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.
Why LODI RULES sustainability is as natural a fit in Lodi as it is around the world
Growing international acclaim
This past month, the Lodi Winegrape Commission's Stephanie Bolton, Ph.D., talked about the recent reception of the LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing program at the 2022 International Cool Climate Wine Symposium in Ontario, Canada:
"The crowd’s reception was incredible. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a packed room full of enthusiastic listeners from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and elsewhere. The audience had so many questions at the end of the hour presentation that I was shooed off the stage so we didn’t take more time away from the next presenter.
"Several later talks mentioned Lodi and LODI RULES in a positive light. It felt wonderful to experience the response of viticulturists and wine professionals worldwide who celebrate the hard work and dedication of the LODI RULES founders and community."
According to Dr. Bolton, much of the enthusiasm for Lodi's brand of sustainable farming has to do with how it evolved: During the early 1990s, "as a grassroots integrated pest management program." This involved direct input from the growers themselves. "
Adds Bolton: "We strongly believe that one of the main reasons why our sustainability program has had high levels of participation by growers is because it is a ground-up program. We tap into the knowledge of our local farming community to ensure that the program is simple, practical, feasible, and affordable to implement. By staying deeply connected on a daily basis to our farmers we are able to get real-time feedback on all pieces of the program."
After extensive grower and scientist input," Bolton tells us, "the program grew to cover business, human resources, soil, water, ecosystem, and pest management." At that point, the Lodi Winegrape Commission engaged Protected Harvest, a third-party nonprofit, to certify vineyards on an annual basis each fall. Bolton reminds us that it is "the actual grapes and vintage that are certified sustainable."
The LODI RULES program has grown far beyond the borders of the Lodi appellation. Says Bolton: "Our formal certification program started out with just six growers and 1,555 acres in Lodi in 2005 and has grown to 64,834 certified sustainable acres across California, in Washington state, and in Israel. We have over 70,000 acres enrolled for this certification year... a level of participation beyond what anyone thought would happen!"
Lodi growers explain why LODI RULES is so meaningful to them
We recently asked several leading Lodi growers/vintners why it is more than worthwhile for them to follow the rigorous yearly requirements for certification by LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing. The growers contributing their experiences:
Jerry and Bruce Fry, owner/growers, Mohr-Fry Ranches
Heather Pyle Lucas, co-owner/grower/winemaker, The Lucas Winery
Susan and Rodney Tipton, owner/growers, Acquiesce Vineyards & Winery
Markus Niggli, owner/grower/winemaker, Markus Wine Co.
Our questions and their responses:
What does LODI RULES mean to you?
Jerry and Bruce Fry: It certifies in a meaningful expression the way most Lodi winegrape growers have operated their businesses for multiple generations.
Heather Pyle Lucas: LODI RULES is a detailed program for grape farmers to learn from, participate in and contribute to but it is much more than that. It is a farming culture that evolves with the science of farming practices that lead to sustainable businesses. LODI RULES is multi-disciplinary, involving all the facets of a farming business—vine and soil health, air quality, worker safety, and knowledge, financial viability, water conservation, reduced and gentler inputs, riparian habitat, and more. LODI RULES represents the future of farming where all facets are respected and encouraged to thrive long-term, not just the vines.
Sue and Rodney Tipton: LODI RULES IS A very solid and measurable method of controlled farming with optics for continuous improvement. This is a set of tools to help us tread lightly and grow healthier, longer-living vines and soils.
How has sustainability impacted the local community?
Jerry and Bruce Fry: We believe LODI RULES has created confidence for our community’s citizens that the Lodi winegrape grower cares about the big picture, are good stewards of the land, and care for more than just their own business. LODI RULES concerns more than just the environment. It concerns our employees, and what we do to support, and be involved in the community.
Heather Pyle Lucas: There are two communities involved here. The grower community learns how farming practices affect the greater eco-system and in some cases, that following LODI RULES is important to their grape-purchasing wineries. There is a greater community of wine consumers and agricultural neighbors who have begun to be aware of what farming practices lead to healthier products.
How do you believe LODI RULES affect the planet?
Jerry and Bruce: The LODI RULES grower workbook utilizes up-to-date research and technology throughout the year. It also shows the compassion the growers have for their employees and their involvement in the community. Consumers of today are watchful and want to be confident that the wine from the grapes grown in the Lodi area is sustainably grown.
Heather Pyle Lucas: There is no doubt that thinking about what you are doing in the field and how it affects all related organisms leads is beneficial to the planet. Farmers are by nature stewards and plan to do no harm. Well-researched and articulated documents such as LODI RULES help those in the trenches understand what changes or they can make to lessen the impacts of farming and even improve things for the next generation.
What is one of the biggest challenges when working with sustainable “rules"?
Sue and Rodney Tipton: Probably the most challenging piece of the process is for the newcomer just beginning to implement the program. It takes time to understand and prepare for the required practices, the measures, and finally certification. The good news is that there are a number of knowledgeable people in Lodi to help the novice get underway.
Markus Niggli: The sheer amount of time it takes to report all your practices. You can easily fill three full binders with paper, write a lot of reports, and document strategies. Smaller wineries really work hard on changing their vineyards and spend a lot of time with it. There is also the money aspect. Just to participate in the program costs a good amount of money.
Heather Pyle Lucas: Time and money, as always. Reading, understanding, and filling out the documentation is time-consuming, and some of the new practices or changes a farmer might make involve more money and more time. Some do not but many involve more oversight in the vineyard and a more nuanced approach to irrigation, pest control, etc, and that usually implies increased costs at least for a while. Training workers properly and attending to worker safety and providing a living wage involves time and money, which I believe are well spent.
What's one thing you wish the public knew more about sustainable wine growing?
Jerry and Bruce Fry: That wine grape growing is no easy task. There are so many variables, and we are constantly faced with new and changing issues, from the invasion of new foreign pests and diseases, variable weather patterns, and shortages of water and crop materials, to a lack of labor to accomplish certain tasks in a timely fashion. And, of course, the grower has little to say about the price of his or her product to obtain a fair return for effort and costs expended. What we wish the public knew was that they can be confident that the wines coming from Lodi wine grapes are some of the best in the world and that their production is under the most stringent regulations in the world. Lodi wines are probably the most undervalued in the marketplace.
Heather Pyle Lucas: I wish the public understood that sustainable programs like LODI RULES are not “organic minus” but rather the future of farming where workers, finances, water, air, and fruit all can be respected and honored. Some consumers think that because sustainable certification allows all to participate while organic has strict black-and-white metrics, sustainable is not as rigorous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trust a sustainable certification to validate a farmer's commitment to a healthy planet and healthy fruit.
Sue and Rodney Tipton: Wine growers and wineries are aware of and taking important steps to improve the health of the soil, the grapes, and the finished wines, and are motivated to do so for the right reasons.
Markus Niggli: You have to believe that a healthy and happy vineyard is a better vineyard. It is as simple as that.
What is one of the most important trickle-down effects of implementing sustainable practices?
Heather Pyle Lucas: Awareness and a closer relationship with the vines. Sustainable programs ask the farmer to be out with the vines, looking for signs of success or trouble so that different practices or more of the same can be applied if needed.
Sue and Rodney Tipton: Without a doubt, better wines!
How have LODI RULES changed for you over the past few years, improving your grapes or wines?
Sue and Rodney Tipton: Just look at the awards we have won and the notoriety we have given to Lodi with the quality of our wines year after year. LODI RULES have a direct impact on quality!
Markus Niggli: LODI RULES has made me a better person. The goal in my life is to make a difference. It is the vineyards that are showing me the results!