“All happy families are alike,” wrote Tolstoy. In this day and age, even the happiest and closest knit of families end up varying their Thanksgiving celebrations – that’s just the way it is, even in Lodi wine country.
For the Lange family, of Lodi’s LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards, recent Thanksgivings have been anything but “routine,” according to Charlene Lange. She says, “for years we preached to the kids that they need to be independent, meet new friends, see the world… and then darn it, they did!”
The Langes trace their farming tradition in Lodi to Johann and Maria Lange, who arrived in the 1870s. The Langes have been grape growers since 1916, and started up their winery in 2006 – the twins, Randall and Brad Lange, leading the fourth generation.
Randall is married to Charlene, and Brad to Susan Lange. Between the two couples, all five of the grown-up kids – Marissa, Aaron, Philip, Kendra and Joe – are involved in one facet of the family business or another, and a sixth generation is on its way.
Charlene goes on to tell us that, in years past, the entire Lange clan gathered at the home of the twins’ parents, Oneta and Harold Lange, on Devries Rd., and then later at Randy and Charlene’s ranch on Jahant Rd. The door was always open to everyone – cousins, extended cousins and all the kids’ friends, and then as the years went by, the spouses and kids of those cousins, extended cousins and friends.
Then, says Charlene, there came the year when “twins decided to take all the kids hiking for a month in Nepal – so while they are gazing at Everest, the moms stayed home, and I spent the day riding horses in an Indian summer type of Thanksgiving.”
Last year in 2011, Charlene tells us, “Randy and I bailed out and traveled to Australia and enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with our good friends, Peter and Jennie Hayes (Peter, a longtime wine grape consultant).”
For Thanksgivings past spent in Lodi, a big family favorite has been stuffed turkey with riced potatoes, which Charlene says is “a longstanding tradition from my mom’s family in the Niagara district of New York. Little kids would get aprons attached and got to peel the potatoes at the sink” (see Julia Child’s mashed potatoes for a classic example of riced potatoes).
Another Lange favorite is a wild rice dish (see recipe at end of blogpost), originally “discovered” at a fruit stand near Plymouth Rock, MA when they were visiting the East Coast while Marissa was attending Brown. Says Charlene, “we figure that the pilgrims knew something about Thanksgiving, and this has been a great recipe. David Akiyoshi (the LangeTwins Family winemaker) has altered it a bit, and it is featured every season at School Street Bistro,” Akiyoshi’s restaurant in Downtown Lodi.
In respect to wines, Charlene describes Thanksgiving at the Langes’ as basically “no holds barred/Big Red Night” rules. “Randy turns over the keys to the cellar to the kids and guests, and then stands back. We’ll put as many glasses on the table as wines they all want to pour and enjoy – the cellar provides a bit of entertainment with debates on ‘which wine is the best for pairing… and hey, can I compare different vintages side-by-side?’”
Please bear in mind that this is an extremely sophisticated family; for whom “big” does not necessarily mean high alcohol or heavy oak – but in fact, the opposite. Perfect example: the 2009 LangeTwins Family Lodi Midnight Reserve ($30) is a seamless, impeccably balanced, yet deep, fleshy, blackberry compote and spice nuanced blend of classic Bordeaux grapes (the ’09 consisting of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec) – undoubtedly, one of the most elegant wines made in all of California.
As for Charlene herself: “I keep a bottle of our rosé on the counter – makes the cooking painless.” Indeed, the 2011 LangeTwins Estate Lodi Sangiovese Rosé ($13) is an effusively aromatic, bone dry, deep pink colored wine buoyed by strawberry fruit qualities, underlined by a bright, raspberryish zip – a guaranteed winner with virtually any well trimmed turkey.
Then on the Friday following Thanksgiving, she tells us, “we all bundle up and haul up the mountain to Randy’s uncle’s house, Stuart Merrill – and climb his mountain in Woodfords looking for the perfect Christmas tree. Leftover turkey makes sandwiches for the mountain trek at noon!”
The Langes’ wild rice & caramelized onion sauté
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup brown rice
½ cup wild rice
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 medium onions (sliced in thin wedges)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 cup Craisans (dried cranberries)
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Combine chicken broth and both rices in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until rice is tender.
Melt butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and brown sugar. Cook 6 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, and onions are soft and translucent. Reduce heat to low. Slowly cook onions, stirring for 25 minutes or until they are caramel in color. Stir in dried cranberries. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until cranberries swell. Fold cranberry mixture and orange zest into cooked rice. Makes 4-6 servings.