Letters from Lodi

An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.

Randy Caparoso
November 7, 2016 | Randy Caparoso

What the Lodi Rules seal means on a bottle and to the Lodi community

Lodi grower Dave Devine's Lodi Rules certified L.D.L. Vineyard Zinfandel planting in Lodi's Clements Hills

Here at the end of 2016 – a year marking 25 years of existence for the Lodi Winegrape Commission – we cannot let the year go by without talking about a crowning signature achievement of this association of over 800 growers and wineries: Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing; first conceived and developed during the 1990s, and officially launched in 2005.

One of the surest marks of quality that you can find on a bottle of Lodi grown wine is the “Certified Green” seal, usually found on back labels, signifying it has been made from grapes passing a rigorous, third-party audited and certified process.

The question for many consumers, no doubt, is how meaningful a Lodi Rules seal on a bottle really is. Dr. Stephanie Bolton, who is Lodi Winegrape Commission’s Grower Communications & Sustainable Winegrowing Director, tells us, “The Lodi Rules seal stands for a guaranteed level of value, accountability, and trust.

“Consumers do not visit the farms. They usually do not personally know the grower or the winemaker, and so they have to rely on what they see on a label to make their buying decisions. There is a truly ridiculous amount of science and accountability backing up a Lodi Rules seal. A Lodi Rules certified wine guarantees the highest level of responsible farming.”

Sustainability in agriculture, however, entails more than just how a product is farmed. Adds Dr. Bolton, “To qualify for Lodi Rules, growers are required to demonstrate that that they are treating their employees with respect, that they are responsibly taking care of their land and waters, that they have positive relationships with local schools and neighbors, and that they are setting up their business practices for successful longevity.”

Dr. Clifford Ohmart, one of the originators of Lodi's groundbreaking Lodi Rules

Dr. Clifford P. Ohmart – who devoted 14 years as Lodi Winegrape Commission’s Sustainable Winegrowing Director, and is one of the original minds behind Lodi Rules – goes a little further by saying: “I think what a Lodi Rules seal means most to the average consumer is twofold: 1) that the grapes that made the wine were grown responsibly; and 2) there is an intrinsic level of quality attached to a certified sustainably grown bottling.“

Adds Dr. Ohmart, who is now a Senior Scientist for SureHarvest (a sustainable agriculture management company): “When we were deciding what practices would go into the Lodi Rules we all agreed that they would need to be practices that produce better quality grapes, which make better quality wine. The focus on quality was due to the fact that growers must improve quality in their grapes to remain successful.

“Having worked with the Lodi growers to develop and launch the Lodi Rules program in 2005, I am particularly pleased at its continued success. I have watched it grow from 6 growers certifying 1,200 acres in 2005 to more than 100 growers certifying more than 36,500 acres in 2016.  

Terra Alta Vineyard, one of Bokisch Ranches' many Lodi Rules certified plantings

“Lodi Rules is providing value to growers via bonuses from wineries for certified grapes as well as satisfaction in being able to document their vineyard stewardship. Wineries are getting exceptional quality grapes and consumers are getting great wines as indicated by the many awards Lodi Rules wines are winning at wine tasting competitions.”

Lodi Rules first evolved out of a grassroots Integrated Pest Management program supported by the Lodi Winegrape Commission during its first year (1991/1992).  As a result of neighborhood grower meetings and the leadership of Dr. Ohmart, 70 demonstration vineyards were initially utilized to develop the program; the concerns of which Ohmart summarized as “Three Es.”  That is, being

 Environmentally sound

 Economically viable

 Socially Equitable

Dr. Stephanie Bolton, Lodi's Sustainable Winegrowing Director

There are two key practical components to Lodi Rules:

1. A total of 101 sustainability practices or “standards” developed through the collaborative efforts of growers and viticultural professionals; verified and certified by Protected Harvest, an independent, nonprofit specializing in accreditation of sustainable agriculture. These standards take the measure of not only how growers manage their vineyard ecosystems, soil, water and pests, but also how they manage their business and human resources.

2. Something unique to Lodi Rules – a Pesticide Environmental Assessment System (PEAS), which tracks and manages the impact of pesticide usage on the environment (including bees and other beneficial pests), farm workers, the community and ultimately consumers.

Dr. Bolton is particularly inspired by the humanistic aspects of Lodi rules; saying, “Although not the most important in terms of impact, my favorite Lodi Rules standard is Number 2.10, which asks if the farming operation has provided employee bonuses, which may include a holiday turkey.”

Spring cover crop of mustard and legumes in Phillips Farms' Lodi Rules certified Bare Ranch 

Aaron Shinn – a Lodi Rules grower, and current Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing Committee Chair – observes: "In an increasingly consumer-conscious market, the Lodi Rules program gives growers a marketing advantage as well as an opportunity to highlight many of the sustainable practices that have been ongoing here for generations. As other sustainability programs begin to surface, it is becoming more and more clear to both gatekeepers and academics alike just how authentic and rigorous our certification program truly is.

