THE SEVEN AVA'S OF THE LODI APPELLATION
The Lodi Appellation is a federally designated American Viticulture Area recognized for the distinctive quality of its wines. Located directly east of San Francisco at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, the Lodi appellation is noted for its classic Mediterranean climate and its distinctive sandy soils that provide the perfect environment for the production of world-class wines.
The federal government first approved the Lodi American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1986, and over the past two decades the number of "Lodi" labeled wines has skyrocketed.
As the quality and recognition of Lodi wines spread, local winegrowers began to recognize the wide variety of ecological differences across the vastness of the Lodi AVA - differences that began to show in the wines emerging from their vineyards.
These winegrowers sought to create sub-appellations that better reflect the diversity of the land. Their efforts resulted in the most extensive historical and science-based document outlining the diversity in climate, soil, topography, and elevation of any appellation ever to be submitted for federal approval. Their research concluded that seven distinct growing areas exist and deserve recognition as individual appellations.
In August 2006 the federal government granted recognition to the following seven appellations:
Alta Mesa AVA - Located in northern central Lodi, it is distinguished by its mesa-like elevation. The area is composed of dense heavy clay soils and gravel soils, and is the second warmest area in Lodi. Alta Mesa is typically planted red grape varieties.
Borden Ranch AVA - Located in east central Lodi, it is the most topographically diverse area of the Lodi Appellation with elevations ranging from 73 feet in the west to 520 feet in the east. The region features well drained, stone-laden soils that tend to produce well-structured red wines.
Clements Hills AVA - Located in southeastern Lodi it is characterized by rolling hills and cliffs at the base of the Sierra Foothills. It is generally warmer and wetter than western Lodi and is particularly prized for growing red varieties.
Cosumnes River AVA - Noted for a relatively cool and windy growing season this appellation is located in the northwestern corner of Lodi. Relatively low-elevation and alluvial soils, the AVA is noted for its white wine varieties.
Jahant AVA - The smallest of the Lodi appellations it is uniquely defined by its pink Rocklin-Jahant loam soils. Jahant's climate is cool and dry due to its proximity to the Mokelumne River and Sacramento Delta, and relatively low elevations.
Mokelumne River AVA - The historical center of the Lodi wine growing region. Located in central Lodi it is noted for its fine sandy soils and boasts many of the regions famed Old Vine Zinfandel vineyards.
Sloughouse AVA - Located in the northeastern corner it is the warmest or Lodi's appellations. Elevations rise to 590 feet and Sloughouse is noted for its diverse topography and low vigor soils. It receives the least cooling from San Francisco bay breezes that funnel up the Sacramento Delta.
Be on the lookout for these new Lodi AVA's on your favorite wines in the near future.
History of Lodi Winegrowing
Early explorers to the area discovered a region teeming with wildlife and lush vegetation. The valley's floor was covered with towering oaks, grasses, and wildflowers. The rivers were filled with salmon, the skies with migratory birds, and the lands rich with deer. Grizzly bears rumbled through the foothills, vast herds of antelope and elk roamed the valley floors, and Miwok Indians first inhabited the region, hunting and gathering along the rivers.
Grapes were always part of the local landscape, growing wild dangling from the trees along the riverbanks. Early trappers called one stream "Wine Creek," due to the bounty of wild vines. That river was later renamed the Calaveras River, and flows through the southern part of the Lodi-Woodbridge region.
The First Vineyards
Capt. Charles Weber, founder of Stockton, was the first to plant grapes in the region around his home in 1850. Two years later, a Massachusetts man named George West, who first came to California to mine gold, saw those flourishing vines. West got some cuttings from Weber and established the first major vineyard in the region just north of Stockton at the southern edge of the Lodi-Woodbridge region.
A good businessman, West could see that California had very few wineries yet a rapidly growing and thirsty population. In 1858, he built the El Pinal Winery and became the region's first commercial vintner. While West was expanding his vineyards and planting different varieties, growers in the heart of Lodi prospered farming grain and watermelons.
By the late 1880's the market for grains and watermelons went flat. Farmers began focusing on other crops but none excelled like grapes. Several different varieties did well in Lodi, but Zinfandel and Tokay stood out above the rest. Farmers especially embraced the Tokay, a versatile table grape with an eye-catching flame color. It was only in Lodi, with its sandy soils and cool delta breezes, that the Tokay would develop its distinctive flame color laying the foundation for what would eventually become the Lodi Appellation (established 1986).
The Tokay was a delicious table grape that held up well during the long rail trip across country to eastern markets. It could also be fermented into wine, distilled into brandy, or fortified into ports and sherries.
