New director has great stories to tell

Wendy Brannen is the new executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD PHOTO

LODI – Early in her professional career, after a short stint in banking, Wendy Brannen was a television news anchor and reporter.
Her favorite stories were those that helped people, brought interesting subjects to light or had a nostalgic flair.
Though her career path has changed, the Georgia native who loves college football Saturdays in the fall still is telling stories that touch on the elements she holds dear.
In early November, Brannen officially took the reins as Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, which represents 85 wineries and some 750 growers who manage more than 100,000 acres in the Lodi American Viticultural Area. Among her myriad duties is relaying to the public near and far the stories of Lodi’s growers and winemakers.
“I always feel like what I do in this iteration of my career is very similar to what I did in the news industry, because you are still telling stories,” Brannen said. “And with farmers and these unique crops or products, there are so many good stories. Just looking at Lodi, we have so many fifth-generation families and back stories.
“You can just name off the top of your head dozens of great, unique Lodi stories, so it is very fun for me to be able to continue to tell great interesting stories in a way that helps the people I’m working for and that’s very much like my history in TV news.”
Brannen is the commission’s third executive director, following outgoing Lodi mayor Mark Chandler, who headed the body for more than 20 years, and Camron King, who resigned last April to become president of the National Grape and Wine Initiative based in Sacramento. King now is president of Sterling Caviar based in Elverta.
In addition to marketing and promoting Lodi wines, Brannen’s functions include grower relations and overseeing the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center tasting room.
“It’s a tough bill to fill because you are trying to help experts,” Brannen said. “Nobody knows how to grow a wine grape better than a wine grape grower. But if there’s something that we can do to bring in an expert to talk about better ways to file their taxes or are there better disease management alternatives, are there people that we can connect them with who can help them with government or regulatory issues, that’s another big function of what we do more than the public relations and marketing.”
Brannen comes to Lodi from the U.S. Apple Association in Washington, D.C., where she was the Director of Consumer Health and Public Relations. She spent the prior seven years as Executive Director of the Vidalia Onion Committee in Vidalia, Georgia, near where she grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Both jobs appealed to Brannen’s creative and inquisitive nature, and allowed her talents in marketing and public relations to flourish. In Washington, Brannen also learned about lobbying and government affairs and regulatory components.
“I got to pick up more knowledge about this whole world of association management and working for commodities,” she said. “So, that kind of brings me to today.”
Brannen said she wasn’t looking for a new job, but the opportunity in Lodi intrigued her. She said the people she met during her interviews convinced her to make the move.
“There are friendly people everywhere, but Lodi as a whole seems to have an inordinate amount of people who care and go out of their way,” said Brannen, “and that translates over to the growers and the wineries.”
Brannen wants to build on the successes of her predecessors, such as the establishment of the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Grape Growing in 2005 and Wine Enthusiast naming Lodi Wine Region of the Year in 2015, and move Lodi forward with those who stand beside her today.
“I’m very hopeful that together we can go on a positive trajectory,” Brannen said. “And I think we are set up to do that.”

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Introducing the Viney awards

The calendar is about to set on 2016.

In what I’ll call the first annual Viney Awards, here’s are some of the best wines I tasted this year:

• 2013 Rall White ($29)

Even my non-white wine drinking friends enjoyed this delightfully crisp and elegant blend of chenin blanc, viognier, chardonnay and verdelho from Swartland and Stellenbosch in South Africa. The wine has a mineral core from the chenin blanc with delicious floral notes from the verdelho and viognier. Great with seafood and as an aperitif.

• 2016 LangeTwins Nouveau ($18)

Winemaker David Akiyoshi’s clever treatment of fresh-picked zinfandel in a manner similar to nouveau Beaujolais produced a wine that bridges the gap between rose and red. It’s not a lightweight but it won’t knock your block off either. Gorgeous rose petals, strawberries and watermelon flavors and aromas are what you’ll find with this beauty.

• 2014 Bokisch Monastrell ($23)

The last vintage from the Belle Colline vineyard is 100 percent monastrell, crafted by winemaker Elyse Perry. The wine has some of the earthy elements consistent with the grape’s French variation, mouvedre, but it also possesses beautiful red fruit, such as raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate. The Belle Colline vineyard is being replanted to a different variety. Markus and Liz Bokisch have planted monastrell in the Sheldon Hills Vineyard in the Sloughouse sub-AVA, but it might take a few years before the vines have sufficiently matured.

