Lodi, California lies East of San Francisco and about an hour South of Sacramento. It's a small town surrounded by grape vineyards and when I was a kid, most people knew it only as the dubious inspiration behind a well-known Creedence Clearwater Revival song.
That was then. A funny thing happened after I moved away more than twenty-five years ago, Lodi got cool. (Coincidence?)
Now, when I visit my hometown, I'm not just driving down memory lane, I'm smack dab in the (self-proclaimed) Zinfandel Capital of the World boasting its own appelation and enough wineries and tasting rooms to rival Napa Valley.
On my most recent trip, I stopped in at the Van Ruiten Family Vineyards to buy a bottle of 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel (dubbed the Best Zinfandel in the World by a Wall Street Journal wine panel in 2007) and found myself on a fantastic backstage tour -no I didn't let myself in...
Actually, I was skulking about the premises taking photos and waiting for the tasting room to open when I had the good fortune to run into the family's newly hired winemaker, Matt Ridge. I'm pretty sure I startled him as I snapped away behind an old grape press, but he recovered quickly and graciously offered to take the boys and I on a tour (probably to keep me from trampling the flowers). We were thrilled.
We entered a cool, cavernous building stacked with aging oak barrels and pallets of hand-picked grapes. The strong scent of wine filled the air.
Matt gave us a brief history of the winery and a glimpse into the process of wine making.
|A view into a 2,000 gallon vat of fermenting Chardonnay.|
The Van Ruiten's story is one of the American dream: John Van Ruiten, a young, Dutch immigrant, arrives in the U.S. shortly after World War II with the idea of growing quality grapes and producing fine wine. Through hard work, sweat equity and a farm bought on a handshake, his dream took root and John and three generations of his family have grown the business to become one of the largest suppliers (approx. 1,000 acres) of grapes in the region.
In 1999, the family decided to expand beyond their role as a grower for large wineries, and to harvest the best of the grapes for their own label. In 2000, the second half of John, Sr.'s dream was realized. The Van Ruiten Family Winery had arrived.
Today, the winery is a state-of-the-art, environmentally-conscious facility and although Matt was enthusiastic and knowledgeable in his explanation of the wine making process from start to finish, what I retained was: no one stomps it with their feet anymore.
That, and the fact it never ceases to amaze me how much hard work, passion, and technology go into things we take for granted.
Recently, Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, declared September, California Wine Month, and if you haven't started celebrating yet -there's still time.
I think I'll break open that bottle of Van Ruiten. Cheers to making dreams come true.