Lockwood Wines a Tribute to Monterey County Grape Quality
Twice in the 1990s, Lockwood Vineyards has been named one of the top small production wineries in America by Wine & Spirits magazine. This annual award is based upon a winery’s overall consistency of quality in the wines they produce. It is an honor handed out to no more than fifteen out of over 1,000 small wineries across the country. Lockwood accomplished this feat in 1994 by consistently earning scores in the high 80s and low 90s on not just one or two wines but six different wines released last year.
This month Gold Medal Wine Club is proud to bring you two high-scoring wines that helped Lockwood Vineyards establish themselves as one of America’s great wineries. In addition to the numerous awards and medals these two wines won, the 1991 Partner’s Reserve Chardonnay scored a whopping 96 Points in the Wine & Spirits judging. The 1991 Refosco Classico earned a highly respectable 88 Points.
Lockwood Winery produced their first wines just 6 years ago in 1989. The inaugural 1,000 cases of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Blanc was collectively one of the most successful new winery launches ever. Nineteen top awards and medals from the annual wine competitions were bestowed on this initial vintage. For years Lockwood wines were available only direct from the winery. During the last couple of years their production level has exploded to over 30,000 cases, and they have just begun to open up other channels of distribution.
The ground work for the creation of Lockwood Winery actually began over 15 years ago. One of Lockwood’s partners, Paul Toeppen, was running Monterey Vineyards in the late 1970s. Paul ultimately negotiated the sale of the winery in 1979 to Coca Cola, who at the time was expanding their interests into the wine business. They had just purchased Taylor Winery in New York and were looking for an entreé into the California market. The connection with Coca Cola proved fortuitous as the soft drink giant continued to look for additional long term grape sources for their newly launched Taylor-California brand.
Recognizing the opportunity, Paul called on two veteran grape growers, Butch Lindley and Phil Johnson, to form a partnership to provide grapes to Coca Cola. Butch and Phil were long time Monterey County growers who knew the local terrain intimately. With a contract from Coca Cola in hand, the trio spent over a year researching and investigating the best potential property for what was to be one of the largest grape growing operations in northern California.
In 1981 the newly formed partnership purchased over 1,800 acres in the hillsides of the Santa Lucia Mountains at the southern end of Monterey County. The land they bought had been owned by the same family for over 150 years. It was used over the years for growing grain crops and raising livestock but most recently was leased to a sugar company for growing sugar beets. In spite of the hilly terrain, 85% of the property was potentially usable for growing grapes.
With the help of noted vineyard expert, Dr. Richard Peterson (then the winemaker for Monterey Vineyards), an ambitious plan was mapped out. A wide variety of grapes were to be planted, each according to its ideal micro-climate on the vast property. In general, the varietals needing cooler temperatures like Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc were to be planted on the lower slopes where the cooler coastal influences were present. Whereas, the warmer areas protected from the marine encroachments were to be reserved for varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.
The varietal mix and planting schedule was aggressive. In the first year alone, 400 acres of grapes were planted. The following year over 1,200 acres of vines were put into the ground. Ultimately, an astonishing 1640 acres of twelve different grape varieties were carefully mapped out and rapidly planted in their most idyllic growing location.
As the vines began producing, each harvest went exclusively to Coca Cola. (Coca Cola’s winery interests were eventually sold to Seagrams in the late 1980s.) Recognizing that circumstances ultimately change, the trio had a growing concern about securing other grape contracts and becoming more self sufficient. Based on their collective years of experience they knew their grapes were top quality, but had no way of actually proving the fruit could produce great wine.
Consequently, in 1989 they kept enough grapes of three different varietals to produce a thousand cases of wine made solely from their own fruit. The purpose was to build up a library of wines to showcase to potential grape customers. In this way buyers could actually see and taste the kind of quality wines that could be produced from their vineyards. To help substantiate their claims, the wines were entered into the major wine competitions. They impressively won medal after medal in each competition. So well did the wines perform that the three decided to launch their own winery that same year.
Thus was the beginning of Lockwood Winery, so named after the type of soil predominant in the vineyard—Lockwood Shaley Loam. It is a chalky-type rock that provides exceptional drainage and allows grape vine roots to grow to depths of a dozen feet or more. The winery they first utilized was actually a converted old bunk house and kitchen where farm laborers once lived in the early 1900s. However in 1990, once the decision was made to enter the wine making business in earnest, construction of a larger facility was begun.
Production increased exponentially to 10,000 cases the year following their successful debut. After all, they already had the grapes–all they needed was a bigger place to make the wines. A bigger challenge faced them. As a small winery how could they be recognized properly and compete against the larger more established brands? The answer they felt, was to go directly to the consumer. Through direct marketing efforts they were able to establish a loyal following for their wines in a matter of a few short years.. By 1993, they increased from 3 wines to a dozen and built their reputation and production to where they could successfully broaden their exposure through more traditional means of distribution. As a result, over the last couple of years Lockwood wines have started to appear on the shelves of specialized wine retailers in a few select pockets of the country.
