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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
 
March 18, 2020 | Randy Caparoso

Why LODI RULES is more important than ever to health conscious and woke consumers

LODI RULES FARMERS vineyard sign (photo courtesy of Joseph Magnelli)

The quality of wines from around the world has grown and proliferated so much over the past ten, twenty years, consumers now have a nearly impossible range to choose from. And so in today's market, it is coming down to very specific tastes and preferences. It is also coming down to choices that meet the needs of individual health-related concerns and social consciousness.

Which makes the option of choosing wines bearing a "Certified Green" seal such as those associated with LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing even more significant than when this wine label program was first launched four years ago. While the number is continuously growing, there are now over 40 wineries marketing wines with this seal of sustainability.

Earlier this year we quoted Rob McMillan from his 120-page 2020 Silicon Valley Bank "State of the U.S. Wine Industry" report, who pointed out the inexorable transition of the average wine consumer profile from gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) and boomers (more than half of whom will reach the average retirement age of 66 by next year) to much more strongly "health conscious millennials."

Make no mistake, McMillan warns the winegrowing and wine production industries, millennials aren't exactly the same as their predecessors. Philosophically, he contends, "Millennials don't trust the rich, are skeptical about inauthentic or opaque marketing and don't care about your family's name on the bottle. They are more interested in what's in the bottle (our italics) — the ingredients and additives — and how you make the world better... Social responsibility is important to millennial consumers. That's a factor embedded in their purchase decisions."

Lodi Winegrape Commission's Dr. Stephanie Bolton in Duarte Nursery's LODI RULES certified vineyard in Greenwood, El Dorado County

This is also why someone like Dr. Stephanie Bolton — Lodi Winegrape Commission's Director of both Research & Education and Sustainable Winegrowing — plays a more important role than ever. Whether or not the nearly 800 grower/members of Lodi Winegrape Commission think of Dr. Bolton this way, she is literally pushing, when not pulling or prodding, the entire Lodi wine industry towards a relevance where it counts most: towards fulfillment of the ever-increasing demands of wine consumers.

Commenting on the "Certified Green" seals on the back labels of wine bottles, now embraced by virtually all of Lodi's wineries farming or sourcing LODI RULES certified vineyards, Bolton tells us: "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. The LODI RULES seal stands for a guaranteed level of value, accountability, and trust. There is a truly ridiculous amount of science and accountability backing this up. A wine with a Certified Green seal guarantees the highest level of responsible farming consumers are looking for."

LODI RULES as well as Historic Vineyard Society signs marking J. & J. Shinn Ranch's Mule Plain Vineyard on Lodi's west side

Needless to say, green seals on bottles also back up the primary concerns of virtually every wine consumer, which is inference of quality based upon the common knowledge that the more time a farmer spends in a vineyard — and there is no certification system that sets as high a bar for third party verifiable work in vineyards than programs like LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing — the higher the quality of the wine. As Dr. Clifford Ohmart, one of the original minds behind LODI RULES, has said, “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. Bolton: "The latest is that there has been a huge upsurge in interest in LODI RULES sustainable winegrowing just over the past year. The interest is coming directly from consumers, as well as growers, wineries, the press and industry. We've been working directly with a team in Washington D.C. to develop new communiction kits, just to keep up with the demand for information!"

Resource table at March 2020 Lodi growers meeting in LangeTwins Family Vineyards

Short history of LODI RULES' origin

It has been 15 years since LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing was first officially launched, back in 2005, following a prior decade of research, development and process of implementation. When it started, LODI RULES essentially amounted to the nation's first-ever program for attaining yearly third party (by Protected Harvest) authenticatation for sustainable wine grape farming.

The original idea of sustainable winegrowing, of course, germinated as part of a groundswell of environonmental and social consciousness on the part of the entire California wine industry (not just Lodi's), starting in the 1980s. Lodi's industry leading iteration — which fleshed out sustainable principles into a very detailed, challenging yet do-able, standardization — happened to have been made possible by this wine region's own set of special circumstances: the formation of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, 29 years ago in 1991, which mandated well funded research and education on winegrape growing.

Dr. Clifford Ohmart — who prefers to be called, simply, Cliff — was Lodi Winegrape Commission’s Sustainable Winegrowing Director for 14 years, between 1996 and 2009. Following his time in Lodi, Ohmart served as Senior Scientist for SureHarvest, a nonprofit sustainable agricultural management company before his retirement in 2018, after 41 years in positions of advisory in agricultural industries.