• 2015 Heritage Oak Sauvignon Blanc ($18)

Tom Hoffman made his 2015 sauvignon blanc from his estate fruit in Acampo the same way he’s always made it. But the nose on the 2015 blew him away: “Grapefruit just screams out at you,” he said. The flavors are citrusy and tropical with great acid balance.

• 2015 Acquiesce Viognier ($24)

If you want to try this magnificent white wine at owner Susan Tipton’s tasting room just off Peltier Road in Lodi, you’ll have to wait until March. That’s what happens when you craft tiny lots of glorious wine – you sell out, which she did earlier this month. In March, she’ll re-open and offer her new releases. If you love something, you’d be wise to purchase it right then and there.

• 2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon ($55)

This is like saying oxygen is my favorite element. You don’t need Jordan cabernet to survive, but it sure helps. Rob Davis, the only winemaker Jordan ever has had (and that’s going back more than 40 years) has been quoted to say the 2012 is his favorite vintage: “2012 was truly a phenomenal growing season – every winemaker’s dream – which shines through as one of the most complex Jordan cabernet sauvignons to date.”

• 2013 Harney Lane Cabernet Sauvignon ($35)

So, you think Lodi is only good for big, jammy zinfandels, right? Harney Lane’s Kyle Lerner would like to change your mind and his first proprietary cabernet sauvignon might just do the trick. There are components to this wine a Bordeaux drinker would appreciate: good structure, nice acid balance, solid fruit, light oak, nothing over the top. Winemaker Chad Joseph calls it a cab with “true varietal character.”

• 2014 Balo Anderson Valley Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir ($40)

Balo’s first attempt at bottling a single clone pinot has an interesting story behind it. This controversial pinot droit clone was smuggled into the country from Burgundy many years ago by a famous Oregon winery. Its vigorous growth profile has raised questions about its origins. Great story, but is the wine any good? Yep. It tastes like a pinot noir that’s in a relationship with Beaujolais. It’s a beautifully nuanced wine.

Those are just several of my favorites this year – the first annual Vineys. Tell me about the wines you tried this year that were your favorites. Shoot me an email. Happy New Year.

– Contact reporter Bob Highill at (209) 546-8282 or Follow him at and on Twitter @BobHighfill

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Berghold is a winter wine-derland

Berghold Estate Winery has an amazing Christmas display inside its tasting room that will put you in the holiday spirit faster than you can say Kris Kringle.

Year round beneath the pitched ceiling inside Berghold’s elegant barn-style chateau off Cherry Road is perhaps the most impressive collection of antiques anywhere in the country. But come holiday time, the rare furniture, woodwork and sculptures share space with an overwhelming treasury of Santa Clauses, decorated Christmas trees, sparkling ornaments, and other dazzling objects.

“We get calls in July asking when the décor is going up,” said Julia Berghold, general manager of the family-run operation. “We put some decorations up the first year just to make it look festive, but then after that, every year it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

This year, the display went up in early October and will stay up through January.

The Christmas display has been Julia’s passion project since the winery opened its doors in 2005. She used to spend up to 20 hours a day for more than a week by herself putting everything out. She’s grateful for the help she’s received the past four years from a small team of dedicated ladies.

Julia always is on the lookout for items to add to the display, and she said the hard work has been worth the effort based on the visitors’ reactions.

“I’m looking for unusual things,” she said. “There’s no point in carrying something that everyone else is carrying, and that’s one of the things people say most when they come in here – the uniqueness of the items.”

Six life-sized, old world Father Christmases stand in the tasting room, with long white beards flowing over their chubby cheeks beneath their tiny spectacles. Each 6-foot tall work of art is unique and painstakingly hand made from top to bottom by Kay Berghold, whose husband Joe Berghold owns the winery and is a world-renowned antiques collector. Kay makes the clothing, dressing each Father Christmas differently in colorful fabrics with decorative glass accents. Some are draped in furs donated by friends and visitors.

Julia said her favorite item changes every year. This year, she’s particularly fond of a hand-carved, hand-painted white peacock perched on a regal stand with gold embellishment and brilliant feathers. The sculpture and more than a dozen other pieces rest atop a 103-year-old piano designed by Stieff, an East Coast piano maker that competed with Steinway but didn’t survive the Great Depression.