Just after the turn of the century, vineyard development thrived, shipping companies emerged, and wineries slowly began sprouting up in the Lodi area. The once struggling farmers prospered, and in 1901 the local newspaper declared that wine production was "the coming industry for this part of the state." Despite the prosperity, the West family maintained a strong monopoly on local wine production, providing few alternatives for growers to sell their grapes. Anger over the West's control led to the formation of many co-operative wineries, where the growers actually owned the business and shared the profits.
The enactment of Prohibition in 1919 posed a real threat to Lodi winegrape growers. Although some wineries did close, and some farmers prematurely tore out their vines, it turned out that Prohibition became a very prosperous time for Lodi growers. The business just changed from making wine to shipping fresh grapes. Since home winemaking was allowed under the Volstead Act, the demand for winegrapes actually increased during Prohibition. Thousands of railcars left Lodi each harvest full of Zinfandels, Tokays, Alicante's, and many other winegrapes.
The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 signaled the rebirth of the Lodi wine industry. Some new co-operatives were formed, many new wineries were built, and Lodi wines were once again finding their way across the country. Dessert wines like sherry, port, and sparkling wines were the consumer's preference at the time.
The Varietal Wine Boom
Throughout the 40's and 50's Lodi prospered with their Tokays, Zinfandels, and dessert wines, but then in the 1960's consumer tastes began to change. They began to prefer table wines, and then later, quality varietal wines. The Tokay, no longer favored by wineries, was dealt another serious blow with the development of the seedless table grape that flourished in the warmer climates south of Lodi. The table grape market completely disappeared, and Lodi growers began focusing on producing quality varietal winegrapes for the blossoming table wine market.
The transition, which began in the late 60's, and climaxed in the mid 90's saw thousands of acres of grapes converted into premium varietal winegrapes. Buoyed by the reported health benefits of moderate wine consumption and a strong US economy, wineries throughout the state turned to Lodi to supply the growing demand for delicious affordable table wines.
The Lodi Appellation
The area's transition to premium wines got a credibility boost when the Lodi Appellation (American Viticulture Area) was approved in 1986. Wineries were now able to label their wines with Lodi listed as the grapes' origin. Lodi was no longer the wine industry's best kept secret as awareness slowly began to build for the distinctive quality of Lodi wines. At first only a handful of small local vintners produced a "Lodi" designated wine, but as the quality and the reputation spread, wineries across the state proudly proclaimed "Lodi" on their wine label.
Today & The Future
Today, Lodi is home to over 70 wineries, hundreds of "Lodi" labeled wines, and thousands of acres of premium winegrapes. Its growers and vintners combine the best of tradition with the most modern advances of science and technology. It leads the industry in sustainable viticultural practices, preserving the land for generations to come. It is a region where a new generation of growers is rediscovering its rich heritage, and setting out to produce world-class wines that rival the best that California has to offer.
"LODI WINE COUNTRY" FACT SHEET
- "Lodi Wine Country" is located 100 miles east of San Francisco near the San Joaquin River Delta, south of Sacramento and west of the Sierra Nevada.
- Lodi is best known for its full-bodied Old Vine Zinfandel wines. In addition to Zinfandel, Lodi leads all other California wine districts in the production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier.
- Lodi has been a major winegrape growing region since the 1850's. Today, the area has 100,000 acres of winegrapes, farmed by over 750 growers.
- The region enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Averal annual rainfall is 17" (42.50 cm). Deep, sandy clay loam soils predominate.
- The region's annual yield of approximately 600,000 tons of grapes is valued at over $300 million, and comprises 20% of California's total winegrape production - more than Napa and Sonoma Counties combined.
- The "Lodi" appellation was approved by the federal government in 1986.
- There are five major wineries in the area - Robert Mondavi Woodbridge, Turner Road Vintners, Sutter Home Winery, Bear Creek Winery, and Oak Ridge Winery. However, more than 60 leading California wineries buy grapes from the region including E&J Gallo, Glen Ellen, Fetzer, Delicato, Napa Ridge, Ravenswood, and Beringer.
- Lodi's 70+ "boutique" wineries specialize in small lot, handmade wines that are garnering major awards at domestic and international wine competitions.
- In 1991 local growers voted to fund the Lodi Winegrape Commission. With its $1,000,000 annual budget the Commission conducts programs in marketing, grower education and viticultural research. The Commission also conducts the nation's leading sustainable viticulture program, which reduces the amount of pesticides and herbicides used in winegrape production. In addition, the Commission operates the "Discover Lodi Wine and Visitor Center" - a "must see" experience for anyone interested in grapes or wine.
- To learn more about "Lodi Wine Country" please visit www.lodiwine.com and www.lodirules.com.
A Climate for Quality
The Lodi Wine Region is defined and influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Situated directly east of San Francisco, at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, Lodi takes advantage of the coastal gap as the northern and southern coastal ranges meet at the San Francisco Bay. As temperatures rise in the central valley, cool maritime breezes are pulled directly across the Lodi region creating a distinctive climate that has allowed premium winegrapes to flourish for over a century.
