One of Lodi's top producers of Italian-style wines focuses on rare underdog varietals that are finally getting some well-deserved attention
The Italian word Uvaggio literally means blend in English and offers a keen insight into the Uvaggio Winery’s formulation and existence. It was established more than two decades ago by two friends, co-owners Jim Moore and Mel Knox.
Moore was an industry veteran for many years and had served in practically every position common to the wine industry. Knox was an entrepreneur and barrel salesman that represented two of France’s top barrel producers whose products he sold to many of California’s leading wineries.
The two got together just before the turn of the new century and Uvaggio Winery became a reality. “When we first started,” Jim Moore recently related, “most of our efforts went towards finding grapes from different locations throughout California that offered us a really wide range of possibilities for our products.”
Uvaggio Winery’s first release came in early 1999, a Barbera with a Sierra Foothills appellation. Italian varietals were just beginning their march into prominence and the company’s initial release of between 400 and 500 cases was quickly purchased by an approving public.
From that small beginning, Uvaggio Winery experienced excellent growth and finally topped out at around 10,000 cases.
“From the beginning, Uvaggio Winery was almost a one-man show,” informed Moore. “The very fact that I was able to produce that amount of cases was next to impossible, but somehow I managed to get it all done.” The winery’s distribution exceeded more than twenty states but the constant travel and wear on his body took its toll on Jim Moore. His wife of almost thirty years, Lorrie, kept all the books, provided the major account work and filed all the taxes, but Jim Moore was left to do the rest.
“We had decided early on to utilize the Lodi American Viticultural Area to its fullest, so I stopped getting fruit from almost every other appellation. That helped a lot and I began reducing our production,” he added. “That volume was simply too much for one person to handle.”
Uvaggio Winery will produce around 2,500 cases this year, a level that suits Jim Moore perfectly. “I can concentrate of making high quality wines and I don’t have to kill myself in doing it.”
Moore also explained that the label (a corkscrew inserted into the U) was often subject to misinterpretation. “We wanted something that implied an international feeling since our varietals often were originally from other countries. It was to be sleek and non-intimidating for the consumer. When it was finished, everyone involved thought the label was really cool, but there were also a few detractors. Some called it Screw U Winery, but those were extremely rare and isolated,” he concluded with a chuckle.
Jim Moore contends the Lodi AVA is still one of the great growing areas of the future for California growers and vintners. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he insisted. “You have just enough heat from the rest of the Central Valley to meet your needs and the location in the delta provides excellent winds and cooling for the grapes during the nights. We are able to make certain varietals thrive in this environment that experience difficulties developing elsewhere. We were among the first growers to be part of this new movement and have seen it grow into respectability and productivity.”
Jim Moore - Winemaker
Few California winemakers can boast the resume that Uvaggio Winery’s Jim Moore enjoys. Moore began his wine odyssey as a part time vineyard worker for the esteemed Schramsberg Vineyards of Calistoga and added six more wineries during the next two and a half years to his resume. He worked numerous jobs and performed many tasks in the early years of his wine experience.
In 1976, he accepted a job with Robert Mondavi Winery and never left. For the next 19 years he worked for a number of Mondavi interests and eventually assumed the title of Assistant Winemaker for the parent company. During that period, Moore expanded his wine education through studies at UC Davis and broadened his scope through consulting positions with several Napa Valley startup wineries.
With Uvaggio, Moore focuses on Vermentino and Primitivo varietals and works on emphasizing the grapes’ vibrant flavors, while keeping lower alcohol levels and maintaining balanced expressions. His wines are crafted for food affinity and daily enjoyment, bringing an Italian sensibility to the American table. The three important attributes of Moore’s Uvaggio wines are their accessibility, harmony, and value.
Jim Moore - In The Spotlight
Jim Moore’s interest in wine began at the age of 8 or 9, when he scoured encyclopedias about southern Europe and its incredible crops. Olive groves and vineyards were his chief fascination and Moore stored the information he gleaned out of the books for later use in his life.
Around the age of 17, his girlfriend’s (she later became his wife, Lorrie) father introduced him to wine at family gatherings and he slowly began to develop his interest in wine.
He attended UCLA (majoring in geology and history) and worked in restaurants and wine stores to help pay his way. Prior to his graduation in 1973, Moore worked at one of the country’s first wine bars located in Westwood Village near the UCLA Campus. After that, he worked at one of West Los Angeles’ fine wine stores, the iconic Wally’s Wine and Spirits of Westwood Boulevard.
A stint at a friend’s winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains lasted two years and Jim Moore decided it was time to make the move to Napa Valley. It was there that his long association with the Robert Mondavi Winery literally took root.
Numerous factors influenced his career at Robert Mondavi. He envisioned and developed La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi in California and helped launch Luce and Lucente in Tuscany in collaboration with the famous Frescobaldi Family of Florence.
Moore’s duties included a career-changing series of wine tastings for the Mondavi assortment of winemakers that included a number of lesser known varietals, including a group from Italy. As he guided his peers through the myriad of varietals, Jim Moore realized that he had found his life’s work - the establishment and amplification of several Italian varietals. His adoption and the recurring emphasis on these grape varietals marks the direction of Uvaggio Winery to this day.
Recently, Jim and Lorrie Moore have made a decision to reduce their winery’s output.
“We are both almost 70,” admitted Moore. “And we want to retire at some point. We have planned for this day and we own two vineyards. One is planted in my favorite Vermentino and the other in Primitivo, which everyone knows is another name for Zinfandel. It is our goal to make a small amount (around 550 cases in total) of these wines and sell them to some of our established accounts. This will allow us to have a wonderful retirement and still do the job we were intended to do. It will also keep me from getting bored.”
Jim Moore is a most fortunate person. He has achieved a great deal during his career and is content with what it has offered him. Many of us should be so lucky.
Lodi Wine Region
The Lodi growing region of the Great Central Valley of California is a conundrum to many wine aficionados. On one hand, it is responsible for many of the great Zinfandels (particularly Old Vine Zinfandels) produced in the state along with a number of wines that have reached the top rung of varietals produced. Conversely, Lodi is a part of the Central Valley and its long-resolved reputation of producing basic grapes and, therefore, basic wines.
Climactic conditions are responsible for this latter concern, because the Central Valley is hot - very hot. It does not enjoy the cooling evening and night breezes of the Pacific Ocean that the more revered regions such as Napa Valley, Sonoma County and the entire Central Coast growing area naturally experience. But the Lodi growing region is different, thanks to its location at the edge of the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. This location provides a reliable, natural air conditioning system that originates in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and brings rich soils and granite-based minerals that provide complexity to Lodi-grown fruit.
A large number (around 100) of varietals can be found. Varietals such as Vermentino, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Roussanne, Carignan and Moscato Giallo grow suitably in the Lodi AVA and are made into some truly incredible wines. The Lodi Wine Region was granted AVA status in 1986 and today contains more than 100,000 acres under vine.
Scores for wines from this region in both competitions and periodicals have risen dramatically in recent years and seem destined to continue to improve. The all-important price/value relationship for Lodi AVA has remained steady for some time and continues to attract new customers to the region’s vast array of wines.
One of the primary reasons for Lodi’s Growing Area’s progress was the establishment of the Lodi Winegrape Commission that was formed in 1991. The Commission is charged with a number of duties and responsibilities and was the first such commission established in California. It directly promotes the wines and grapes of the Lodi AVA and oversees implementation of environmentally benign growing practices.