Near the peacock sits a tiny carriage that resembles a Faberge egg — perhaps something a Russian czar might have commissioned — with a nutcracker doll standing guard on either side.

With every turn, another interesting, fun piece of décor catches the eye.

“People come in and they love it,” Julia said. “It instantly puts them in the mood for the holidays.”

Setting the mood is an important aspect of Joe Berghold’s business philosophy. Berghold made his fortune in corporate finance and helped turn around companies like Levi Straus and Six Flags. Berghold headed Levi’s European children’s clothing division out of France, where his dream of some day owning a winery was born. While with Six Flags, Berghold gained an appreciation for creating an unbeatable customer experience. In 1986, Berghold set out to achieve his dream by purchasing 85 acres and two homes from three different parties in Lodi. After replanting his acreage in the late 1980s with marketable wine grape varieties, Berghold sold his fruit to outside clients while he and Kay lived in Portola Valley. In 2000, Joe and Kay moved to Lodi and started their winery, enlisting their son, Miles Berghold, as the winemaker and his wife, Julia, as the general manager.

In order to create an unbeatable customer experience and satisfy one of his passions, Joe accented his spacious tasting room with antiques from the American Victorian period (1880-1900), including many valuable pieces from the Philadelphia area where he grew up the son of an antiques collector. Joe, who also restores antiques, has developed a relationship with the family of noted craftsman Daniel Pabst and has in his collection some of Pabst’s most important pieces, including a remarkable, perfectly restored mantel built in the 1880s that once stood in a mansion in downtown Philadelphia that had a renowned art gallery.

“It’s probably the most famous fireplace in American history,” Joe Berghold said. “It’s all hand carved by Daniel Pabst. This is a Pabst piece. It’s one of his most famous pieces, and it’s all Pennsylvania black walnut.”

The antique collection is not meant to overshadow the wine. Berghold Estate Winery truly is an estate winery with all of the fruit coming from their three contiguous vineyards encompassing 85 acres that are planted to syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel and viognier. Recently, sangiovese, Grenache, petite sirah, mouvedre and cabernet franc were planted. About 30 percent of the yield goes into Berghold wine, the rest is contracted to other wineries. Total production hovers around 5,000 cases and all of it is sold directly through their web site, tasting room and wine club.

“There’s a lot here,” Joe said. “Julia does a great job with the Christmas stuff, so we have the Christmas stuff. But during most of the year, we don’t camouflage the antiques. It’s a family deal and we’re successful as a winery. As a small, estate winery, this is the way to go.”

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Winter’s chill means it’s time for reds

When winter’s chill begins to bite, it only seems natural to break out the red wines you’ve had stocked away and pair them with heartier fare consistent with the season.

I’ve tried a few recently that I want to tell you about:

  • 2013 Emblem Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35)

The Oso Vineyard provides the central character and structure, while the balance of fruit from the valley floor contributes to the roundness and complexity. Produced by the Michael Mondavi Family Estate, there is concentrated blue and black fruit and a hint of torched crème brulee in this cab-dominated blend, which also has petite sirah (8 percent), petit verdot (5 percent), syrah (4.5 percent), zinfandel (2 percent) and merlot (1.5 percent).

  • 2015 St.-Cosme Cotes du Rhone ($13)

My recent trip to New Orleans included a remarkable dinner at uptown hot spot Gautreau’s. This splendid syrah-based wine went beautifully with duck confit, red meat dishes and hearty fish ordered by our party. Blueberry and boysenberry flavors came to the forefront, with anise and floral notes, maybe violets, on the back end. Truly a memorable experience.

  • 2013 Osvaldo Viberti Langhe Nebbiolo ($20)

Nebbiolo is the primary grape variety behind the prized red wines of Piedmont in northwest Italy, most notably Barolo and Barbaresco, wines distinguished by their strong tannins and high acidity. But this Nebbiolo from Langhe exhibited tremendous finesse and softness, with beautiful red cherry flavors and aromas, making it a stunning pairing with pizza, grilled red snapper and pappardelle with spicy lamb ragut.



