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NorCal Wine Blog

Wine Quiz: Which Grape Originally Defined the Mokelumne River AVA in Lodi?

The Mokelumne River AVA was approved in 1992, along with the other six AVAs nested within the larger Lodi AVA. However, the Mokelumne River growing region’s boundaries were first drawn out  on a napkin by Julio Gallo decades prior. He and others believed that area best in the state for growing a particular grape.

Which grape defined what is now the Mokelumne River AVA?

  1. Petite Sirah 
  2. Flame Tokay
  3. Zinfandel
  4. Rubired
















Flame Tokay, a seeded, vitis vinifera table grape, grows better in the Mokelumne River AVA than anywhere else in the state. The grape may be delicious when grown elsewhere. However, its skin only in the area now known as the Mokelumne River AVA does it develop the distinctive bright pink “flame” color for which it is named.

The Mokelumne River AVA surrounds the town of Lodi. It’s climate is reasonably similar to that of its neighboring AVAs: Mediterranean with warm to hot days cooled dramatically be evening breezes from the Delta. However, the soil of Mokelumne River is very distinctive and has even taken its name from the Flame Tokay grape. The deep, extremely sandy and well-drained is called Tokay Sandy Loam.

That soil has proved to be good for more than just Flame Tokay though. Zinfandel does especially well in the Tokay Sandy Loam. Sand, which does not hold water, is also very resistant to Phylloxera. As a result, the Mokelumne River AVA is home to vast quantities of very old vines, including Zinfandel, Carignane, Cinsault and even some original plantings of Mission.

Greg Burns, proprietor-winemaker at Jessie's Grove stands next to one of his massive, ancient Flame Tokay vines in April, 2012.

Much of Lodi’s Flame Tokay was pulled up after seedless table grapes, such as Thompson, became hugely popular in the 1970’s. However, fields of the Flame Tokay can still be found here and there, some long-abandoned and growing wild.

The most lovingly tended old-vine Flame Tokay is probably that in the historic Royal Tee vineyard at Jessie’s Grove Winery. The grapes are now used to produce a lovely fortified wine. Gentle and light-bodied for a fortified wine, the 2009 Jessie’s Grove Ancient Vine Tokay smells and tastes of toasted marshmallow.


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This article is original to Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.