1999 vintage photo: Dr. Clifford Ohmart (left) and Steve Matthiasson (now of Matthiasson Wines), introducing the groundbreaking Lodi Winegrower's Workbook at a vineyard growers' meeting

Ohmart first came to Lodi in 1995 as a consultant with Scientific Methods Inc. out of Chico, CA, helping the Lodi Winegrape Commission write a grant for Biologically Integrated Farming Systems (BIFS). Ohmart's original Ph.D. was in entymology (i.e. the study of insects), and he had previously developed an IPM (i.e. Integrated Pest Management) program for the almond, apple, walnut, prune and pistachio industries.

Ohmart's subsequent work in Lodi led to a publication called the Lodi Winegrower's Workbook towards the end of 1999. This was the first comprehensive viticulture publication since (U.C. Davis’) A.J. Winkler's in the 1970s. The book was embraced by the majority of Lodi's leading growers because it was also based on hundreds of hours of practical input from the grower community itself. 

Says Mark Chandler, Lodi Winegrape Commission's Executive Director during those years: "It was the growers who provided the foundation of the program. Cliff was able to transform their desires and their wisdom into words and programs that were industry leading." Within three years, this workbook became the model for a statewide self-assessment workbook for the California wine industry (the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook), while giving impetus to similar programs such as SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice) utilized by many growers in California's Central Coast.

Five years later, the Lodi Winegrowers Workbook was redefined as a third party authenticated program under the brand name of LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing. In its first year (2005), LODI RULES attracted 6 Lodi growers certifying 1,500 acres of vineyards. 

As of today, there are over 51,000 LODI RULES certified acres farmed in 1,212 vineyards, representing a 3,183% increase between 2005 and 2019. 26,983 of those acres are in Lodi, but there are now 23,506 acres located outside of Lodi in 13 other other California Crush Districts — including parts of Sonoma County, Napa ValleyLake CountySan Francisco BayMontereySan Luis ObispoYolo County and the Sierra Foothills. In addition, there are 562 acres in Israel's Galilee wine region certified by LODI RULES.

Former Lodi Winegrape Commission Executive Director Mark Chandler with Malbec in his own LODI RULES certified Burlington Chandler Vineyard

A little 101 on LODI RULES

A summary of the program's impact and key components:

1. LODI RULES requires the meeting of minimum standards for 101 sustainability practices that are verified and certified each year by Protected Harvest, and organized into six Chapters pertaining to the management of each vineyard's: 1) ecosystem, 2) soil, 3) water, 4) pests, 5) business, and 6) human resources

2. Requiring an overall pass rate of 70%, each of these standards must meet three criteria: First, it needs to be measurable; second, it addresses at least one of the three aspects of sustainability (environmental health, social equity, and economic viability); and third, it must be economically feasible to implement. It cannot be overstated that one of the hallmarks of this sustainable system is that it not only measures how growers manage their ecosystems, soil, water and pests, it also requires fulfillment of standards pertaining to how they manage their business and human resources.

Working vineyard sheep in McCormack Ranch (sustainably farmed by Lodi's Pressley Vineyards) in the Montezuma Hills of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (near Rio Vista)

3. One unique aspect of LODI RULES is PEAS, a Pesticide Environmental Assessment System, 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.

While many of Lodi's LODI RULES growers are strongly motivated by environmental concerns, as well as long term health of their vineyards and businesses, the question of succession has always helped define, in their minds, the "rule" of sustainablility. According to Dr. Bolton, if you ask most growers in Lodi why they embrace sustainability, "The No. 1 reason given is so their children can learn how to grow sustainably... in a region known for its multi-generational farming, family legacies are a big deal.”

CALIFORNIA RULES

To encourage the growth of LODI RULES vineyards outside the Lodi AVA, in 2019 the Lodi Winegrape Commission established a revised seal for participating growers and wine bottles, identified as CALIFORNIA RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing. The requirements to qualify for this are exactly the same as for the LODI RULES seal: for a bottle to carry a CALIFORNIA RULES or LODI RULES Certified Green seal, a minimum of 85% of the wine (guaranteed by a Certification Mark License Agreement) must come from certified sustainable grapes.