  • The 2014 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Gap’s Crown Vineyard ($40)

Rated 35th on the Wine Spectator Top 100, Sojourn has been my personal favorite for many years. Owner Craig Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley have consistently delivered beautiful pinots, sourcing from some of the most celebrated vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties. About the 2014 Gap’s Crown, the Spectator writes “lightly aromatic, but rich and layered, this offers excellent density and depth, with fine-grained tannic grip and a long, persistent finish that keeps flashing the core flavors. Drink now through 2020.” Information:

Here are a couple important dates to sock away for next year:

  • The annual Lodi Wine and Chocolate Weekend is turning 20 next year and will be on Feb. 11-12 at more than 50 participating wineries. Each will have plenty of offerings to tempt your taste buds with handcrafted Lodi wines and sweet and savory bites. In addition, more than 100 prizes will be hidden within complimentary chocolate treats upon check in, including one special “golden ticket” good for a getaway for two in Lodi wine country.

Always a popular event, tickets are $55 in advance, $65 the day(s) of the event and are available at or at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center at 2545 W. Turner Road.

  • Another must-do event is ZinFest, which will celebrate its 13th year from Friday, May 19 to Sunday, May 21 at Lodi Lake. Sip, swirl & savor from a selection of 200 handcrafted wines from 40-plus Lodi wineries. Enjoy local food, the ZinFest Wine and Cooking Schools, or relax along the beautiful Mokelumne River to an eclectic mix of live music. There is no better way to celebrate the fantastic wines of Lodi Wine Country. Information:

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2016 another bumper year for Lodi

Lodi had another bumper year in the wine industry.

Still basking in the glow of being named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast, Lodi continued to make a name for itself by hosting the Wine Bloggers Conference, winning prestigious awards and expanding its offerings.

Wine Bloggers Conference

Rachel Von Sturmer came all the way to Lodi for the ninth Wine Bloggers Conference from Vancouver, British Columbia. Her thoughts about the four-day social media blitz in mid-August that attracted close to 300 wine writers and bloggers from around the county and the world would have been music to the organizers’ ears.

“I’ll be a bit of an evangelist when I go home and talk to people,” said Von Sturmer, an independent wine writer, whose blog is at “I’ll be mentioning Lodi and writing about it and blogging about it, just trying to show people it’s not all about zinfandel, although the zinfandel is fantastic.”

The Lodi Winegrape Commission, a group composed of more than 750 growers who manage more than 100,000 acres of wine grapes, hosted the event for the first time. The hope was the increasingly influential community of wine writers, bloggers and social media and public relations experts would increase awareness about California’s largest winegrape growing region.

Lodi’s wineries, growers and winemakers opened their doors and hearts, and provided a glimpse into their lives and the passion they have for their craft. The conference included seminars led by industry giants and tastings at Hutchins Street Square, plus excursions to some of the outstanding wineries and vineyards in the area.

Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant and program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission, hoped the writers and bloggers would spread the word once they returned home.

“It’s been a fantastic conference to host,” Spencer said. “I’ve been extremely happy with the quality of the audience and their interest in our area and wines. They seem to be having a great time, taking in the whole Lodi experience. Hopefully, they will go back and evangelize about Lodi and its delicious wines and great people.”

Taking home the hardware

  • More than 230 different wines from the Lodi AVA earned at least a bronze medal at the 2016 California State Fair Wine Competition.

Among those that brought home some hardware were two that hit the Mother Lode: The 2015 Acquiesce Viognier and St. Amant’s 2014 The Road Less Traveled Tempranillo.

  • Susan Tipton’s Viognier from her estate vineyard in Acampo scored 98 points and earned double gold, Best of California and Best of Class of Region.

When you visit Acquiesce, you will be offered small bites of food to go with Tipton’s fabulous lineup of white Rhone varietals and blends. During a recent visit, she paired her Viognier with a mango chutney from France spiked with Sichuan pepper on a bagel chip.

“The mango really brings out the peachy aromas in the Viognier,” she said. “Viognier here in Lodi is a very easy grape to grow. There are about 3,000 acres of Viognier in Lodi.”

  • Spencer’s Road Less Traveled Tempranillo pays homage to his late father, Tim.

The bottle has a pair of old work boots on the label, like the boots Tim Spencer wore when he worked his vineyard in Amador County. Tim Spencer almost always chose the road less traveled in his business practices. He opened one of Lodi’s first boutique wineries and grew and made wine from strange Portuguese and Spanish varieties in the late 1970s when Lodi wasn’t a well-known or well-respected wine region.

