Van Ruiten Family Winery
Relax, learn, and enjoy their award-winning wines
While a large number of California wineries can trace their existence to their ancestor’s immigration to this country at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Lodi-based Van Ruiten Family Winery is a more recent story. The Van Ruiten (correctly pronounced van root-en) saga actually took place immediately following the Second World War. Family patriarch John Van Ruiten was a native of tiny Spaarnwoude in Holland where he labored in his family’s dairy business. Wartime Holland was a most difficult environment and John Van Ruiten survived due to his business acumen and ability to provide certain needed services (including moonshine) whenever the occasion arose.
When the father of his future wife (Ann) returned from the United States after the war, John listened to the tales of potential prosperity and decided to make the move. In 1948, John landed in the Central Valley crossroads of Lodi and began operating a business he knew well—a full service dairy. “When I came to Lodi,” recalled John Van Ruiten, “I simply fell in love with the place. I appreciated the climate, the soils and most importantly, the wonderful reception of the people here.” With the help of loans from the local bank, John’s business flourished. He soon opened several convenience-style drive-through dairy stops where milk and juices were the main items of fare. In the meantime, Ann’s family had also immigrated to California and the two were soon married.
A decade later, John Van Ruiten became fascinated with another California agricultural phenomena, the seemingly prestigious grape growing business. Local farmers were reporting increasing demand for their high quality grapes and the rigors of a full service dairy farm were beginning to ware on John Van Ruiten. In 1965, the first Zinfandel vines were planted on original rootstock on some of Van Ruiten’s open land that wasn’t being utilized. Before long, a number of local wineries and also “over the hill” wineries (those located in the Central Coast and Napa/Sonoma) were also beginning to seek some of the prized Van Ruiten grapes for their varied production.
“It seemed the natural thing to do,” related John Van Ruiten, today a sprightly 82 and still active in the everyday business of his winery. “All around us people were planting grapes and beginning to make a lot of money doing it. I thought I saw an almost unlimited potential and thought I should take advantage of the situation. With the time and effort required of the dairy business, growing grapes seemed like a incredibly uplifting business to me.” For the next thirty years, John Van Ruiten’s grapes were considered among the finest grapes in the Central Valley. The Van Ruiten produce was sold to an increasing number of smaller, more boutique-styled wineries. When the wines that were produced from these grapes began to take serious medals in upscale competitions, the Van Ruiten Family began to take notice.
“When our grape prices began to exceed $1,000 a ton and the demand kept increasing, I felt I had the chance to develop another revenue source,” Van Ruiten explained. It was either 1995 or 1996, and the wine business was exploding everywhere in California. I talked it over with my family and everyone decided it was time to take some of the profits we had made from growing grapes and put them into a winery.” After spending several years deciding on just the right combination of factors, ground was broken on a two-acre tract for a new state-of-the-art winery. The first Van Ruiten Family Winery release came in 1999 as a product of some of Van Ruiten’s top fruit that was custom crushed at another winery. The initial release of between 7 and 8 thousand cases has been increased to the company’s present level of around 20,000 cases, or about forty per cent of the winery’s capacity.
John Van Ruiten can take great pride in the accomplishment of his fledgling winery that has already begun collecting accolades of its own in major wine competitions. Throughout it all, Van Ruiten has remained steadfast in his work ethic that he brought with him from his native Holland. His business acumen and his persistent work habits have rubbed off on his entire family and, equally importantly, his wonderful family of wines.
It is a great pleasure for us to be able to share the Van Ruiten Family Winery Gold Wine Club selections with you.
Matt Ridge - Winemaker
Matt Ridge recently joined the Van Ruiten Family Winery in June of 2012 and brought his own strong set of skills and experience to the Lodi winery. With his arrival, the Van Ruiten family is extremely confident and enthusiastic about building on their stellar reputation and growing their production levels in the near future. Matt attended Adams State College in Colorado, graduating with a degree in Biology and minors in Chemistry and Geology. This background allows him to understand winemaking from a molecular level. He started his career in 1999 working with Lodi fruit, and later gained experience making wine in Mendocino County and custom crushing wines all over California, from Paso Robles, to Napa.
