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Lolonis Vineyards

North Coast AVA

According to vineyard records, every vintner to buy and bottle wine from Lolonis grapes, has won a medal of excellence

Lolonis Vineyards was founded by Tryfon Lolonis, who came to America from Greece in 1914. The young Greek immigrant, then only sixteen, came to California's San Francisco Bay area searching for a place to settle and farm. A Greek friend brought him to the region known as Redwood Valley in Mendocino County, today a two hour drive north of San Francisco. He knew immediately this valley was the land of the future, for it was a replica of Velherna, Greece where his father had grown grapes.

Tryfon Lolonis quickly bought a few acres of this rich farmland and began to clear the land by hand, acre by acre. In 1920 he wrote to the father of Eugenia Karayopoulou, his bride-to-be, and convinced him to send her to the land of opportunity. At fifteen years old, Eugenia arrived at New York's Ellis Island, then traveled to California to meet Tryfon. The day after she arrived in San Francisco, Eugenia and Tryfon Lolonis were married in the Greek Orthodox Church. Nine out of their ten children were married in that same church.

As the Lolonis family grew, so did the vineyards. Thanks to the Christian Brothers and many home winemakers throughout the country, Tryfon was able to continue growing and selling grapes until Prohibition was repealed in 1933. The Lolonis Family has sold, and continues to sell, to some of the finest wineries in California. Louis Martini, Charles Krug (in the days before Peter and Robert Mondavi established separate wineries), Simi and Parducci, David Bruce, Fetzer, Scharffenberger, and Kendall-Jackson, are but a few of the wineries that have used the fine Lolonis grapes.

According to vineyard records, every vintner to buy and bottle wine from Lolonis grapes, has won a medal of excellence.

The quality of the vineyards has not come about simply by chance. In the late forties and fifties, Tryfon and Eugenia's first son, Nick Lolonis, decided to study viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis. At that time, there were very few students in enology and even fewer in the viticulture classes.

As Nick soon learned, anyone serious about studying vines was very welcomed indeed. The class in viticulture had only ten students. One of Nick's classmates was Andre Tchelistcheff's son, Dimitri. Field days for the students usually meant a trip to Beaulieu Vineyards to study with Andre Tchelistcheff, the greatest enologist and viticulturist in America, or "The Doctor" as the students used to call him.

Nick's enthusiasm for testing Lolonis vines and grapes sometimes made his father Tryfon very proud. Other times, he complained that it didn't seem as though he was doing any work; "studying vines is not enough, he should be on the tractor!" Nick however, decided to continue his formal education and soon went back to U.C. Davis for his Master's Degree. During that time, some of Nick's professors approached him and his father with a proposal to field test new French clone vines in the Lolonis vineyard. These original clones used for the U.C. Davis tests still thrive, and are the basis for much of the Lolonis Vineyards' success.

In 1981, due largely to the instability of grape prices, a decision was made to add a winery operation to begin producing and marketing under the Lolonis label. This would promote the Lolonis vineyard grapes for sale to other wineries, and at the same time strengthen the foundation of the business. For the next 11 years, Lolonis brand wines were made at leased facilities in various locations. In November, 1992, their new 4,000 square foot winery was completed adjacent to the vineyard. With production now at 14,000 cases a year, the facility can easily handle up to 25,000 cases. The 10 year plan includes eventual expansion of the building to handle up to 40,000 cases. The Lolonis vineyard currently grows Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, on a total of 300 acres. Plans have been in the works to introduce a Lolonis Rhône style wine and a Merlot to the marketplace in 1993/94.

Gold Medal Wine Club is pleased to feature two outstanding, Gold Medal, Private Reserve wines from Lolonis Winery, their 1990 Zinfandel, and 1990 Chardonnay. Petrol Lolonis relays to us that this Zinfandel is definitely among his best ever. The '90 Chardonnay, he ranks second only to the superlative 1988 vintage, and has the unique honor of being chosen to be served at President Clinton's Inauguration. We hope you enjoy this month's selections! [If you wish to reorder either of the Lolonis wines, please do so as soon as possible -- they won't last long!]

