Michael David Winery - Incognito Wines
Central Valley region
Michael David's remaining wines also include the first Lodi Appellation sparkling wines
The story behind the founding of Lodi’s Michael David Vineyards is a no nonsense tale that can be traced back at least five generations to a spot in the middle region of Northern California’s Lower San Joaquin Valley.
It was in the period of 1915 – 1920 that relatives of Michael and David Phillips’ mother first began planting grapes on their sprawling delta property. Since the 1850’s, the family had first planted wheat and followed it up with crops of watermelons. The advent of wine consumption and the area’s propensity for producing plentiful grapes made the decision to plant vineyards a wise one. The grapes fared well in their surroundings and after a while a large percentage of the grapes produced were sold to larger producers in the area, as was the custom of many of the existing Lodi wineries.
It wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that the brother team of Michael and David Phillips decided to produce their own wines. They planted a select number of varietals and made their first release of around 1,000 cases under the Phillips Vineyards label in 1984. Even though these first wines met with success, a problem soon developed with the much larger R.H. Phillips brand of nearby Dunnigan Hills. After deciding not to tackle the well-financed and perceptively larger entity, the name change to Michael David Vineyards was put into effect.
Today Michael Phillips, 51 and his brother David, 41, own and operate the nearly 40,000 case Michael David Vineyards. Under the name of Phillips Family LLC, the entity grows grapes on approximately 320 acres of which around 80% are used in the production of Michael David Vineyards wines and the remainder is sold to other wineries.
Both brothers have taken similar routes through the University of California Davis system to arrive at their present status. Michael Phillips served as winemaker for nearly the past twenty years and has only recently relinquished the winemaking chores to his two imported (from France and South Africa) winemakers. He still reserves the right to the ultimate say on the winery’s final blends and currently busies himself with the important job of marketing Michael David Vineyards wines across the country.
Michael’s younger brother David was literally brought up in a winemaking environment, and is also a UC Davis graduate. His daily responsibilities include running the winery’s office and financial affairs, public relations and a share of the marketing chores along with his older brother.
Both brothers’ wives play an important role in the Michael David Vineyards picture. Michael’s wife Kristy helps with the company’s marketing and produces its special events. She is also the buyer for the busy tasting room facility located at the winery. David’s wife Corene puts her chemistry degree to good use and does all of the winery’s lab work.
To make Michael David even more of a family affair, Michael’s son Kevin, 28, puts his business/agriculture degree from Fresno State to excellent use and manages the family’s expanding vineyard business. At present, Phillips Family grows over 15 different varietals and intends to increase the number in the immediate future.
Such happenings are big news for a winery located in Lodi, an area once considered as only suited for the production of bulk grapes. The winery points proudly to a stand of jagged old Carignane grapes that dates from the 1920’s as part of their legacy to the modern world of grape growing and production.
Even though Lodi is largely famous for its production of Zinfandel, Michael David Vineyards continues to produce a number of excellent Chardonnays as well as a number of blends. Some of these include a wine called Incognito (mysterious clones that produce powerful and intense wines), and another cleverly termed Earthquake (ground shaking wines that awaken your senses and rock your world.) Michael David’s remaining wines also include the first Lodi Appellation sparkling wines.
It is entirely true that Michael David Vineyards is the product of a simple beginning that has held steadfastly to the principle that great wines can be produced from superior grapes despite the location of the vineyards and winery. Michael David’s owners have waged a war to that effect, and Michael Phillips in particular is an outspoken proponent of the quality of Lodi appellation and of the fine wines produced there.
This is a wonderful opportunity to taste for yourself. We know you will agree that the Michael David Vineyards selection is a wonderful addition to our Gold Medal Portfolio.
Map of the area
Michael Phillips - Co-Owner
Michael Phillips has always relished his role as an underdog in the highly competitive wine business. He has watched his fledgling winery grow steadily until it has reached its present 40,000 case level. Through it all he has remained steadfast to the proposition that his beloved Lodi Appellation is capable of producing wines on par with all the finest wine producing appellations in the world including nearby Napa and Sonoma.
When Michael and David Phillips first started Michael David Vineyards, there were only 10 — 12 wineries within the Lodi area. Today there are more than fifty Lodi wineries, a fact that Phillips finds increasingly significant.
‘The fact is simply,” he stated flatly, ‘that Lodi gets a bad rap from just about everyone as a prime growing area. Its been held that way for at least the last fifty years. Wine writers and periodicals have held that Lodi is too hot for growing really quality grapes and have told that to everyone. They are, for the most part, completely misinformed.”
Since the belief is widely held in the wine industry, a further explanation is in order.
‘If you consider the fact that Lodi is primarily a delta area, and is also a product of a naturally occurring delta breeze, you get a more informed idea of the climate,” he continued. ‘There are five rivers that concur within two miles of the city of Lodi, and the naturally cool San Francisco Bay is just about 50 miles away. It’s no warmer here than it is in Northern Napa, but no one gives us a break when it comes of growing quality grapes.”
That is probably true, but Michael Phillips is also faced with the history of Lodi and the surrounding area. True to its reputation, Lodi has always been known to produce bulk wines and an abundance of quantity that has added to it reputation.
‘I realize what I’m facing on that score,” he affirmed. ‘It was always easier for the local growers to plant varietals that could produce a lot of tonnage per acre. If you were selling to the bulk market, it meant more money in your pocket if your vines were over-cropped.”
To that end, Michael Phillips has been steadfast in utilizing modern techniques to insure the quantity of his crops including crop thinning, leaf pulling and other methods. He limits his grapes to from 3 to 5 tons per acres, in line with many Napa and Sonoma growers, but far below many of his neighbors in Lodi.
‘It’s not an easy job to convince my fellow growers that a smaller crop is better and will eventually mean more money for them. It is also difficult to convince our local wineries that using the Lodi Appellation on our wines definitely helps build our specific area in the minds of the consumer.”
Phillips believes that his wines and many of the Lodi-grown wines have a huge advantage over many of their counterparts.
‘Lodi has always been known for wines with soft tannins,” he explained further. ‘This factor allows us to get our wines to the market much faster than producers with hard tannin wines. Our wines are smooth and supple, but will not usually age as long as some of the others. It’s a factor that we must utilize to our advantage.”
All the while, Michael Phillips acknowledges the fact that Lodi’s shortcomings related to growing conditions are also credited with the success of the venerable Zinfandel grape, a varietal that his Michael David Vineyards winery produces seven different types.
‘I agree that heat makes for great Zinfandels,” Phillips agreed. ‘I honestly believe we make the very best Zins in the state, but I also feel the climate is right to make other great wines.”
Such candor seems well suited to Michael Phillips, a man on a specific mission. He has gradually been able to convince others the Lodi Appellation is help and not a hindrance.
Most importantly, he has the full support of his family and friends, many of whom echo Lodi’s attributes in much the same manner as their leader.
In this day of moderation and middle of the road position taking, Michael Phillips seems a fresh breeze that wafts through the purlieus of the beleaguered Lodi Appellation.
Will Michael Phillips ever give up on changing people’s impressions of his favorite wine area’
Not much of a chance of that happening. All he asks is that you judge for yourself.