“It was set up for a fairly difficult path, but we persevered,” said Spencer, whose father passed away in 2006. “So, to me, that wine kind of embodied that and getting that recognition has kind of been an endorsement of what we’ve been trying to do the last 35 years, and it’s nice to get those things.”

Breaking new ground

  • Scotto Cellars made a splash this year by releasing its Masthead wine – a 100 percent Sangiovese blended from two different oak barrels by noted wine writers Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget of Stockton, Cindy Rynning from Chicago and Melanie Ofenlach from Dallas. The wine was released to great fanfare at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi.

But that wasn’t all for the Scotto Family. In mid-October, they opened their brand-new tasting room School Street in downtown Lodi.

  • Harney Lane Winery in Lodi released its first Cabernet Sauvignon in the summer, and it was one of my favorite wines of the year. Owner Kyle Lerner handled the fruit and Chad Joseph crafted a beautifully nuanced wine from the 2013 vintage.

Lerner set out to prove a point about Lodi which grows lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and sells most of it to outside wineries to blend or extend their programs.

“We are not just that one-pony show here, that one varietal show that we’re known for,” Lerner said. “This is part of what we’re trying to expose consumers to, is the fact that this is a region that can manage a lot of varieties very well, very successfully.”

Said Joseph, “I was really happy. It represents the potential of Lodi. The thing I’m happiest about is the varietal character. It has true varietal character.”

In 2016, Lodi showed its character yet again. And 2017 promises to be another great year.

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Friendsgiving is food, wine and fellowship

Doug Seed was posed with a challenge, one that he gladly accepted.

The chef and owner of Morada Eats catering and A Moveable Feast food truck was asked to come up with small bites of Thanksgiving fare and pair them with LangeTwins estate wines for the first LangeTwins “Friendsgiving” party on the eve of the holiday.

The guests enjoyed themselves so much that LangeTwins owners Randy and Charlene Lange asked Chef Seed to cater the second “Friendsgiving” celebration on Nov. 23 at the winery’s magnificent Press Room in Acampo.

“The idea was to have something the night before chaos … date night,” Charlene Lange said. “The idea was not to have dinner, but a sort of warm up before Thanksgiving, a chance to just sit back and relax before the big day. And everyone had a really good time.”

Seed and his daughter-in-law Amy Seed, a Millennial who’s every bit the foodie and oenophile that Doug is, put their heads together last year and came up with some pretty awesome combinations. Not resting on their laurels, Doug and Amy asked my wife Christiane and I to join Charlene and Randy to sample this year’s menu.

Doug and Amy study the flavors of the food and wine to find combinations that work in harmony, not an easy feat with the myriad flavor profiles of a typical Thanksgiving meal.

Perhaps these pairings will help you plan your Thanksgiving menu.

Up first was a cheese, nut and fruit course with a chilled glass of LangeTwins Sauvignon Blanc made from a Musque clone grown in young vineyards in Lodi and just south of Clarksburg. The wine is stainless steel fermented to preserve its crisp acidity and fruit flavors, and aged on its lees (dead yeast cells) to give it a soft palate and a creamy finish.

Sage dressing, turkey meatballs, stuffed mushroom cap and a roasted yam paired beautifully with LangeTwins wines during a recent tasting in advance of Friendsgiving on Nov. 23 at the Press Room.

Up next was sage dressing paired with LangeTwins Gewurztraminer from vineyards in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta. Gewurztraminer is one of the varietals in the LangeTwins’ Gray Label collection and is available only to wine club members and through the tasting room. The German and Austrian white varietal has enticing apricot, apple and honey aromas with a touch of baking spice, a resounding hit with the savory, herbaceous and faintly sweet dressing.

“I went through with some of my family and friends in preparation for this, and we thought the gewürztraminer had hints of apple and fruit in it,” said Doug Seed, “so I added to the dressing some apples that go well with the gewürztraminer.”

Many believe white wines are the way to go with Thanksgiving, but red wines pair well with many traditional dishes. For instance, LangeTwins Petite Sirah, another in the Gray Label collection, was splendid with Chef Seed’s turkey meatballs. The dark cherry, plum and cranberry aromas and flavors in the wine had similarities with traditional cranberry sauce and compotes many serve with turkey.

