Lambert Bridge Winery
Sonoma County region
The winery is situated in the premier growing region of Dry Creek Valley
When the Ray Chambers family of New Jersey acquired Lambert Bridge in 1993, it already was among the oldest and most recognized wineries in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. Founded by Jerry Lambert in 1975, the winery took its name from the nearby one-lane trestle bridge that has spanned Dry Creek since 1920. The area encompassing the landmark bridge and nearby winery and vineyards was once a part of a large ranch owned by C.L. Lambert, who owned much of Dry Creek Valley in the late 1800s. Jerry Lambert (no relation) bought 119 acres of the ranch and began to develop vineyards. He adopted the bridge, which can be seen from the winery, as part of his corporate logo and to use on his wine labels.
Under Lambert’s care, about 40 acres of vineyards were developed as the winery established a solid reputation for producing consistently fine Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. Annual production grew to 25,000 cases and the original small, rustic, redwood winery building which Jerry himself designed, was eventually expanded to 12,000 square feet.
In 1993, the winery was purchased by the Chambers family of New Jersey. The family already owned 250 acres of vineyard land in nearby Alexander Valley. Yearning to complete the cycle of grape-to-bottle, they had searched for several years for a winery to acquire. Lambert Bridge was a perfect match. The winery was situated near the family vineyards and in the premier growing region of Dry Creek. It was appealingly small, beautifully designed and had a great reputation with which to gain instant access into the marketplace. “The acquisition of Lambert Bridge presented us with a fantastic opportunity to do everything right and expand the reputation of an already great winery,” says winery President, Patti Chambers.
With the experience and local knowledge gained from owning the 250-acre vineyard in Sonoma County, the new proprietors secured two of the best in the wine business to run the winery. General Manager Mark Adams is an industry veteran who, as director of marketing and sales for Château St. Jean, helped the Sonoma County winery build a national reputation for quality. Winemaker Julia Iantosca established her reputation during 11 years at nearby William Wheeler Winery, where she produced a series of award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. The two were given a simple mandate for Lambert Bridge; produce wines comparable to the very best from Sonoma County.
After careful evaluation, Mark and Julia took the winery back to basics. Production was scaled back to 10,000 cases per year, with primary emphasis on three flagship wines: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In addition, the winery began making limited quantities of wine varieties strongly associated with Dry Creek Valley—Fume Blanc and Zinfandel which are available only at the winery’s tasting room. The new regime at Lambert Bridge will continue to focus on producing quality wines and not worry about producing large quantities. “We’re in no great hurry to run up the numbers,” says newly appointed G.M., Mark Adams. “We’ll plateau our production at around 10,000 to 15,000 cases.
“Lambert Bridge is a Dry Creek Valley winery and we feel the regional identity is important,” Julia explains. “Having a winery that blends comfortably into the local landscape, a tasting room in the aging cellar that makes visitors feel welcome and wines made from grape varieties that have proven themselves here are all the elements in maintaining that identity.”
Situated in the heart of Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley is among California’s most picturesque and intimate wine regions. The valley is 16 miles long and less than a mile wide in some locations. It runs in a northwest direction beginning just west of Healdsburg, with Dry Creek meandering through its center. Thirty miles of rugged mountains separate the valley from the Pacific Coast, giving the region a long growing season distinguished by mild days and cool evenings. It is considered an ideal area for growing premium wine grapes.
The first vineyards in Dry Creek were established in the 1870s and the region soon gained a reputation for producing outstanding Zinfandel. New plantings in the 1960s and 1970s demonstrated that Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also top quality grapes for this area. Dry Creek Valley is now carpeted with nearly 6,000 acres of vines that cover the valley floor, climb the benchlands and reach into the hills.
The diversity of Dry Creek Valley provides Julia with an exceptional palette of grapes with which to work and nearly 15 years of local winemaking experience gives her a distinct advantage. “Each grape variety has an area in the valley where it grows best,” she observes. “I select my vineyard sources based on their proven ability to contribute to the wine.” Her many years of winemaking in Dry Creek Valley have enabled her to obtain grapes from several of the region’s best vineyards. She also has the freedom to go beyond Dry Creek Valley to neighboring Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley for grapes that add something special to the blend.
