Early in my wine writing, I was lucky to be exposed to several biodynamic vineyards. So my understanding of sustainability skipped over other sustainability certifications like SIP certified or Lodi Rules. I was aware of these certifications but not familiar with them. This month with our “Back to School” theme with Wine Pairing Weekend, I went back to school with Dineen Vineyards to learn a bit more about Lodi Rules.
Back to School with #WinePW! The writers this month at Wine Pairing Weekend are embracing the Back to School Theme. Each writer will be taking you to school with a subject. It could be anything! Some pieces you will find below include articles on Red wine with fish, Classic wine pairings, a Turkish/Greek grape, and more!
If you scroll to the bottom, you will find my colleague’s articles, filled with a plethora of excellent information on wine and food!
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“Lodi Rules!” I hear it in Spicoli’s voice (Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). But really, it’s a bit more serious than that. This sustainability certification was formulated by farmers in Lodi, California, and introduced in 2005 as the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. It now is known simply as “LODI RULES.” Yes, in all caps.
Lodi has been a farming community since the 1850s, and many of these winegrowers were continuing the agricultural heritage of generations of their family. They laid out their thoughts on sustainability and were looking to create a system that did a few things:
- It should be environmentally enhancing. After all, this would affect the quality of the grapes and the business’s health.
- It should be efficient with nonrenewable resources and the resources in each vineyard.
- It should increase the economic success of the vineyard.
- It should create a better quality of life for the people working on the property and the surrounding community.
- Lastly, it should create an environment that can continue in this way for future generations.
They worked on integrated pest management systems. The idea behind this is to find natural predators for the pests in your vineyard, bugs or larvae that feed on the bad bugs in your vineyard. Cover crops were also trialed.
In 1998 they created a Workbook, and if you look at the current LODI RULES, it is likely pretty similar. The idea is to continue improvement over time. This also evolved to include winemaking practices and spread to other regions in the state. This was a self-assessment workbook.
In 2005 six growers applied for certification. In 2020 there were 1,200 vineyards encompassing more than 56,000 acres of vines in the program, with almost half of those acres outside of Lodi.
Today there are several pillars within LODI RULES. They look at careful water management, biodiversity, community, care for the people working on the vineyards through safety and education, soil management, pest management, quality, and ensuring these lands will be suitable for farming into the future.
So what are these rules?
Let me allow them to tell you in their own words.
“The “RULES” are a set of over 120 farming standard practices that help farmers manage their vineyards sustainably. They are divided into six categories: ecosystem management, water management, soil management, pest management, business management, and human resources. For a full copy of the standards, click HERE.” https://www.lodirules.org/FAQ/FAQ-for-trade
I mentioned that almost 50% of the vineyards certified were outside of Lodi. Many are in California, but there are some in Washington and Israel.
One of these Washington Vineyards is Dineen in Washington’s Yakima Valley. I spoke with Marissa Dineen to learn more about how their vineyard incorporated LODI RULES.
Dineen is located in the Rattlesnake Hills, AVA of the Yakima Valley. In 2001 Pat & Lanie Dineen invested in a 12-acre apple orchard. They pulled out the orchard and planted wine grapes. In 2002 they added an 80-acre parcel and currently have 75 acres under vine with Rhône and Bordeaux varieties.
Sustainability at Dineen the three “p’s.”
When I spoke with Marissa about sustainability, she spoke of the 3 P’s, “people, planet, and profit.” Marissa tells me that they have been farming sustainably since 2012, but there were no certifications available in Washington State. They reached out to LODI RULES and were certified in 2020.
They had recently done a sustainability showcase for their winemakers and some media on their sustainability methods, so I asked if she would begin there.
We went back to the 3 “p”s. Most of the people attending were all too familiar with issues of profitability. “They all kinda get that if we are not solvent, they are not going to get their grapes,” Marissa told me. So they focused on the other “p”s.
