finished the bottle in front of a crackling fire. (It gets cold in the Rockies, even in August.)
Freakshow is a perfect sipping wine, round and smooth, full of ripe fruit. Port wine cheddar cheese was a nice pairing. The wine also would go well with burgers, pizza, grilled pork chops or roast chicken. I would drink it with just about any cheese.
With smooth tannins and pleasant acidity, it is a perfect food wine.