Julia’s winemaking is carefully considered. “My job is to emphasize the unique personality of the grape,” she notes. By combining conservative technique with judicious use of oak, she allows each vineyard lot to express itself. The last step is to create magic in the final blend. “My philosophy of blending is that the sum should be better than the parts. The challenge is to take good wines and make a great blend.”
The wines Julia has created during her short tenure at Lambert Bridge have been nothing short of spectacular. Rich in varietal character, the wines exhibit a depth and polish that transcends vintages and appellations. The award winning 1992 Chardonnay and 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon featured this month reflect the substantial, yet supple, Lambert Bridge style. We think you’ll be impressed.
Incidentally, for all the changes the winery has undergone recently, a visit to Lambert Bridge is still a step back to a quieter era. Nestled against forested hills overlooking Dry Creek Valley, the wood frame winery beckons with a crackling fireplace and a cozy tasting bar amid barrels of aging wine. For its beautiful setting, warm hospitality and great wines, Lambert Bridge should be considered one of the must-sees in the California wine country.
Julia Iantosca & Jill Davis - Winemakers
Perhaps the linchpin of Lambert Bridge Winery's operation is the formidable winemaking duo of Julia Iantosca and Jill Davis. Julia arrived at Lambert Bridge a dozen years ago from William Wheeler Winery while Jill arrived in 2005 from notable stints at Buena Vista and William Hill Wineries. The selection of Julia Iantosca to be winemaker at Lambert Bridge has proven to be inspired. She has demonstrated both her remarkable knowledge of local vineyards and her extraordinary talent for creating memorable wines.
A native Californian who was active in 4-H as a child, Julia became fascinated with wine early. Her interest broadened while attending San Jose State University, when she began tasting fine wines with a friend who managed a wine shop. Following her transfer to the University of California at Davis to study microbiology, a faculty advisor suggested she consider a major in fermentation sciences. She enjoyed the course work, but her decision to become a winemaker was cemented during a six-month internship at Dry Creek Vineyards, in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley. 'I appreciated that winery work followed the cycles of the seasons'always changing, yet ultimately familiar. The sense of community and easy camaraderie within the local winemaking community was also a revelation. I felt I'd found my destiny.'
Julia graduated from U.C. Davis in 1979 and immediately went to work as winemaker for Steven Vineyards, in the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County. In 1982, she returned to Dry Creek to become winemaker at William Wheeler Winery, a position she would hold for the next 11 years. Working both with grapes grown on the Wheeler estate and grapes purchased from carefully selected local vineyards, she produced a series of award winning Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. Since being appointed winemaker at Lambert Bridge in 1993, Julia has personally supervised virtually every aspect of wine production, from vineyard care to bottling. She has cemented the foundation for fulfilling the mandate of Lambert Bridge's owners, to produce wines equal to the very best from Sonoma County.
After a period of time, the winemaking responsibilities will be handed off to industry veteran, Jill Davis. Jill is a native Californian, born and raised in the small, northern town of Eureka. At the age of twelve her family moved to the Sacramento area just a short distance away from the famous winemaking school of U.C. Davis. At that point, the Davis family had no ties to the wine industry and certainly Jill had no inkling that wine would soon take a significant role in her life. That is until an acquaintance of her Dad's called to offer him some Zinfandel grapes that were left in his vineyard after harvest. After picking the grapes Jill and her Dad borrowed a How-To book, bought a garbage can, found some yeast in the kitchen and tried their hand at home winemaking. 'I knew nothing about wine let alone winemaking and it really piqued my curiosity,' Jill said remembering that watershed event in her life.
After a few years her Dad handed the winemaking reins over to Jill who had already set her sights on the eonology program at U.C.Davis. Upon graduation Jill landed a job at Beringer as a Lab Technician until moving on to Buena Vista Winery. At Buena Vista she had the unique opportunity to tutor under wine-industry giant, Andre Tchelistchefff for a dozen years. 'That was an incredible experience and profoundly influenced my winemaking,' recalls Jill. In 1994 Jill was hired away to William Hill Winery for eight years before striking out on her own as a consultant. One of her consulting clients was Lambert Bridge whose owners twisted her arm to come on board full-time in 2005. Jill's immediate mandate at Lambert Bridge is to re-energize the brand while putting more focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends. The winery's flagship, Merlot will always remain a significant part of their identity but eventually Cabernet will takes its place at the helm.
With the brilliant quality of recent releases to build from and Jill's commitment to excellence, the future of Lambert Bridge looks very exciting.