The Ladies of the Lodi Wine Scene

Several years ago, Susan Tipton celebrated Mother’s Day with guests at her Acampo winery, Acquiesce, in a special way.

She hired an actress who impersonates Julia Child. The actress spoke in character, for the most part, about Child’s life in Paris. The performance was so convincing, a woman in the audience approached the actress believing she actually was “the French Chef,” though Child had passed away more than a decade earlier.

“She went up to her and said ‘I watch you all the time on TV,’ ” said Tipton, “and Julia kept along with the program and said ‘thank you very much.’ ”

Whatever makes moms happy on their special day.

Tipton is among hundreds of women in Lodi who make people happy as winemakers, hostesses and business people. Many of these women have raised families, passing their examples of hard work and perseverance on to their children. With Mother’s Day coming Sunday, I wanted to salute some of the women of the Lodi wine scene.

In keeping with the “French Chef” theme, Tipton said her favorite food as part of a Mother’s Day brunch is quiche (here is the link to Susan’s favorite quiche recipe

“It’s kind of my treat to myself and it goes really well with our wines,” she said. “I really think that’s kind of a spring, summer, Mother’s Day brunch item.”

Susan and her husband of 40 years, Rodney Tipton, rarely spend Mother’s Day with their three boys and three granddaughters, who all live in the Pacific Northwest. But they plan to share a conversation Sunday.

“I’ll definitely talk to the kids and grandkids on the phone,” said Tipton, who has three sons: Randy, J.R. and Marshall, and three granddaughters, Georgia, 2, Saya, 8, and Frances, 11.

Mother’s Day can evoke strong memories.

Elyse Perry, winemaker at Bokisch Vineyards, and her three older brothers always tried to give their mother, Phyllis, some time to herself on Mother’s Day growing up in New York. Perry said her father always presented Phyllis with a bouquet of roses.

Perry rarely has the opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day with her mom, who still lives in New York. But they are close in their hearts and thoughts. Perry said her mother’s faith in her has been a huge positive in her life, especially when she left 22 years ago to begin a new life in California.

“Whatever I put my mind to she would always say, ‘you can do it,’ ” said Perry, whose husband, Jeff, is the wine club and tasting room manager at Bokisch. “She has always remained really positive. She has this warmth and light about her.”

Heather Pyle-Lucas also has warmth and light about her, especially when growing grapes and making wine at The Lucas Winery, which she owns with her husband, David. She has been a stepmom to David’s grown children, Brandon “Buck” Lucas and Mitra Lucas, who runs the winery, and a grandmother to Mitra’s boys: Luc, 5, and Beau, 3.

Heather learned valuable lessons from her mother, the late Ann Pyle, who was born and raised in Australia and became an Olympic swimmer. Ann was the first woman to graduate from Sydney University with a medical degree and practiced medicine in Great Britain. Heather said her mother gave her the courage to follow her convictions. Heather was studying to be a veterinarian at University of California, Davis before taking an “introduction to wine” course her final semester. She was hooked. Heather changed her career path to winemaking and started with the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa.

“I decided agriculture was a great choice for me,” Heather said. “My brain started engaging instead of being on this track of this is what I want to be when I grow up and never changing.”

Marissa Lange also followed her mind and heart when she opted out of the medical field after obtaining a degree in neuroscience from Brown University in Rhode Island. She returned to California to work in the family business, LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in Acampo. A busy working mom to son Lincoln, 10, and daughter Jane, 8, and wife of Matthew Janopaul, Lange started working in marketing at LangeTwins and now is the company president.

“My mother (Charlene Lange) is full of wonderful advice,” Lange said. “But one of the best is showing a level of persistence, a level of commitment, a level of dedication to whatever you are doing. That notion that you really need to persevere to thrive in anything you do in life, whether personal or professional.”

Elyse Perry, left, Barbara Spencer, Heather Lucas, Lani Holdener, Bettyann Spenker, Jorja Lerner, Marissa Lange and Susan Tipton represent women in the Lodi wine industry. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD.

Jorja Lerner has two teenage children — Kirsten, 17, and Ian, 15. She and her husband, Kyle, run Harney Lane Winery in Lodi. Jorja said Mother’s Day usually involves something relaxing at home with the family after a day hosting guests at their tasting room.

“We’ve kind of rearranged when we celebrate,” Jorja said. “We’ve tried to create a space here where people kind of enjoy relaxing and hanging out. That’s what we’re here for.”

Barbara Spencer is seemingly always busy at St. Amant Winery, which she opened in 1990 alongside her late husband, Tim. Barbara has passed her strong work ethic on to her children, Stuart and Lori, who help at the winery. Stuart is the winemaker and also the program manager with the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Lori is a school teacher and assists any time she’s needed.

“There’s always something going on,” Barbara said. “My kids have always been hard workers and very disciplined, so that’s been good.”

Bettyann Spenker also is a hard worker. She studied biological science and started teaching before she met her husband, Chuck, started a family and opened Spenker Winery in Lodi. She and Chuck have two grown daughters, Kate and Sarah, who help at the winery, which opened in 1994. Bettyann is the winemaker and is immersed these days in overseeing construction of a new tasting room and goat cheese creamery on the property. Bettyann said she has learned to balance her hectic work schedule with being a wife and mother.

“For working moms, you have to figure out what works for you and not compare yourself to what other moms do,” she said. “There’s a wide spectrum of things that do work. There’s a lot of pressure that moms put on themselves. I know I put a lot of pressure on myself to do as well as what I perceived somebody else was doing, and that can really frustrate you.”

Lani Holdener wears many hats at Macchia Winery in Acampo.

“This morning I was mowing three acres of lawn, and yesterday I was loading seven pallets of wine on the UPS truck,” she said. “You just have to wear the hat that’s called for that day or that moment.”

Lani’s engery and drive have helped Macchia thrive since it opened in 2001. Lani said Mother’s Day plans can depend on what hat she’s wearing that day. Her children, Tanya McMahan, Jonathan McMahan and Tyler Holdener, work at the winery. Her three grandchildren, Sierra McMahan, 15, and 17-month old twins Kayla and Asher McMahan, and her parents, Mona and Bill Bassler, are all relatively close by.

“It’s fine, because you know every time I’m with my mother it’s Mother’s Day and every time I’m with my kids it’s Grandkids’ Day,” Lani said. “I try not to hold one day bigger than the next.”

But Mother’s Day is a big day. So, thanks to all of the moms for everything they do, including my mother, Barbara Highfill, and my mother-in-law, Teresita Roceli.


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      Bob Highfill

      Record 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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