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Raffaele Wines

North Coast AVA

Raffaele - A Century of Wine Making Excellence Born Again in Lodi

The winery simply known as Raffaele has its origins around Lodi in Northern California’s Lower San Joaquin Valley more than a century ago. The winery’s predecessor was initially called the Urgon Winery and was built in 1900 one mile north of Lodi by a fellow named Adolph Bauer. The name evolved from a railroad switch called Urgon, which was then part of the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada Railroad that was founded in 1885 and was built primarily to transport bricks made in the area.

Bauer and his financial partner Jacob Brack began to process grapes from the harvest of 1900. Their intent was to provide a suitable destination for area growers where the growers would receive a fair market price for their grapes. The Urgon Winery operation worked successfully for a short time until the winery was sold to its competitors in 1903. With this transaction, Urgon Winery was officially renamed the San Joaquin Winery and an impressive 63,000 tons of grapes were crushed that harvest year.

During the Prohibition year of 1924, the winery burned down but was immediately rebuilt. Production of grape juice was continued there during what was considered California’s unique “dry” period. Sometime in 1925, well-known master winemaker Lee Jones bought the winery. Jones became the founder of the National Fruit Products Company, one of the first enterprises to put the Prohibition-era line of grape products on the general market— sacramental wines, grape juice, medicinal wines concentrate and tonics.

By 1935, San Francisco investor S. E. Manning had bought the winery and this time renamed it the Lodi Winery. Along with the winery complex itself, an additional five acres adjoining the winery were also purchased and a set of new buildings were erected. This additional construction increased the facility’s cooperage capacity to a staggering 500,000 gallons, among the largest in California at the time.

The winery progressed normally until 1940 when it became a cooperative, and began bottling wines under the label of eleven different cellar entities. For the next three and a half decades, a large percentage of all quality wines produced in Lodi were completed at the Lodi Vintners facility.

The Turner Family of Lake County purchased the winery and grounds in 1980 as a production outlet for their appreciable property located just north of Napa. At the time, the Turners owned over 600 acres of grapes in Lake County and utilized the Lodi winery to produce vintage dated varietals in an assortment of shapes and sizes.

Present owners of the venerable old facility are the Global Wine Group under its CEO Jeff Hansen. Global bought the winery in November of 2000 and immediately set out to renovate a number of the old buildings and create a new tasting room for their products. The new owners have also given new life to a number of the aged redwood storage tanks and upgraded the stainless tanks that came with their purchase.

The initial release of Global’s Raffaele is around 3,500 cases. CEO Hansen says that he expects moderate growth in the near future and will be content if Raffaele reaches the 7,000 case level over the next three years.

What was particularly attractive to Global is the Lodi appellation itself, and its proximity to the great growing areas of Sonoma and Napa.

“We see Lodi as one of the really emerging appellations in California,” Hansen stated. He cited the fact that Lodi is only fifty miles east of Napa and that the high and low temperatures during the critical summer period are nearly identical to its westerly neighbor.

“People have no idea that Lodi is capable of producing world-class grapes,” he added. “The secret is yield per acre and we are proponents of strictly limiting the yield for our grapes. We challenge our growers to artificially stress the grapes and force the vine to put its energy into producing a smaller crop of more intense grapes, more intense than the vine would normally produce.”

Raffaele Winery is another of the smaller production, quality driven boutique-style wineries that has originated in the area over the past few years. In an area known primarily for Zinfandel production, it is refreshing to see such innovative attempts at producing a broader range of varietal wines at such high quality levels.

If Raffaele’s future releases are as impressive as this month’s Gold Selections, we are positive of this attractive new winery’s success. After all, it’s always what’s in the bottle that really counts!

Our Wine of the Month Club is excited to offer this amazing winery and its fantastic wines to our club members!

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Jeff Hansen - a fifth generation winemaker

Picture of Jeff Hansen - a fifth generation winemaker

When he recently turned the young age of 40, Jeff Hansen had already achieved a noteworthy career many wine industry executives would envy. Hansen is the fifth generation descendent of a Northern Italian family from Genoa that has lived in the Sacramento area of California since immigrating to the United States more than a century ago.

Hansen first found himself in the agriculture business at the age of 13 when he tended his family’s vegetable and grain crops for extra money. Two years alter Hansen and a youthful friend were the proud owners of their own crops and Jeff Hansen’s career as an entrepreneur was begun in earnest. When he enter college at nearby Fresno State, Hansen majored in Agriculture/Economics and was student body president his final two years at the university.

But his family’s treasured Italian upbringing had always enjoyed wine as a first beverage and his great grandfather, Raffaele Garbarino, had even made wine for family and friends in the family basement, not an uncommon happening in Mediterranean-influenced world of early Northern California.

Jeff Hansen was forced to work his way through school and soon found himself in an enviable position. As an extension of his ag/business schoolwork and with his appreciation of wine gleaned from his family, he applied for work at Fresno’s renowned Restaurant Nicholas. The place had a heralded wine steward program and Jeff landed one of the three positions. It was a cream of the crop type job and Jeff Hansen was the first non-oenology (Along with UC Davis, Fresno State has the other top-rated oenology school in California) student to land a slot. Even though he had considered a law degree and a political career after graduating, the wine sommelier position was also Jeff Hansen’s grass roots initiation into the burgeoning California wine industry.

Upon graduation from Fresno State in 1986, the youthful and politically-wise Hansen was appointed by California’s Secretary of Agriculture to manage a embryonic export program that was designed to internationally expand the State’s wine and agriculture agenda. The program involved some 30 — 40 wineries and served to open Hansen eyes as to the incredible potential awaiting California wines throughout the world.

In 1988, he became the president of Sacramento-based Global Wine Group, a company whose activities were soon responsible for the exporting of nearly 4 ½ million cases of wine abroad. Two years later, he was an international consultant for such wineries as Sebastiani and Geyser Peak, helping build their exports from only 20,000 cases to nearly 500,000 in about five years. In 1995, Hansen put together a joint venture company in Paris that combined food import/export along with a number of private label wines that grew dramatically until 1997, when California literally ran out of wine.

‘It was incredible,” Hansen recently recalled, ‘one minute we were awash in wine and suddenly we couldn’t fill our orders. Even though we really had a lucrative business started, I had to be realistic. I had to go back to doing what I knew best--- building brands.”