No Sleep ‘Til Lodi: The Region, The Experience, The Myth and the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

No Sleep ‘Til Lodi

Historically I jump right on my posts after leaving the Wine Bloggers Conference, but Lodi was such a nuanced experience for me I needed some time to sit back and digest everything.  Lodi is well-known for its Old Vine Zinfandels and long-time grower families.

No Sleep ‘Til Lodi

First a little about Lodi, which is located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  With the recent designation by Wine Enthusiast as Wine Region of the Year, it has become glaring that the diverse soils and delta breezes allow an incredible diversity of wines, actually more than 100 of them – Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Southern Rhone and even German wines are made … and made well in Lodi.  At the end of the day, Lodi has two-thirds of its acreage dedicated to red wines.

No Sleep ‘Til Lodi

The climate is Mediterranean and is known for its warm days and cool nights.  The soils are very diverse due to the two rivers in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – the Mokelumne and Cosumnes Rivers.

The Wine Bloggers Conference opened with Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson as the keynote speaker.  Other than being one of the most kind, open and humble people you will even meet, this world-renowned Master Sommelier (one of 23 females in the world) demystifies wine and writing in less than 50 minutes.  She had some great insights:

No Sleep ‘Til Lodi

  • Writers have taken a wine experience that we love, to something that we commit to and aspire to grow.
  • Drink Lodi and be cooler than you really are.
  • She really was the first Dallas Wine Chick when she learned about wine while drinking it with Rebecca Murphy and at The Grape restaurant while at SMU.  She’d come back to her roommates and “teach” them the class she had just attended.  She hoped they’d just go with it and not ask questions she couldn’t answer.
  • Know your stuff – and when you don’t, say you don’t know and find out the answer
  • She had some great advice on taking things to the next level for bloggers:
    • Make it pay (pay can be more than money … my recent press trips make me agree completely).
    • Be better – better SEO, images and video.  That will be my commitment to you guys over the next few months.  I will be redoing Dallas Wine Chick – let me know what you want to see when I do.
    • Build value – whether that is personal wine certifications, writing for other publications, working with mentors or celebrating others … just do it.
    • Quality of content begets credibility – clearly after almost seven years, you guys have proven that to be the case.
    • Be authentic and always be who you are.

We then moved into a History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi.  Mark Chandler, the Mayor of Lodi, vineyardist and former executive director of Lodi Wine Commission joined Aaron Lange, Vineyard Manager of Langetwins Winery and Vice Chair of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG); Kevin Phillips, Vice President of Operations at Michael-David Winery and Phillips Farms and Markus Bokisch, Owner of Bokisch Vineyards talked about the growth of Lodi.

Today there are 700 growers in Lodi with an effort that started with a couple of dozen families with vision in late 80s/early 90s who chipped in a few thousand dollars to research what grows best in the region.  The region has drastically evolved with varieties once popular during Prohibition including many sweet wines (and sacramental wines) that are no longer produced.  Mark attributed Morley Safer, a veteran CBS journalist who did a report about red wine being good for the heart in 1993, as a catalyst for the region.  Over the next five years, the acreage grew from 40,000 acres to 100,000 acres.  In 1986, the Lodi AVA was formed, scientists were hired and a steering committee was created.  This lead to the creation of seven sub-AVAs.

As we sat in the same room that was once the site of East Side High School where Robert Mondavi started his education, it was clear that this was a region that was deep in heritage, authenticity, tradition, family and wine making.  Aaron described the region as the “heart of wine.”

We then moved to the Truth About Viticulture session which was an honest session about wine with Moderator Stuart Spencer, Program Manager at the Lodi Grape Commission and Owner/Winemaker of St Amant Winery.  The panelists were Tegan Passalacqua, director of winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars; Stan Grant, Viticulturist, Progressive Viticulture; and Chris Storm, Viticulturist of Vino Farms.

They spent some time covering the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture certification program designed to increase positive impact on the environment.  It’s a pretty rigorous certification process that is based in science, voluntary, and was the first to be audited by a third-party.  Lodi Rules certified growers balance environmental, social, and economic goals with a focus on sustainable agriculture.  More to come in another column on my personal Lodi Rules experience while we developed Masthead.

My favorite part is when they talked about the reality of the wine business and how people don’t truly tell the truth.  From sitting stuck in a truck in the mud for hours to the injuries sustained in the vineyard, it was a reality check in an often romanticized profession that is told through a marketing lens.

Chris had a very interesting perspective about how winemakers too often taste with their eyes instead of their mouths.  That does a disservice to the grape as balance is key; not the idea of what a vineyard should look like.  A good winemaker produces the maximum while maintaining what is right for vineyard.  It’s the right clone for the right area and the right rootstock with the right soil.

Tegan ended with a discussion about today’s labor shortage and how building strong relationships with producers and vintners pays off in the long run.  He also echoed a sentiment close to my heart – American palates need to drink more refreshing wines and therefore Lodi should concentrate more on white grapes.

The Winning Wine Blogger Award Winners

Me and Julien

From Passion to Pro Panel

Mary and Sean Celebrate Success!

A few other highlights of the conference:

  • Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong worked in conjunction with Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori to present a wine education session featuring wines from Italy’s Veneto.  I missed the first wine as I was in another session and realized I made the wrong choice, but the line-up of under $20 wines (unfortunately not available widely or at all in the United States) showed the differences in grams of sugar, terroir and style.
  • We attended a private lunch debuting Velv.  It was an interesting experience in showing ageability and what happens with giving mid-priced wines some surface area and time with this new device.
  • This year I attended the Live Red Wine Blogging session and was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps the session has grown on me, but the quality of the wines that we tried this year was unsurpassed.
  • Sujinder Juneja from Town Hall brands needs a stage.  He moderated the Panel of Wine Blogger Winners with Sophie Thorpe from Berry Bros & Rudd; Mary Cressler from Vindulge; Jill Barth from L’occasion; Susan Manfull from Province Wine Zine and Jerry Clark who received the best wine blog post of the year with panache, humor and absolute class.
  • The Passion to Pro – Getting Paid to Write About Wine session was honest, open and showed the hard work of Jameson Fink, Debra Meiburg MW and Deborah Parker Wong with the funny Randy Caparoso running the show.  The anecdotes showed one needs to approach wine writing as a full time job vs just a hobby like I do today.
  • Ethnifacts continued its second annual diversity scholarship and this year what a deserving recipient received it.  Julien Miquel who won last year’s Best New Blog for Social Vignerons was finally able to make it.
  • My favorite panel was co-presented by my good friends, Sean Martin and Mary Cressler from Vindulge.  They brought to life the marketing campaign, hard work, non-traditional themes like Star Wars and the love for photography that makes their blogs and Embers and Vine BBQ business successful.  They are also two of my most favorite people and they kept the packed room on the edge of their seats.

Next up … the launch of Masthead and how did people respond, going rogue and my Bella Grace Vineyard experience….