Boasting a classic Mediterranean climate, Lodi has warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters, with an average annual rainfall of 17". The dry warm summer days allow Lodi grapes to develop full ripe fruit flavors while the distinctive breezes maintain the natural acidity for structure and complexity in the finished wines.
The rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range further define the eastern edge of the Lodi Wine Region. The diverse topography and cool nighttime air in the rolling hills provide an ideal climate for the growing of fine winegrapes and the production of delicious wines.
Soil from the Sierras
Lodi is a diverse wine-producing region formed millions of years ago through geological events and alluvial waters. Two major rivers that originate in the Sierra Nevada feed Lodi - the Mokelumne and the Cosumnes. These rivers have brought soils rich in minerals that lend distinctive flavors to the wines of Lodi.
Tokay Fine Sandy Loam
The Tokay Fine Sandy Loam is the home to the majority of Lodi's fifty to one hundred year old Zinfandel vines. The well-drained sandy soil allows the vines to slowly draw the water down over the course of the season producing very uniform and balanced growth. The grapevine root pest phyloxera does very poorly in this sandy soil, sparing many of the old own-rooted Zinfandel vines. This soil also sits directly in the path of the cool coastal breeze influence, which imparts excellent color an intense fruit flavors in the finished wines.
Tuscan Stony Loam
This well-drained gravelly soil is found in the rolling hills on the eastern side of the Lodi Wine Region. Full of pebbles and cobbles, fertility an available water capacity are very low allowing the winegrower to precisely administer irrigation to the vines at the stage that most benefit wine quality. The vines can be stressed for water late in the spring and early in the summer intensifying the flavor and color of the fruit. Cover crops are commonly grown between the vines to prevent erosion.
San Joaquin Loam
This moderately well drained soil has a clay rocklike layer. The available water-holding capacity is low, and roots must find their way through the cracks in the clay layer. The naturally low to moderate fertility controls vigor and keeps the vines small producing grapes with excellent concentration of flavors. The tendency of the soil to dry out by early summer controls the vines through the latter part of the growing season.
Archerdale Clay Loam
This deep well-drained rich soil has a high available water-holding capacity. The natural fertility of this soil lends it very well to sustainable farming practices. Very little water or fertilizer is required to maintain healthy vines in this soil. Cover crops are frequently planted to balance the vines and provide habitat for native species.
Advances in modern viticulture (the farming of grapes) have led to dramatic improvements in wine quality in the Lodi Wine Region. Through the extensive efforts of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, local growers, and vintners, Lodi has led the industry in funding and implementing many of the most progressive viticultural practices. These efforts have resulted in vast improvements in quality that will continue well into the future.
The leaf and fruit bearing portion of the grapevine is called the canopy. Ensuring that the grapes receive the proper amount of sunlight is essential for producing quality wines. Ongoing advances in trellising the vines, positioning the shoots, and manipulating the canopy has resulted in a greater intensity of fruit flavor in the finished wines.
In drier climates, such as Lodi, the grower has precise control over how much water to administer to the vine. Extensive research in Lodi has demonstrated that deficit irrigation (limiting the amount of water at a precise time) leads to dramatic increase in quality.
Technology & Mechanization
Recent advances in technology and mechanization have had a profound effect on how winegrapes are farmed. Whether it's satellite imagery that detects vine deficiencies or a mechanical harvester that leaves underripe berries on the vine; whether it's a weather station in the vineyard or an electrostatic sprayer that limits the amount of pesticide applied; Lodi growers now have the most sophisticated tools and information at their disposal for producing world-class wines.
Rootstock & Clonal Selection
Advances in the research and selection of rootstocks and clones have aided growers in the development of new vineyards in the Lodi region. With a wealth of new information, growers can now appropriately match the rootstock and clonal selection to the soil type and microclimate of their vineyard.
Zins of Lodi
Zinfandel is California's grape, and in Lodi Zinfandel is the king. Nestled between the Sierra Foothills and the San Francisco Bay Delta Lodi offers the ideal climate for producing ripe full-flavored Zins. Sitting at the edge of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta Lodi benefits from the distinctive bay delta breezes that cool the region in the afternoon and evenings creating characteristic Lodi Zinfandel - ripe forward fruit with soft polished tannins.
Dating back to the late 1800's, Lodi has a long proud history of producing some of the finest Zinfandel grapes in the state. These distinctive vineyards which survived prohibition by being packed and shipped east for home winemakers, and survived through the planting booms of the 70's and 80's by filling the tremendous growth for White Zinfandel, are now emerging as some of the finest Zinfandel wines being produced in California. Growers, vintners, and consumers from around the world are quickly discovering the distinctive character of Lodi Zinfandel.