The next combination was Seed’s playful deconstruction of green bean casserole: A mushroom cap stuffed with lardons, slivered almonds and green beans served with LangeTwins flagship zinfandel, Centennial, which comes from a 106-year-old vineyard in Lodi, aged 24 months in gently-used American oak and available in retail markets.

“Really complex, highly complex,” Amy Seed said. “Great layers of flavor.”

The dessert sampling paired LangeTwins Gray Label Port with a disc of roasted yam topped with cranberry compote and a pumpkin spice cream puff. The tartness of the compote and the creamy, savory and sweet yam worked with the wine, as did the cream puff, which wasn’t cloyingly sweet.

The food and fellowship of Thanksgiving or any occasion that brings friends and family together only can be enhanced by harmonious food and wine combinations. And it sure is fun to be with people who know what they’re doing.

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Lodi hosts first Taste of Tempranillo

Lodi’s propensity for experimentation means nothing but delightful options for wine consumers.

Nearly 100 varieties of wine grapes are planted on 100,000-plus acres, making Lodi one of the most diverse American Viticultural Areas anywhere in the world, a factor that no doubt led to Lodi being named Wine Region of the Year in 2015 by Wine Enthusiast.

Perhaps the best or at least one of the best examples of an out-of-the-box wine grape embraced by Lodi growers and vintners has been tempranillo. Wine aficionados already know and more and more enthusiasts are discovering the Spanish red varietal, thanks in part to the great wines Lodi’s mavericks are making with the grape.

To learn more, check out the first Lodi Tour of Tempranillo this Friday through Sunday. The tour involves 17 of the area’s most popular wineries. Each will have different offerings and some will have special tastings unique to this event. There are no tickets to buy. Simply show up at a participating winery, collect a complimentary guidebook and begin exploring. Tasting room hours generally are from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and tasting fees may apply.

For a map to plan your attack, click on “Weekend Planner” at

These are the wineries taking part in alphabetical order:

  • Bokisch Vineyards, 18921 Atkins Rd., Lodi
  • D’Art Wines, 13299 Curry Ave., Lodi
  • Dancing Coyote Wines, 3125 E. Orange St., Acampo
  • Dancing Fox Winery, 203 S. School St., Lodi
  • Estate Crush, 2 W. Lockeford St., Lodi
  • Fields Family Wines, 3803 E. Woodbridge Rd., Acampo
  • Heritage Oak Winery, 10112 E. Woodbridge Rd., Acampo
  • m2 Wines, 2900 E. Peltier Rd., Acampo
  • McCay Cellars, 1370 E. Turner Rd., Lodi
  • Peirano Estate Vineyards, 21831 CA-99, Acampo
  • Riaza Wines, 20 W. Elm St., Lodi
  • Ripken Vineyards & Winery, 2472 W. Sargent Rd., Lodi
  • St. Amant Winery, 1 Winemaster Way, Lodi
  • St. Jorge Winery, 22769 N. Bender Rd., Acampo
  • Toasted Toad Cellars, 21 E. Elm St., Lodi
  • Viaggio Estate and Winery, 100 E. Taddei Rd., Acampo
  • Woodbridge Uncorked, 18911 N. Lower Sacramento Rd., Woodbridge

Here are some facts about tempranillo:

  • According to the 2016 California Grape Crush Report measuring the 2015 vintage, Lodi harvested 1,619.8 tons of tempranillo, which made up part of the 4.3 percent “other reds” category. By comparison, cabernet sauvignon reigned supreme among Lodi reds with 134,347.1 tons harvested.
  • The statewide total of tempranillo harvested in 2015 was 11,173.2 tons, with Fresno leading the way with 6,337 tons.
  • Tempranillos from Lodi wineries fared well at the 2016 California State Fair: 2013 Bokisch Vineyards (91 points, silver medal), 2013 Harney Lane (91 pts., silver), 2014 McCay Cellars (85 pts., bronze), 2012 McCayCellars tempranillo-petite sirah-zinfandel (91 pts., silver, Best of Class of Region), 2012 McConnell Estates (85 pts., bronze), 2013 Peirano Estates (98 pts., double gold), and 2014 St. Amant (98 pts., double gold, Best of Show Red, Best of Region Red, Best of Class of Region).

