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February 1, 2010

No Boring Wines

Michelle Machado
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 Richard Ripken preaches what he practices.The Ripken Vineyards & Winery Inc. owner is an ardent advocate for the sustainable winegrowing standards he adopted in 2006.

“It’s being responsible,” Ripken said. “And, from the grower’s point of view, it means you’re going to be viable.”

The program, The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, establishes a comprehensive approach to growing wine grapes and making wine that supports biodiversity; air, soil and water quality; and employee well-being. “It’s not just about water and weeds,” said Mark Chandler, executive director of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission.

Ripken’s vineyard management and winemaking practices, like those of other program participants, are audited by Protected Harvest, a third-party certifier of sustainably-grown food products. More than 30 growers and 15,000 acres of vineyard in the Lodi Appellation are Lodi Rules-certified, Chandler said.

Growth in program participation is being driven by wineries paying a premium for certified grapes, he said.
Nearly all of Ripken’s 600 acres of wine grapes are sold to other wineries, with less than one percent retained by Ripken for bottling under its own label.

The winery produces two- to eight-barrel lots of 24 varieties; some are not to be found elsewhere. These include a red wine that blends six Rhône varietals: Viognier, Roussanne, Counnoise, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah.

“No boring wines,” is the winery’s motto.

The just-released 2007 Under the Sea Primitivo – a ruby-colored vintage with a rich, raspberry aroma, balanced flavor and lingering rich finish – is the second Ripken wine to bear the Lodi Rules logo on the label, signifying that it contains at least 85 percent Lodi Rules-certified wine.

Lodi residents Jorge and Shirley Bellon picked up two bottles of the Primitivo as part of their Ripken wine club membership.

“It’s a nice, smooth-drinking wine,” said Shirley Bellon, who was unaware that the wine in those bottles was produced with environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable practices.

For Bellon, the relationship with the Ripken family seems more important.
“It’s really about the people who make the wines. They know our names. We’re like family,” she said.