People were the next of the p’s to discuss. Marissa tells me that they have a full-time crew, long-tenured crew. Their foreman has been with them since they planted the vineyard 21 years ago. They want it to be a great place to work. They focus on continuing education, health and safety, and a sense of comradery. Their crews are their eyes and ears in the vineyard. The quality they put in, they get back.
The third p, Planet, gets into the environmental impact.
In Washington, most vineyards practice deficit irrigation. That means that they only water the vines when they are stressed. They monitor the vines and, through drip irrigation, water them. This allows them to control the canopy, limiting vegetative growth so that the vine concentrates on the fruit.
At Dineen, they are testing a new system with WSU with micro-irrigation. In this, a tube comes out from the drip irrigation and goes into the ground at the vine’s base. This delivers the water directly to the ground with no surface evaporation, allowing them to use 35% less water in the vineyard. The study is still collecting data and will hopefully roll out sometime in the future.
They also work with a technology company in the Bay Area that does a weekly flyover of the vineyards to do an infrared scan for water uptake to target their watering for less waste.
They have cover crop which creates a habitat for the pests, keeping them on the ground rather than up in the vines. The beneficial insects can then munch up those pests in the cover crop and keep them away from the vines and the grapes.
They do release beneficial insects. Cards of larvae are hung in the vineyard. These beneficial insects may be helpful at different stages of their lifecycle. The pest, called mealy bugs, spread the leaf roll virus. They release lace wings on the cards. The larvae of lacewings find mealy bugs delicious.
The stethorus lady beetle eats the spider mites. Spider mites bite into the vine and suck out the chlorophyll causing vines to wilt and not be able to photosynthesize properly. The stethorus helps them to get ahead of the spider mites and limit their spraying.
Spider mites are not an issue in many wine regions, as they are not unique to grape vines. In Washington, they are prevalent in the tree fruit orchards and spread to vineyards.
Spiders trap fruit flies in the vineyard. This is a massive issue near harvest. A fruit fly can lay 1000 eggs and spread them across multiple grapes and clusters. The eggs cause rot in grapes, and if these are spread across numerous bunches, they can cause quite a bit of damage.
Controlling the Western Ground Squirrel
Western Ground Squirrels are gourmands, fond of the new green shoots on the vines in the spring. If they eat these shoots, you don’t have new shoots, clusters, or, well, grapes. Locally they call them “sage rats.” This is a threatened species whose numbers are in decline. The natural way to combat them is through predator birds.
At Dineen, they added owl boxes in the vineyard. In addition to the owls, they also found that kestrels and bald eagles had arrived to feast. They looked into falconry but found they didn’t need to as the area’s raptors population was so high.
Besides providing habitat for insects, the cover crop is also quite helpful for keeping down the wind erosion of this dusty silt loam soil. They also mow and mulch the cover crop, which reintegrates into the soil. They had been using compost but have been able to dial that back as the cover crop is mulched back in. This is helpful financially, as Marissa tells me fertilizer costs have increased exponentially due to the war in Ukraine. Over the past 12 years, compost and mulching have decreased their need for fertilizer by 60%.
Their openness to this sustainable mindset has people reaching out to them. They were approached to test “frass” for compost in the vineyard. This company raises insects for organic chicken feed. The byproduct is the bug poop called “frass,” which is nutrient rich. They are piloting the test and will look at it, but the frass would have to come 100 miles, so it will depend on the quantity needed compared to manure for compost, which would be less distance for transport. The fuel and carbon might be offset if they can use much less of this frass than traditional compost.
Another P – packaging
While LODI RULE’s sustainability certification focuses on the grapes, they have also incorporated some sustainability into their packaging.
They reduced their bottle weight by 30%, which is excellent for their carbon footprint and the bottom line. Their direct sales have increased post-pandemic, and the lighter bottle weight decreases their shipping costs. They are also sourcing American glass which means the carbon footprint to get it to them is smaller.
Currently, they only use cork. They did a trial this year with twist caps and may use those for their white wines in the future. Natural cork, however, is compostable. This lessens their carbon footprint.
They started recycling the tin capsules on their bottles with Lafitte Cork and Capsule. They collect them in the tasting room, and they will send them to Lafitte in Napa, who smelts them down to refabricate.