Over the last few years, Matt has made Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, Chardonnay from the Russian River, Cabernet from Alexander Valley, and more recently, ventured to New Zealand where he worked with some of the world’s most recognized Sauvignon Blanc. Now Matt is back in Lodi making wines from the same fruit he began his career with, adding the experience he has gained. He is very excited to be working with Van Ruiten Family Winery and their incredible Lodi grapes.
The Lodi Wine Region
Lodi wine country traces its roots back to the mid 1800’s, and today is most widely known for its distinctive and legendary Old Vine Zinfandel. The region became an official AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1986, and since has become a rapidly expanding location for growing and producing premium wines.
The Van Ruiten Family has been growing grapes in the Lodi area for more than 50 years, and John Van Ruiten, Sr.’s first acres of Zinfandel still remain as part of the estate today. These Zinfandel vines are among the oldest, most historic and shyest bearing vines.
After five decades, the family farms over 1,000 acres of wine grapes, with only their best fruit destined to carry the Van Ruiten Family name. All of the fruit that enters the winery has been picked by hand and gently pressed to preserve the delicacy and purity of the fruit’s rich flavors. Three generations of the Van Ruiten family now work together tending the vineyards, managing the winery, and envisioning a future for their every-growing entity.
The Van Ruiten Family
The fact that Van Ruiten brothers Jim, 48, and John Jr., 47, share this month's spotlight status comes as no big deal to the pair. In fact, the two would prefer that such matters would always be handled in such a manner.
"For us,” offered Jim Van Ruiten in a recent interview, "it"s all about family and the way we approach this business. John Jr. and I each have different areas of responsibility, but we see to it that we each compliment the other as much as possible. In fact, that's the way it is with our entire family.”
Jim and John Jr. co-manage the Van Ruiten Family's extensive grape growing business.
"My brother and I have a great relationship,” Van Ruiten went on. "I feel we utilize each other's strengths nicely. John Jr. is meticulous in his approach to growing and it shows each up each vintage year when our wines get even better with each new bottling.”
But Van Ruiten admits that this propensity for the wine business didn't come easily to the close-knit pair.
"When we were younger,” he added, "all we knew about was the dairy business. We would get up early before school and do our chores and then would continue them when we got home from school. This went on seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. When Dad started talking about the grape business, we were very supportive even though we were still both very young. We both knew it had to be easier than the dairy business, anything we did would have been easier than tending cows all the time.”
Jim Van Ruiten feels that his family's entry into the winery business was the smartest move that the family could make. He also feels that the Van Ruiten Family Winery's greatest days are still ahead.
"It is important to remember that we are still first and foremost grape growers,” he explained. "Growing quality grapes is what gave us the opportunity to expand and build the winery. When we noted the incredible success other wineries were having utilizing our grapes we just felt we should take the chance and see what we could do on our own. Dad taught us that everything important was ‘in the dirt'; and when our fruit comes in each year it brings a smile to practically everyone's face. That's when we know that everything is going well.”
Van Ruiten also feels that Lodi's central location between the Bay Area and California's Sierra Nevada Mountains on Highway 12 is a boon to the exposure and practicability that any delta winery needs to succeed. The winery's impressive tasting room does a remarkable business and keeps many members of the family engaged in the operation.
With plans to increase the Van Ruiten Family Winery's production to around the fifty thousand case level sometime around 2010, such exposure and financial security are important ingredients.
Both Jim and John Jr. are also excited about their own family's participation in the eventual growth of the family's business. John and Anne's children; Coby, Mary, Angie, James, John Jr., Theresa, Jackie and now the extended Van Ruiten family, believe that hard work and an uncompromising commitment to excellence is the cornerstone of success today and for their 16 grandchildren and the generations to come.
"We are an incredibly close family,” Jim Van Ruiten concluded, "and we all like it that way. For some reason, we seem to accomplish more when everyone gets along. It's been that way since our Dad first came to California. I guess some of his work habits rubbed off on us.”
Such humbleness is also a part of the Van Ruiten tradition that seems destined for additional plaudits and accolades. It is also quite refreshing to imagine that it exists within the confines of the often-spirited competition of the modern California wine industry.
We are betting that people like Jim and John Van Ruiten Jr., and their families are around for a long, long time. After all, their wines speak for themselves.