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The Lolonis Family

Picture of The Lolonis Family

The Lolonis grape growing legacy began in Velherna, Greece, with Dimitri Lolonis. Dimitri's son Tryfon, transplanted the family tradition to America in 1914, settling in Mendocino County, California. After Tryfon died in 1916, his sons Petros, Ulysses, and Nick took over the family reins to continue the grape growing tradition. Today, Petros and his wife Maureen run the day-to-day operations, while Ulysses manages the vineyard operations, with his wife Jofrid. Nick is now semi-retired but still involved as their viticultural consultant.

The brothers are three of ten children born to Eugenia and Tryfon Lolonis. And all three have been involved with the vineyard operations since they were youngsters. Each has had temporary "distractions" in other fields of endeavor through the years, but all have kept at least one foot in the soil.

Older brother Nick, chose a scholarly direction, attending U.C. Davis to study enology and viticulture, and later received a Master's degree there. His involvement led to the planting of the University's test clone on the Lolonis vineyard, which has made what Lolonis vineyards is today.

Petros gained his practical knowledge from years of working experience at the family vineyard. After a stint in the Korean War as a jet fighter pilot, he sold and distributed wine, then worked as a buyer for Emporium Capwells Department store in San Francisco. Petros, his wife Maureen and two sons, Phillip and Paul, now live near Walnut Creek, California. The eldest son, Phillip is presently studying Economics and Viticulture at U.C. Davis, preparing for the inevitable continuation of the Lolonis grape growing legacy.

Youngest brother Ulysses was a teacher and Athletic Director for 25 years in the Mendocino County school system. he and his family live at the vineyard and now devotes full time to "growing the business."

Petros and Ulysses maintain total dedication to quality. Each vine on their 300 acre vineyard is still hand-picked. In fact, the Chardonnay leaves are picked off by hand twice during the growing season to expose the grapes to sun and air circulation. The vineyards are not sprayed. Instead of chemicals, lady bugs are used to remove any pests [see related story in this edition]. Only 2 to 3 tons are harvested from these vines. The result of these painstaking efforts is that only perfect grapes come from the Lolonis Vineyards.

After all these years, the hard work and dedication by the Lolonis family has come full circle. They are the only Greek grape growers who own their own vineyards, and whose father and mother planted the original vines. How have the three brothers managed to keep their vineyards when so many farmers are giving up or selling out to large companies? The answer is, hard work, dedicated love of the land, pride, sacrifice.

Petros relays the fascinating story of how both he and his brother Ulysses, born two ears apart, were literally born at home. Eugenia Lolonis was home alone at the time of each birth, and both times she had to cut and tie the cord herself! That same sort of courage and determination was instilled in her sons and daughters. Those valuable attributes have certainly contributed to the ongoing success of the Lolonis family vineyards.

This Place is Bugged!

Picture of This Place is Bugged!

Quick, how many lady bugs can you fit into a gallon-sized pail? Hint: It's more than you'd want to count! Who cares, you may ask? The Lolonis family does, because that is how they control unwanted pests from destroying their vineyards. Every summer during the growing season, instead of using pesticides, the Lolonis vineyard releases literally millions of lady bugs to help eradicate white fly and aphis (Aphides are insects which measure less than a quarter of an inch and suck the juice out of the grapes). They also release hundreds of praying mantis to help finish off the job.

Since the early 1950's Lolonis has used this method of pest control in their vineyards. After five years of testing in a portion of the vineyard, the results were dramatic. Not only did the lady bugs do their job efficiently, the difference in the test of the resulting wine was tremendous, and the soil conditions imposed substantially. The drawback was a lower yield of grapes and higher labor costs, but the Lolonis family felt the trade-off to improve quality was well worth it. Other vineyards will insist there is no difference, but the truth is, using pesticides is simply easier and less expensive.

By the way, there are approximately 75,000 lady bugs to the gallon!