Cabernet Franc from Dineen Vineyards
The Rattlesnake Hills is known for some of the best Cabernet Franc in Washington State and the country. But Cabernet Franc is a finicky grape. Marissa tells me they spend more time, money, and effort on the Cab Franc blocks than the rest of the vineyard.
Cabernet Franc can be vegetal and green peppery. Marissa says, “We’ve found that if you can get a lot of light and air into them, it will reduce that vegetal composition, and relatively the fruit and floral notes will come out.”
Even though this vegetal note is pushed to the background, it is still there and means the wine pairs wonderfully with fresh herbs. Marissa suggested Greek food, or hearty vegetables and roasted meats. Since the body on Cab Franc is not too heavy, she finds it excellent with summery foods.
We recieved this wine as a sample. No other compensation was recieved and all opinions are our own.
This aged 14 months in new and once-used French Oak. I will tell you that these barrels likely tamed this wine a bit, but it is in no way oaky! Their vintage notes tell you that they had smaller clusters and berries due to the weather in 2020, which gave them great concentration. This is one of the beautiful things about this region. They have a long slow ripening period, meaning the grapes slowly develop flavor.
14.3% $37.00 SRP
Yogurt-herb marinated chicken thighs with cous cous and cucumber
So Jeff Burrows of FoodWineClick found this terrific recipe for lamb chops in Food and Wine and made it to pair with a wine from Languedoc for a piece with the French #Winophiles.
It was beautiful, and I wanted to try it without the lamb and the grill (it’s way too hot in Vegas these days with our temps topping out at 108!)
So I updated the recipe a bit, using boneless chicken thighs and broiling them rather than grilling. You can find the recipe here.
The basic idea is to create a marinade with yogurt, shallot, salt, and lemon zest and use part of this to marinate the protein for at least a few hours.
Then grill or broil your protein. I broiled my chicken thighs for about 12 minutes on the 2nd to the top rack in the oven. This allowed them to get a bit of char.
I made cous cous with pine nuts and herbs and chopped cucumbers. The dish is dressed with the remaining marinade you set aside, blended with lots of fresh herbs (dill, mint, and parsley), and a squeeze of lemon.
Red wine and cucumbers?
First, the wine was delicious. It is elegant and cool, with notes of black cherry, black plum, and eucalyptus. You also get faint floral notes. The tannins are smooth and elegant but present, giving the wine structure.
The wine played off several of the notes in the dish. The tannins and richness of the wine worked well with the charred bits on the chicken, and the subtle green notes in the wine made it delicious with the herbed sauce and the cucumbers. Yes, this is a red wine that you can pair with cucumber! Who would have thought?
More from my Colleagues at #WinePW
- Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Cam shares “Vite ad Alberello, Carricante, Caciocavallo, and Fiori di Zucca al Forno”
- Andrea Lemieux of The Quirky Cork shares “Liatiko and Çalkarası: One Grape, Two Nations”
- David Crowley of Cooking Chat Wine shares “Classic Wine Pairings and What They Teach Us”
- Wendy Klik of A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Red Wine with Fish? Let’s take a look….”
- Terri of Our Good Life shares”Books and Wine: Pairings You Might Not Have Considered“
- Lori of Exploring the Wine Glass shares “Back to Basics: A Cabernet Franc Primer“
- Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator shares “Wine 101: Santa Barbara AVAs from Sta Rita Hills to Ballard Canyon and beyond“
Want to dive deeper? Check out some of the resources and references I used for this article!
More on Washington’s Yakima Valley from Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Yakima Valley AVA – Blends of friendship and history with wines from Eight Bells and Pearl and Stone Co. #WinePW
- Red Willow Vineyard in Washington’s Yakima Valley – an iconic vineyard and a trailblazer in Modern Washington Wine
- Chardonnay: Nuances in expressing site – an example from the Yakima Valley
- Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with JB Neufeld
- Elephant Mountain Vineyard in Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills
- Red Mountain AVA Yakima Valley Washington
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.