A world-class winery is setting the bar high for the up-and-coming Lodi winegrowing region
Lodi Estates is a tiny, premium winery brand focused exclusively on producing small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from the heart of Lodi, California. Since the inaugural vintage of 2010, the goal at Lodi Estates is to show how California’s top varietals thrive in this specific pocket of the state’s wine country, while creating wines that are unique and excellent expressions of Lodi’s distinctive terroir.
Lodi Estates is actually part of the larger Oak Ridge Winery that was originally founded in 1934 and is the oldest operating winery in Lodi, California. In 2002, the winery was purchased by the Maggio and Reynolds families, both multi-generational grape-growing families from the San Joaquin Valley, and they have since transformed the property into the state-of-the-art winemaking facility it is today.
Rudy Maggio is the managing partner of modern-day Oak Ridge Winery and its umbrella of several small winery brands (including Lodi Estates), and currently oversees all operations, along with his family. Rudy has been in the wine business essentially since he was born, and points to his grandfather, Angelo Maggio, who immigrated to America in 1906 from his home in Genova, Italy. Like many other immigrants, Angelo Maggio was in search of the great American dream. He married another Italian immigrant, Louisa, and settled in the Lodi area of California’s Central Valley. There, they planted their first family vineyards in 1925.
Rudy’s parents followed in his grandparents’ footsteps, continuing and growing the family farming operation. At the young age of eleven, due to his father’s being stricken by polio and losing the use of his legs, Rudy began working in the family business as well. Rudy and his father also began a grape shipping business that mostly sold fruit to Canada and was very successful. In 1980, when Rudy took over sole control of the family business, he stopped shipping grapes abroad and started selling the family fruit to local wineries. It certainly proved to be a smart move on Rudy’s part, particularly when you see what has happened to the Lodi AVA during recent years.
The Maggio family farming operation has grown significantly in the past (nearly) four decades. The family grows a variety of grape varietals that encompass some 2,500 acres of planted vineyards - which allows for an incredible selection of fruit for Maggio’s wines.
The recent emergence of the Lodi AVA has also propelled wineries such as Lodi Estates to the forefront of moderately-priced, excellent price/value relationship wines. “The quality of fruit usually dictates the pricing of wine,” Maggio explained further, “and with Lodi Estates, we put our really top quality grapes into the mix. Its continued growth shows that its customer base is definitely pleased with the contents of the bottles.”
Lodi Estates is also that rare opportunity to taste wines from a superior growing area that is made by a Laotian winemaker (see Winemaker Profile). In addition to being a great wine value, its palate appeal makes it savor like a much more expensive wine. Enjoy!
Chue Her - Winemaker
There is a good possibility that Lodi Estates winemaker Chue Her is the only California winemaker of Laotian heritage. Her’s family came to the United States via Thailand at the end of the Vietnam War and settled in the Central Valley of Northern California. After high school, Her attended Cal State Stanislaus and then graduated from the UC Davis’ well-respected viticulture and enology program. Along the way, Chue Her worked for the likes of Bear Creek Winery (Lodi), Cacciatore Fine Wines (Pixley), ASV Wines (Delano) and the much heralded Napa Valley Robert Mondavi/Baroness Phillipine de Rothschild joint venture property, Opus One Winery.
Now in his third decade as winemaker, Her brings a fierce dedication toward making “the best quality wines at affordable prices, regardless of the regions, appellations and terroirs of the wine grapes used.” He also stated that “the price on the bottle is rarely the best measurement of the wine inside.” Such a fresh approach is somewhat unique within winemaker circles and makes Chue Her’s wines all the more interesting to try.
Chue Her also takes advantage of the fact that his team of winemakers are able to implement quality measures in larger batches than many other wineries. “A third of our fermenting tanks are open-topped,” Her explained. “These tanks are large, but fermenting takes place in a way that is similar to smaller micro bins. Instead of doing punch downs during the fermentation period, we actually do pump overs on the wine. This allows our staff to work more efficiently while maintaining the high quality we always are seeking.”
Lodi Estates, this month’s second featured winery, sources fruit from the Lodi AVA, located inland of Sacramento along the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Foothills. The region’s Mediterranean climate and diverse soils can grow nearly everything, but the area is probably best known for its Zinfandel (Lodi is responsible for nearly one-third of California’s total Zin production).
The region is defined by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the coastal gap where the northern and southern coastal ranges meet at the San Francisco Bay. As temperatures rise in the interior valley, cool maritime breezes are pulled directly through the Delta area, creating a distinctive climate that allows premium winegrapes to thrive. Today, the AVA is farmed by more than 750 growers and about 60 wineries are located in the rural area.