LODI — Many industries await calamity before adopting altruistic processes to achieve long-term success.
Not Lodi’s wine grape growers.
In 2006, some of the 750 growers in the Lodi American Viticultural Area adopted California’s first sustainable viticulture program, the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing.
And it’s not a fuzzy, feel-good joke of a program.
To be certified, a grower must meet rigorous standards pertaining to 100 sustainability practices organized into six chapters: business management, human resources management, ecosystem management, soil management, water management and pest management.
When first created, just five growers and about 1,200 acres were certified sustainable by Lodi Rules. In 2016, more than 100 growers and 36,000 acres, about 22 percent of the appellation, had become certified sustainable. More than 25 wineries have wines bearing the Lodi Rules seal.
“Sustainability is the future,” grower Aaron Shinn said during a recent Facebook Live virtual tasting that also was hosted by St. Amant Winery owner and winemaker Stuart Spencer and noted winemaker Chad Joseph. “Becoming part of a program that allows you to be certified through rigorous standards is kind of a way to adapt to the market. It’s something that people are looking for. It’s something that people care about.”
The Lodi Rules were not created to comply with a bureaucratic edict. They were a proactive measure created voluntarily by Lodi’s farming community, which includes many multi-generation families, to ensure a healthy wine grape business for years and years to come. Lodi Rules has become a benchmark program for other regions in California and elsewhere to follow.
Grape quality has improved as a result of the Lodi Rules.
“You know that if a grower is going through these steps and processes, they are paying a lot more attention to what’s going on in the vineyard,” said Spencer, who also is the program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission. “It’s ultimately going to end up in a better quality product. What it says is our vineyard is a better vineyard because of the attention we are giving it.”
To illustrate how sustainable vineyard management pays off in the bottle, four Lodi Rules certified wines were featured in the virtual tasting attended by a cyber audience of wine writers and bloggers. Each wine carries the Lodi Rules seal indicating that at least 85 percent of the juice came from Lodi Rules certified vineyards.
“When you buy that product with that seal on it, your money is going to people that care about future generations and about taking care of the land and the people that work the land,” said Joseph, winemaker at Oak Farm Vineyards, Harney Lane Winery and Dancing Coyote Wines. “That’s a great selling point for me right there.”
2015 Bokisch Vineyards Albarino, Terra Alta Vineyard ($18)
Liz and Markus Bokisch generally are credited for bringing this Spanish white varietal to Lodi. Albarino is an early-harvest grape that creates a light-bodied wine with a beautifully fresh acidity. The citrus fruit expression from the Terra Alta Vineyard in the Clements Hills sub-AVA is gorgeous, and the wine has a mineral, almost flinty texture.
2016 Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($20)
Joseph has made a pure sauvignon blanc with aromas of lemongrass, grapefruit and pear with refreshing acidity and honeydew melon and citrus flavors. There is an underlying grassy element but not too much. The grapes are from the venerable Mohr-Fry Ranch.
2014 Michael Klouda Broken Vine Zinfandel ($26)
This is Klouda’s third vintage from Bob Schulenburg’s vineyard, which has 60-year-old vines that produce small clusters with small berry size. Just more than a third of the juice was fermented with native yeast. The wine spent 16 months in second-year barrels that had been used for pinot noir.
2014 Michael David Winery Inkblot Cab Franc ($35)
Michael David Winery was among the first that signed on with the Lodi Rules, and they incentivized their growers to comply with the program. Among their eclectic lineup is this cabernet franc, a Bordeaux varietal noted for its black cherry flavor and touch of graphite on the finish. A beautifully structured wine that represents the wide range of styles Lodi has to offer.
The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing are a credit to the Lodi wine community. The rules help ensure that Lodi will be a vibrant wine region for years to come.