“The time and energy spent by the growers of Lodi and the Lodi Winegrape Commission to perfect the Lodi Rules for Sustainability is a testament to the commitment of the people of our district to be the most progressive and sustainable winegrowing region in the world. I truly believe that sustainability is the key to future success in this industry, and I am proud to say that the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing will help us accomplish just that."

It has helped that, from the beginning, a number of the leading Lodi Rules certified proponents have been growers who have lived and worked in Lodi for as long as 150 years, or who are also wine producers: including, as examples, Rod and Gayla Schatz (Peltier Winery), the Lange family (LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards), branches of the Mettler family (Mettler Family Vineyards and Harney Lane Winery), and Markus and Liz Bokisch (Bokisch Vineyards).

Harney Lane Winery's Mettler & Son managed Zinfandel block

Still others, like the Phillips family who own Michael David Winery, not only farm their own vineyards (Phillips Farms) according to Lodi Rules, but also offer substantial bonuses to their numerous independent grower/grape suppliers (over 40 of them each year) for achieving Lodi Rules certification. 

For Michael David, the aggressive commitment to sustainability is a matter of both responsibility to the community and quality of grapes, leading to higher quality wines. The Phillips family's success speaks for itself: countless accolades, placements in prestige accounts all around the world, and more golds and "best of class" awards than any other family-owned winery (or any winery, for that matter) in Lodi.

Michael David's achievements are emblematic of true sustainability in action: growers and wineries coming together to take the steps necessary to increase quality of grapes and resulting wines, which sustain both the economy and quality of life of the entire Lodi wine region, especially for the long term.

It has been by no means the only factor; but to a significant extent the dramatic increase in the reputation of the Lodi Viticultural Area for premium quality wines can be directly attributed to the groundbreaking institution of Lodi Rules.

Arbor Vineyards' Larry Mettler (right) and Jason Eells, Lodi Rules growers 

A list of Lodi Rules certified winegrowing companies located (primarily) in Lodi as well as outside the region:

Anthony & David Fuso Farms

Arbor Vineyard Inc.

B&B Vineyards

Balletto Vineyards

Bischofberger Family Farms

Bogle Vineyards

Bokisch Ranches

Burnett Vineyards

Charles Spenker Winery

CLR Farms

Colligere Farm Management

Cory Ranch

Lodi Rules certified Hunters Oak Vineyard in Lodi's Clements Hills

Bob Demple

Den Hartog International Farms

Dhaliwal Vineyard

Duarte Nursery, Inc.

Duke H. Farming Company

Ferrero Vineyards

Goehring Estates

Graffinga Fruit Company

Harney Lane Winery & Vineyards

Heringer Estates Family Vineyards & Wienry

Hunters Oak Vineyard

Joe A. Cotta Vineyards

Ancient Zinfandel (over 100 years old) in Lodi Rules certified Lewis Vineyards, going into LangeTwins Family's Centennial Zinfandel

Joe Spano

Johas River Vineyard


Keith Watts Vineyards

KG Vineyard Management LLC

Kirchoff Vineyrds

L.D.L. Vineyard

LA Delta Investment Inc.

LangeTwins, Inc.

Lewis Enterprises, Ltd.

Lewis Vineyards

Beautifully restored riparian environment in LangeTwins Family's River Ranch Vineyard in Lodi's Jahant AVA

Lock L. Ranches

L.W. Moore Vineyards

Machado Vineyards

Manassero M.B. & Sons

Manna Ranch

McManis Family Vineayrds

Mohr-Fry Ranches

Molles Vineyard

Momtoma Vineyards

Nestor Enterprises

2016 Alvarelhão harvest in Lodi Rules certified Silvaspoons Vineyards

Nickle Ranch

Pat Hale Vineyards

Phillips Farms LLC

R&G Schatz Farms

R-N-R Vineyard

Rio Viento

Rock Ridge Ranches

Roland Hatterle Vineyrd

Round Valley Ranches

S&V Dutra Farms

San Antonio Valley Sustainable

Schulenburg Vineyard

Shoup Vineyards

Silvaspoons Vineyards, LLC

Chris Storm in Vino Farms' Lodi Rules certified Grand Vin Lands Vineyard

Soucie Vineyards

Stanton Lange Vineyard Management, Inc.

Starr-Woehl Vineyards

Stokes Brothers

Trinchero/Sutter Home Estates

Underwood Estate Winery

Vino Farms

Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards

Williams Custom Vineyard

Wilson Farms

Winkler Family Farms

Zabala Vineyards

Richard and Nancy Ripken in their Lodi Rules certified Ripken Vineyards





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