Today, Lockwood Winery produces a wide variety of wines—thirteen at last count. Their main emphasis is on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay both of which they make a “regular” version and a higher quality “Reserve” bottling. Other important varietals include, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc. A new direction has begun, focusing on the Italian grape varietal called, Refosco. The Refosco grape is grown almost exclusively around the northeastern Italian city of Friui. In 1982, Dr. Peterson recommended planting this grape on the Lockwood property due to the similarities in climate and soil. Fourteen acres of Refosco are in the ground at Lockwood, the largest single planting of that varietal in the country. You probably haven’t heard of it because Lockwood is the only winery in the U.S. that makes a varietal bottling of Refosco. In fact they make two different bottlings of Refosco. Their “Refosco Alfresco” is a light and fruity, easy-drinking wine made in a blush style. The “Refosco Classico” that we are featuring this month, is a big, robust, dry red wine, like the deeply colored, full-bodied Refoscos of northern Italy.
All of Lockwood’s wines are estate grown. Presently the winery uses only a tiny percentage of the grapes grown on the property. Wine production under the Lockwood label will continue to grow but not at the torrid pace during the first five years. “We want to continue showing to growers and consumers that this area is ideal for producing top quality grapes,” partner, Butch Lindley states. “The well-drained soil, the right weather and good water, make this an ideal spot.”
“We are particularly proud of the Reserve Chardonnay and Refosco Classico that you are featuring,” says Butch Lindley. “They are near perfect examples of the styles we want to make. They have become a benchmark for us,” he adds. Both wines will continue to age well but are ready to drink right now.
Steve Passagno - Winemaker
Steve Passagno became Lockwood's winemaker in 1991. For years prior, he had studied Monterey County's varied soil and micro-climates while working as the winemaker at nearby Jekel Vineyards. He hit the ground running at Lockwood, producing a stunning array of wines from the 1991 harvest, including the fabulous Reserve Chardonnay and Refosco Classico in this month's delivery.
"When I was a teenager I used to make wine with my grandfather,” Steve confided. "He had a farm in San Jose where I used to go during the summers,” he adds. During these summer vacations on the farm Steve used to tinker around on the farm equipment. Soon he began designing and fabricating different types of farm equipment to help his grandfather. Those resourceful summer days on the farm served as a catalyst later for earning his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Santa Clara. His specialty was in the area of alcohol fuel combustion and alternate energy resources.
The childhood interest of home winemaking continued throughout his school years and into his engineering career. He found himself drawn more and more to the science and art of winemaking and decided enroll at Fresno State University to study enology.
"I also wanted a rural type of lifestyle for my family,” Steve offered. "A career in winemaking has been a way for that to happen,” he concludes. After a stint at Kirigin Cellars and Jekel Vineyards, where he was Vice President and Winemaker, Steve landed happily at Lockwood. "Lockwood has such a loyal grassroots following,” he says, "I can experiment with small lots of new wines and pretty much know they'll be embraced by our faithful regular customers.”
With an abundance of top quality grapes and an experienced Monterey county winemaker like Steve Passagno, we can expect nothing but great wines coming out of Lockwood Vineyards for years to come.
Lockwood Vineyard Owners
Three parts make the whole. Each bringing their own area of expertise to the table. Sure, each one of them on their own might have been able to do it. Most probably two out of the three would have made it happen. But together the three partners at Lockwood Vineyard bucked the odds and created an exceptional quality operation in a shorter period of time than otherwise would have been possible.
They started by planting over 1,600 acres of vineyards in an astonishing short two years. They didn't just toss one or two varietals into the ground. They meticulously positioned more than a dozen grape varieties in their most ideal soil and micro-climate location within the vineyard. Their first wines released earned an eye-popping nineteen awards at the major wine competitions. Within the following year they unfolded a new 50,000 case capacity winery. And just last year they erected a large warehouse for bottling and aging. These guys don't mess around.
Paul Toeppen has been involved with entrepreneurial endeavors his entire life. He has made a living throughout the years acquiring a variety of struggling businesses and ingesting life back into them. His reputation for management expertise led him to Monterey Vineyards in the late 1970s. It didn't take long before other vineyard projects were seeking his help too. Recognizing an opportunity, Paul began assembling a team that would bring in different areas of vineyard management expertise in order to handle the different projects that had lined up. On the advice of Monterey Vineyards winemaker, Dr. Richard Peterson, Paul contacted Butch Lindley and Phil Johnson who had established quite a reputation themselves and were already working together on various other farming projects. In 1979 they started the partnership which eventually lead to the creation of Lockwood Winery.
Butch Lindley has over 25 years of professional experience in managing farmlands. Born and raised on a farm in Blythe, California, Butch has been close to agriculture all his life. He graduated from Cal Poly in Pomona with a degree in Agronomy before heading off to Viet Nam to serve in the war. In 1970 Butch returned to the States and settled in the Salinas Valley. There he became a Pest Control Advisor for many of the farming operations in the area. He met Phil Johnson while the two happened to be doing work for the same vineyard. Then in 1974 Butch and Phil started their own farm management company called J & L Farms. The first few years the pair focused on managing farms that were growing vegetable crops such as lettuce, broccoli and beans. Their focus gradually shifted to managing vineyards. At one point the two were managing over 8,000 acres of vineyard land in northern California. Even though J & L Farms is still active, Butch spends the majority of his time helping to manage the Lockwood vineyards and heading up the winery operations.
Phil Johnson too, has been immersed in agriculture all his life. He grew up in the farming community of Salinas, California, where his father was a row crop farmer. He attended Fresno State University and graduated with a degree in Agricultural Business Management. He became involved with grape farming in the early 1970s when he planted vines for Estancia Vineyards in Monterey county. Today Phil splits his time managing the farmland and vineyards for both J & L Farms and Lockwood.