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
April 13, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

Ripken makes DIY, unconscious wines


Indoors Out‘s Dean & Derek builds it, and all the more reason to come to the Ripken family’s winery…


In real life, contractors don’t arrive on Friday and leave you the following Sunday with a gleaming, new, 2,000 foot outdoor living area, complete with a 40×18 foot arbor, wet bar and fire pit. But this is television, and it’s also Lodi’s Ripken Vineyards & Winery — where you always find a rusted metallic pig with angelic wings proudly flying high on a pole because, as Richard “Rip” Ripken is fond of reminding everyone, “they said Lodi would make good wine when pigs fly, so that’s my pig flying!”

The unseasonal winter rains had not quite subsided, but nothing kept the show from going on when we dropped by the Ripkens’ winery that Friday this past March 25 to observe a small army of Lodi craftsmen humming along with master stonemasons, Derek Stearns and Dean Marsico, the quick-to-quip, entertaining co-hosts of DIY Network‘s Indoors Out.  It was all business, relentless and yeomanly, even if it it did involve camera and “lights/action” hustle and bustle alongside the precision brick paver laying and dramatic erection of a sky ceiling of an arbor to end all arbors.  Dean and Derek’s schtick is all about expanding homes without actually expanding homes by taking things outside (hence, Indoors Out), and this project in the Lodi wine country was, in fact, their first ever venture involving a commercial property.


Winemaker Susan Ripken

But it was a great fit, because Lodi’s wine industry is also about families of winegrowers — many with roots in the region’s famously deep sandy loam going back over 100 years — and the Ripkens’ operation is as family as it gets.  Winemaker Susan Ripken also points out, “Dean and Derek wanted to do their first show outside a private home in some kind of wine country spot, and we were told that they first considered Napa Valley… but they ended up coming to Lodi because they thought Napa wasn’t ‘family’ enough, and I guess they chose us from among the other Lodi wineries who were interested because they thought we were small enough an operation that they could contribute to.”

“Besides,” adds Susan, “we really needed an outdoor tasting room, especially for the summer months, because our indoors tasting room was so small, we’d often have people stopping by and then leaving right away because they couldn’t get close enough to the tasting bar!”

You’ll be able to view this episode in the comfort of your own living room in about five months time (Susan thinks some time in August), after they whittle down 10 hours of footage to about 22 minutes; but in the meantime, take a gander at some of the fore and aft photos at the end of this post.  Better yet, drop by Ripken during visiting hours (Saturdays/Sundays, 12-4 PM) for an actual viewing of this architectural splendor, and to taste these three equally eye opening, epiphany inducing new releases grown, vinified and bottled by this hardworking family:


2008 Ripken, Lodi Carmine ($16) – Carmine is a crossing of Vitis vinifera developed by U.C. Davis’ Dr. Harold Olmo to emulate the aromatic richness of parent grape Cabernet Sauvignon with the roundness of Merlot and fruitful promiscuity of Carignane.  Ripken’s ’08 does all this, but in its own specious, spicy way:  vivid purplish color and a nose of ripe plums, blueberry syrup, unfiltered tobacco and an jalapeño-like olé.  On the palate the feel is soft and zesty, and the fruit qualities sweet toned and brassy, like a gum chewing, tatooed teen, too bratty to grasp the concept of impending arrested development.  But hey, throw it together with some barbecue sticks or waffle hot dogs, and you got a garage band — just rock!


2008 Ripken, Rhônealicous Lodi Petite Sirah ($25) – There’s something about the almost unconscious winegrowing done by the Ripken family that reminds you of the fun, but basically meaningless, French nursery song, Il tait Était une Bergère (with the maddeningly infectious, repetitive verse, et ron ron ron petit patapon):  nothing really “grand” or earthshaking about this beneficent red, yet it runs circles around the senses with its plenitude of plump, blueberry/boysenberry jam-like fruitfulness and metric, meaty bounciness.  The jet black-purplish varietal typicity is also here, but everything seems well contained — not too big, not too small — and, well… infectious.


2006, Ripken, Late Harvest Lodi Viognier ($20/375 ml.) – This is where the Ripkens get serious, like a woman, although you can describe this golden colored dessert style white as, simply, delicioso.  What it is is seriously good:  honeyed fragrances of dried apricot, peach syrup, nectarine and golden raisins, manifested within glycerol textured qualities on the palate.  Oh, it’s a lusciously sweet thang (20% residual sugar), light footed (11% alcohol) and mouth-watering.  Susan Ripken tells us, “some people taste this and say it would be great poured over vanilla ice cream or glasses of champagne, but I think it would be better with just a plate of cheeses (especially blue veins).”  Well, if they can make pigs fly, and 2,000 square foot outdoor living spaces happen overnight, why even question a Ripken?

A Canon portrait of the Ripkens’ gloriously new outdoor tasting room:


Up goes the 40x18 ft. arbor (designed by Shanon Cabebe), under saturated clouds


Susan Ripken with Jeff Gamboni, the landscape architect who drew up the design


Inside-out view towards the Ripken Vineyard


DIY producer Doug Nelson; camera man Dallas Childers; Ryan Ripken (who built wine bar top); co-host Derek Stearns


Susan Ripken with Ben Kolber (KG Vineyard Manager) and Indoors Out co-host Derek Stearns


Indoors Out's Dean Marisco


Indoors Out's Dean Marisco


16 ft. redwood table (hewn from a tree that had fallen in the Ripkens' backyard)


The life under the Lodi sun




Lodi Wine Visitor Center
2545 West Turner Road Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Daily 10:00am-5:00pm

Lodi Winegrape Commission
2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm

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