Lodi Rules

Growing grapes with environment in mind

If California is "green," then Lodi wine region is evergreen. While many of us have just caught wind of the environmental movement, Lodi isn't a romantic, tourist-driven wine "country" (yet), but it's had the hip enviro edge for years. Located southeast of Sacramento near California's eastern edge, Lodi is serious about the health of its land. So serious that growers there formed a trade group, Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, which in 1992 laid down its environmental imperatives in a farming manifesto, "Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing." This booklet, which outlines 75 farming practices, is California's first third-party-certified, formal standard for sustainable agriculture — reviewed by scientists, academics and environmentalists. By encouraging its tenets on a region-wide basis, Lodi aims to improve and maintain the health of the vineyards' ecosystem and increase quality wine production. >>>

Sustainable growing is not legally defined, yet it's practiced in some form virtually worldwide. It's different from organic viticulture, which is different from biodynamic. You might consider the three levels strict, stricter, and strictest. But, as Cliff Ohmart, research and integrative pest management director at LWWC, points out, "The goals are all the same, but [the growers] go at it differently."

Since "sustainable" remains legally amor-phous, many wineries around the country turn to "Lodi Rules" as their definitive resource. The booklet adopted the American Agronomy Society's definition: "A sustainable agriculture is one that, over the long term, enhances environmental quality and the resource base on which agriculture depends; provides for basic human food and fiber needs; is economically viable; and enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."

On a stricter level, organic grapes are grown without pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, widely thought to rip nutrients from the soil. Organics also have an official (and legal) certification process for vineyards that takes three years to attain. "Lodi Rules" uses some of these practices and eschews others, but goes beyond the farming aspect and addresses habitat renewal for animals and human-resources issues. Biodynamic, a small yet growing school of farming that brings spirituality into the mix, tries to harmonize the world's energies — water, earth, air and fire — with the grapevine. But because its certification, Demeter, is very strict and unrealistic for many farmers, many growers just borrow a few, more practical biodynamic practices.

In 2001, when the LWWC deemed the "Rules" program successful enough to market their wines with a designation, it created a sustainable-farming certification program. Now in its third year, 12 growers and 5,400 acres have passed muster. Forty wineries use the certified grapes (designated by the Lodi Rules stamp). But other growers, who are looking only to boost the future health of their land, use Lodi Rules simply because it makes sense.

Does the quality-driven program follow into the glass? I think so. Lodi makes fantastically lush, ripe zinfandels, among other varieties. Many come from very old, craggy looking vines that stick up from the ground like something out of a Wes Craven movie, producing intense, concentrated wines. Try a few and know that your monetary contribution goes to preserve the health of our planet. M

Recommended Wines

7 Deadly Zins 2004 Zinfandel Lodi Dark, angry fruit jumps out of the glass, then has a party in your mouth. Juicy blackberry and boysenberry, followed by earthy green olives and minty eucalyptus. Full-bodied. $15. e e e e

Gnarly Head 2005 Zinfandel Lodi Sweet, jammy raspberry and black cherry make this like diving into a bowl of fresh berries. Follows up with some coffee flavor and a dash of leather. $10. e e e

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