LOCKEFORD – Eric Donaldson is making Champagne on a beer budget.
Well, not really.
Champagne isn’t Champagne unless it’s made in Champagne, France. But sparkling wine crafted in the method champenoise, a.k.a. the traditional method, can be made anywhere. And that’s what Donaldson is doing, and he’s only vintner in Lodi crafting sparkling wine using Champagne’s traditional method.
“There’s actually quite a bit of sparkling wine coming from Lodi, but no one else is doing domestic champenoise here, so I said I’m just going to open up shop here in town,” said Donaldson, a 34-year-old native of Oxford, Ohio, and University of Miami (Ohio) graduate. “Since everybody else is using Lodi fruit, why shouldn’t I?”
Donaldson will offer his line of three sparkling wines under the LVVR Sparkling Cellars label at the grand opening of his tasting room from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday in the spot formerly occupied by Stama Winery at Tuscan Wine Village, formerly Vino Piazza, on Locke Road in Lockeford.
Donaldson has been in the wine business since 2005 and has crisscrossed the country making wine in his native Ohio, as well as southern New Mexico, Healdsburg and for the last five years in Lodi. Donaldson has invested his life savings and then some for his startup sparkling wine operation, cutting costs by using refurbished equipment and doing all of the work himself. But Donaldson doesn’t take short cuts when it comes to the quality of his wines.
The brut is bright and clean, as is the rose and the Blanc de Blancs. Each wine starts with a base blend of chardonnay and viognier (12.8 percent ABV). Chardonnay and pinot noir are the classic varieties in Champagne. Viognier is not.
“Viognier offers a little more fruit and complexity on the bouquet,” Donaldson said. “You know there’s something. It’s hard to put an adjective on it but you know it’s not all chardonnay.”
Sparkling wine can be made different ways. All sparkling wines begin with a still wine. The finished product depends on the fermentation method. Weibel Winery in Lodi makes delightful sparkling wines using the Charmat method, where the second fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in a tank. Italian Prosecco commonly is made this way.
With the traditional method, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and the bubbles are trapped inside. The bottles slowly are turned over several days to allow the dead yeast cells to settle at the neck of the bottle. The bottle neck is frozen to stabilize the yeast and the bottle is disgorged. Replacement wine is added in a process called dosage, and the bottle is corked.
Generally, method champenoise creates finer bubbles than the Charmat method, and the wine takes on complex flavors and aromas of yeast, bread and nuts when it’s allowed to age.
The differences between Donaldson’s three sparkling wines are determined by the dosage. The rose, for instance, receives its color and nuanced earthy aroma from a 2 percent dosage of Alicante Bouchet.
Donaldson sources from Lodi growers, who long have supplied fruit to some of Napa’s premier sparkling wine houses. He said he enjoys making wine in Lodi. LVVR Sparkling Cellars wines are priced around $20 retail and are available at Zin Bistro, Brix and Hops and Cheese Central in Lodi.
“I like the community. A lot of people have been willing to help me out,” said Donaldson, who previously worked in the cellar at LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in Lodi. “Also, I like the fruit. You get really good quality here out of Lodi and it’s reasonably priced, so it makes a start much easier versus Napa and Sonoma where the amount of startup capital is outrageous. Here, people can do things to get started.”
There’s no doubt that Donaldson is starting something sparkling.
Bob HighfillRecord Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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