For a taste of something Spanish in the San Joaquin Valley, check out the first Lodi Tour of Tempranillo.

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Acquiesce Winery tasting notes

Visit Acquiesce Winery on North Trethaway Road in Acampo and taste the magnificent white wines of the Southern Rhone and experience their food friendliness. Owner/winemaker Susan Tipton has paired each wine with a tiny bite of something delectable. Her culinary and wine acumen are remarkable and the experience is one that shouldn’t be missed.
Here are tasting notes for the wines currently being poured at Acquiesce. If interested, hurry because she will close the winery from December to March.
2015 Grenache Blanc ($24/$19.20 wine club)
Lively minerality with hints of green apple and apricot, this wine pairs beautifully with seafood, salads, sushi, chicken, cream sauces and spicy Asian and Mexican foods.
2015 Belle Blanc ($26/$20.80 wine club)
The aroma of pear, honeysuckle and gardenia give way to a long, dry finish. A balanced blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier, this wine pairs well with salads, pork and chicken.
2015 Roussanne ($25/$20 wine club)
Juicy mouthfeel with flavors of apricots and cream. The finish is mineral with almond, pear and overlying honey notes. It stands up to rich shellfish, salmon, spicy foods and garlic stir-fry. A must with foie gras!
2015 Viognier ($24/$19.26 wine club) 2016 California State Fair, 98 pts., Best of Class of Region
Full of honeysuckle, jasmine and orange blossom. Hints of peach, apricot and nectarine with full-bodied palate. Pairs well with fish, Asian dishes, vegetable and citrus salads, but just lovely to sip on its own.
2013 Viognier ($30/$24 wine club) 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition gold medal
Cellaring for more than three years highlights the deliciousness of this fruit-driven wine. Rich and full-bodied with a lingering finish, yet lively and vibrant. With aromas of dried apricots and peaches, this wine will be great for years.

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Winemaker acquiesces to the Rhone

ACAMPO – Susan Tipton followed her heart.
She shunned conventional wisdom by opening a winery that offers the wines she loves made from Southern Rhone white varieties that she planted on her and husband Rodney’s 18-acre estate in Acampo.
White wines in Lodi? Can’t be done. Lodi is red wine territory. Besides, it’s too hot to grow premium white grapes in Lodi.
Tipton has proven what passion and gumption can do with the right soils and climate. Acquiesce Winery, her labor of love, is a jewel in Lodi’s winescape, an oasis where palate-tingling, mouthwatering, fresh and vibrant white wines made with grapes that originate from Chateau Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape are gobbled up by her ever-increasing legion of fans.
“People in the industry told me it would never fly, that you need reds in your lineup,” Tipton said. “They were trying to give me sage advice from their point of view.”
But Tipton wasn’t swayed. She went ahead and produced a couple hundred cases her first year — 2012– and sold out quickly. Her production steadily has grown and every year she has sold out, forcing her to close from December to March. The Acquiesce wine club has 600 members and another 200 are on the waiting list. This year, the 2015 Acquiesce Viognier received 98 points and was named Best Viognier California and Best of Class of Region at the California State Fair. Susan plans to make about 2,000 cases total this fall and will release them in March.
The Grande Dame of Lodi white wine has tapped a niche market and in the process has raised eyebrows about the possibilities in Lodi.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the support from my customers and my wine club members,” Tipton said. “It’s something we did out of love. It wasn’t like a true business plan. When we moved here, we had no intent of opening a winery. It’s just a hobby that went totally out of control.”
In 2000, Susan and Rodney moved to California from Texas, one of several stops the couple and their three boys made because of Rodney’s job in international business. In 2003, they purchased a home in Acampo on 18 acres with 12 acres planted to zinfandel. Susan made wine as a hobby, augmenting her phenomenal talent as a cook, and the Tiptons sold the rest of their fruit to another Lodi winery.
A few years into their stay, Susan’s life changed, thanks to a non-descript white blend from Chateauneuf du Pape that she bought at BevMo. It was love at first sip.
“I drank that wine and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” she said. “I had never had a wine quite like that before.”
Tipton went back to the store to buy more, but they were sold out. That led her to Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, a sister winery of Chateau Beaucastel that makes terrific Rhone wines. Tipton eventually figured if she had to go all the way to Paso Robles to buy the wines she loved, she might as well try to make them herself.
Tipton purchased plantings from Tablas Creek that came from Chateau Beaucastel. She started with Grenache blanc in 2008 and was thrilled with the resulting wine. She has since added viognier and roussanne, which are standalones and comprise her Belle Blanc balanced blend with Grenache blanc. Susan recently planted Grenache noir that will go into a rosè and two varieties that are brand new to the U.S.: picpoul blanc and claret blanc — all from Chateau Beaucastel plantings.
Heather Pyle-Lucas, the winemaker and owner with her husband David of the Lucas Winery in Lodi, has been Susan’s friend and mentor through the entire process, and Jonanthan Wetmore of Grand Amis Winery in Lodi has managed the Tiptons’ vineyard.
Turns out Lodi’s Mediterranean climate and sandy loam soil are ideal for white Rhones. Lodi’s dry growing season allows the fruit to fully ripen, creating a more fruit-forward style than Rhones from France, which are picked early, high in acid and usually see oak. Acquiesce wines are vinified in stainless steel to preserve the fruit aromas and flavors. They exhibit finesse and complexity across the board and pair beautifully with a variety of food.
Acquiesce means “accepting something reluctantly without protest.” Tipton’s passion pulled her into the wine business. Acquiesce is the perfect name for her winery.

