Name California’s significant wine regions: Napa and Sonoma come to mind first. Then you may mention Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. But rarely will “Lodi” ring in response. This despite the facts that the Lodi wine region, located halfway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, in the center of the state, produces more wine grapes than Napa and Sonoma combined, has a history of viticulture dating back more than 150 years and is home to some the purest Zinfandel vines on the planet. And still, it is not “top of mind” for most wine consumers.
At least not yet.
“When people say they don’t know Lodi, we look at that as an opportunity,” says Joe Lange, consumer and winery marketing director and a fifth-generation member of the LangeTwins Winery family. “We know that telling the story of the Lodi and Clarksburg regions and appellations is a big part of what we do.”
Joe spoke with me recently from Grand Junction where he was embarking on a Colorado sales trip, spreading the word about Lodi and the wines of LangeTwins. I had recently been introduced to their rich, accessible and affordable Estate Grown Chardonnay along with a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, which they market under a new label called Caricature. Both were delicious so I thought I would explore more.
LangeTwins Winery is a relatively recent addition to a family legacy that began in the Lodi region long ago. The Lange family began farming in the 1880s, growing dry-farmed watermelons, an oxymoron if there ever was one. In the early 1900s, they turned their attention to grapes and over the last century or so, the family has created one of the regions largest vineyard management companies. Lodi became a force in the wine industry in the late 1960s and ’70s when farmers grew grapes in bulk for Gallo and Mondavi, the giants of California wine marketing.
The lure of Lodi has to do with a combination of soils and geography. Fertile lands are influenced by the Sacramento River Delta that runs all the way from San Francisco Bay inland. The cooling breezes from the water can turn a 90-degree day into a 65-degree night. The region also has Zinfandel vines planted more than 100 years ago that are still producing great fruit. This last harvest showed the Lodi region to be responsible for about 18 percent of California’s entire wine grape production.
In 1974, fourth-generation Lange twins Randall and Bradford Lange, (friends call them Randy and Brad) purchased a 120-acre property they named the River Ranch and proceeded to grow both grapes and the family business. “It was Bob Mondavi who had the biggest influence on my father and uncle,” said Joe of the California wine pioneer who made his reputation in Napa but made his fortune in Lodi, the place where he was born. “Mondavi started a label called Woodbridge that was an affordable bulk wine. My family owned or managed many of the grapes grown for Woodbridge. Bob always talked about growing the best grapes in the best vineyards. He also gave us incentive to produce to best product.”
In the mid-2000s, Randy and Brad’s five children began returning to the family farm and business after stints away at college where most studied winemaking and marketing. A plan was hatched and a family charter signed to shape the LangeTwins brand and move it into the next century. “We recognize that we are building on the success of the previous generation,” Joe said as he explained the family’s plan. “We built a winery in 2005 and launched our wine in 2007 with an eye toward a family business that will last 50 to 100 years down the line.
To preserve that long-term goal, LangeTwins has worked closely with other Lodi farmers in the establishment of “Lodi Rules,” an organization that third-party certifies vineyards that comply with sustainable winemaking practices. “Lower yields, drip irrigation, use of insects in the fields instead of pesticides, these are all important in protecting the Lodi region for future generations,” they say.
Now LangeTwins focus is on producing quality wines that pair well with food and are affordable: “Estate grown wines. We control all elements of the process from vine to wine, we like to say.” With winemaker David Akiyoshi, who spent 25 years in the region making wines for Woodbridge, at the helm, LangeTwins is producing wines that are perfect for the everyday drinker.
While Joe is bullish on Colorado as a market for the LangeTwins brand, they are currently in limited release here in the Roaring Fork Valley. You can try the wines at Finnbar and find them at Local Spirits.
Hopefully there will be more LangeTwins in the future.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We know that telling the story of the Lodi
and Clarksburg regions and appellations
is A big part of what we do.” – Joe Lange