Psychologists analysing paratroopers divide them into three different categories: ‘courageous’, ‘fearless’ and ‘over-confident’. It’s not clear which of these would have applied to ex-paratrooper Bob Koth, but almost certainly one of those qualities was required to plant what is the most eclectic collection of wine grapes in a single vineyard anywhere in the state of California.
Bob Koth grew up in Lodi, and joined the army right after high school. Later he would attend the College of the Pacific, where he met his wife Mary Lou, a half-Norwegian pianist and long-distance skier. Their son Brett, whom I met recently, claims to have inherited ‘a bit of Viking’ from her.
Bob and Mary Lou moved back to Lodi in 1962 and bought a parcel of land on the east side of town that slopes down to a bend in the Mokelumne River and was planted with a small pear orchard and a few acres of Flame Tokay and Zinfandel grapes. While teaching middle school, Koth built a house and the two settled down to have a family.
Bob Koth was already a wine lover by the time his kids came along. ‘My dad was drinking all the normal stuff that people would drink in the eighties’, says Brett Koth, ticking off the usual suspects: Thunderbird, Mateus and especially Blue Nun.
But then in 1990 everything changed. ‘My sister went over to Germany on a Fulbright scholarship, and my dad used that as an excuse to take some time off’, says Brett. ‘He went over there and they went out to dinner and he ordered a Riesling, thinking it would be a little sweet. But instead he ended up with something dry and it was a lightbulb moment.’
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Photo of Mokelumne Glen Vineyard by Randy Caparoso.