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The calendar says it’s California Wine Month

September is California Wine Month and there are myriad opportunities to enjoy the harvest season throughout the area.

LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards on East Jahant Road in Lodi is offering a Harvest Experience by appointment only through Oct. 31. Tour some of the vineyards managed by one of Lodi’s prolific winegrape growing families in the comfort of a luxury golf cart, and enjoy a glass of their refreshing rose of sangiovese as you learn more about the growing season, the optimum time to harvest and the family’s sustainable farming practices.

Then, it’s back to the winery for a tour of LangeTwins’ impressive production facility before the tour wraps up in their fabulous barrel room for a private tasting of current releases. Information:

The LangeTwins’ rose of sangiovese is an ideal wine this time of year, as the heat lingers through the afternoon leading to comfortably cooler evenings. All of LangeTwins’ sangiovese goes into their rose program. This dry, blush wine is dark pink with aromas of fresh-cut strawberries bursting from the glass and tingling the palate with bright acidity. Keep this wine in mind to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. It’s perfect by itself or with charcuterie, such as Iberico ham (or a more reasonably priced facsimile thereof), as well as mortadella and prosciutto.

Gerardo Espinosa Jr. represents the third generation of a hard-working Mexican-American family that has procured vineyard property over the years in the Clements Hills AVA, the bounty of which goes into his portfolio of truly inspiring wines under the Vinedos Aurora label. Espinosa, who works full time as a project manager with WMB Architects in Stockton, would be proud to show you (by appointment) his family’s estate and his barrel room, which is on East Pine Street in Lodi, where you’ll sample some of his best work, including his fabulous albarino and landmark petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon. Information: Gerardo Espinosa (209) 810-0824.

The Vinedos Aurora albarino is pale gold in color and has tropical aromas and flavors with nice acidity. It’s refreshing and balanced and would go beautifully with a steaming bowl of cioppino.

The Lodi Grape Festival and Harvest Fair from Sept. 15-18 at the Lodi Grape Festival Grounds will offer food, entertainment and the opportunity to taste wines from some of Lodi’s best producers, including Bokisch Vineyards, Heritage Oak, Barsetti Vineyards, Dancing Coyote Wines, E2 Family Wines, Imagination Wines, Mettler Family Vineyards, Van Ruiten Family Winery, Weibel Family Vineyards and Winery, Stama Winery and Viaggio Estate and Winery. Information:

The view from behind Bokisch Vineyards’ tasting room might be the best in the Lodi AVA. Perched atop one in a series of rolling hills in the Clements Hills area, Liz and Markus Bokisch’s new tasting room features gorgeous Spanish varietals made by Elyse Perry with fruit from one of the area’s most respected growers, Markus Bokisch. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy their albarino, verdejo, tempranillo or graciano as you gaze at the vineyards and granite outcroppings. You might even spot some sheep or cattle grazing in the distance. The tasting room is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Information:

For more information on more great spots to visit this month, go to





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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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