Wineries do not pay a fee for the use of these Certified Green seals, but the practice has helped seal the relationship between wineries and growers, sharing the mutual goal of communicating sustainability to the ultimate arbiters, the consumers. Since 2010 an estimated $9.5 million in bonuses have been paid to LODI RULES or CALIFORNIA RULES farmers by wineries perceiving the added value of wines that can be marketed as certified sustainable, giving growers an added impetus to participate in this progressive movement.

Entrance to Clay Station Vineyards in the Borden Ranch-Lodi AVA, sustainably farmed by Colligere Farm Management

LODI RULES Certified Vineyards (2020 listing)

A partial listing of vineyards (or vineyard management companies holding vineyards) certified by LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing:

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards (Acampo)
Anthony & David Fuso Farms (Acampo)
Arbor Vineyard Inc. (Lodi)
Balletto Vineyards (Santa Rosa)
Bennett Vineyard (Lodi)
Berry Vineyard (Clarksburg)
Bischofberger Family Farms (Lodi)
Bogle Vineyards (Clarksburg)
Bokisch Ranches LLC (Victor)
Burlington Chandler Wine (Lodi)
Burnett Vineyards
Charles Spenker Winery (Lodi)
CLR Farms (Lodi)

Colligere Farm Management (Lodi)
Cory Ranch (Acampo)
Deaver Ranch/Vineyards (Plymouth)
Den Hartog International Farms (Lodi)
Dhaliwal Vineyard (Lodi)
Duarte Nursery, Inc. (Linden)
Escholz Vineyards (Acampo)
Ferrero Vineyards (Lodi)
Graffinga Fruit Company (Lodi)
Harney Lane Winery & Vineyards (Lodi)
Heringer Estates Family Vineyards & Winery (Clarksburg)
Hohenrieder Vineyards (Acampo)
Hunters Oak Vineyard (Lodi)
Jessie's Grove Winery (Lodi)

View of Vino Farms' sustainable showcase, Grand Vin Lands, through a hedgerow of native California plants serving as a haven for beneficial insects

J. & J. Shinn Ranch (Lodi)
Joe A. Cotta Vineyards (Galt)
Johnson-Cofran-Furlong (Fairfield)
Keith Watts Vineyards (Acampo)
KG Vineyard Management LLC (Woodbridge)
Kirchoff Vineyards (Clarksburg)
L.A. Delta Investments, Inc. (Lodi)
LangeTwins Inc. (Acampo)
LDL Vineyards (Napa)
Lewis Enterprises, Ltd. (Victor)
Lock L. Ranches (Lodi)
L.W. Moore Vineyards (Lodi)
Manassero M.B. & Sons (Lodi)
Manna Ranch (Acampo)
McCay Cellars (Lodi)
McCormack Ranch Vineyard (Rio Vista)
McManis Family Vineyards (Ripon)

Peltier Winery's Rod Schatz in his certified sustainable Coyote Creek Vineyard in Lodi's Clements Hills AVA

Mohr-Fry Ranches (Lodi)
Molles Vineyard (Lodi)
Momtoma Vineyards
Nestor Enterprises (Acampo)
Nickle Ranch (Lodi)
Oak Farm Vineyards (Lodi)
Peltier Winery & Vineyards (Acampo)
Phillips Farms LLC (Lodi)
R & G Schatz Farms (Acampo)
Ripken Vineyards & Winery (Lodi)
R-N-R Vineyard (Clements)
Rio Viento Vineyards (Clarksburg)
Rock Ridge Ranches
Roland Hatterle Vineyard (Woodbridge)
Round Valley Ranches (Lodi)
S&V Dutra Farms (Acampo)

Schulenburg Vineyard's LODI RULES certified old vine Zinfandel on Lodi's west side


San Antonio Valley Sustainable
Schulenburg Vineyard (Lodi)
Shoup Vineyard
Silvaspoons Vineyards, LLC (Galt)
Soucie Vineyards (Lodi)
Stanton Lane Vineyard Management, Inc. (Lodi)
Starr-Woehl Vineyards (Acampo)
Stokes Brothers (Lodi)
Trinchero/Sutter Home Estates (St. Helena)
Underwood Estate Winery
Vino Farms (Lodi)
Warnecke Ranch & Vineyards (Healdsburg)
Williams Custom Vineyard (Acampo)
Wilson Farms (Clarksburg)
Winkler Family Farms (Clarksburg)
Zabala Vineyards (Soledad)

The Salinas Valley river-rock terroir of Zabala Vineyards, a LODI RULES certified ranch anchoring Monterey's Arroyo Seco AVA

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