Women’s History Month: Winemaker Susan Tipton of Acquiesce in Lodi, CA

June 2017 photo at Acquiesce, Lodi by Gwendolyn Alley

When you think of wines from the Lodi area, what comes to mind for most people is ZINFANDEL — and plenty of it!

But in the past few years, particularly thanks to tasting wines from Cantara Cellars as well as participating in twitter tastings and from attending the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi plus a press trip to Lodi last June, I’ve come to appreciate and advocate the range of wines coming from this region of California.

Today I want to introduce you to a winery in Lodi that specializes in white wines from the Rhone: Acquiesce. (Wait, there’s white wines in the Rhone? Yes but only 20% of production!)

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi June 2017 photo by Gwendolyn Alley

In fact, Acquiesce Winery is so specialized that winemaker and owner Susan Tipton ONLY makes white wines from that region of France.

photo courtesy of Acquiesce

After tasting a white wine blend from Chateau Beaucastel, they decided to try growing Grenache Blanc in 2008. Pleased with the results,  they planted Roussanne, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc with cuttings from Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles which partners with Chateau Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape where these varietals originated.

photo courtesy of Acquiesce

So yep, the Tiptons and crew tore out some of the Zinfandel,  keeping 5.5 acres of Zinfandel which is sold to Lange Twins Winery, and added 6.5 acres of Rhone whites to the existing four acres to have a total of 10.5 acres of the following varieties:

  • Picpoul Blanc (only 100 cases!)
  • Roussanne
  • Clairette Blanche
  • Bourboulenc
  • Grenache Noir
  • Grenache Blanc

Sue bottled 2,200 cases of 2017 wines and they project up to 3,500 cases in 2018.

June 2017 photo at Acquiesce, Lodi by Gwendolyn Alley

Not convinced that there’s a lot similar between the Rhone and Lodi? If you think that Lodi, located just a bit south of Sacramento in California’s great central valley between the coast range and the mighty Sierra Nevada, is nothing like the Rhone, well, I’m here today to prove you wrong!

According to this Acquiesce blog post written by winemaker Sue Tipton, historical weather information from 2000 to 2015 shows that when compared with Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  “Lodi is a few degrees warmer during the day AND a few degrees cooler during the night which, when coupled with the consistent delta breeze makes a key impact on the quality of the grapes. Another key factor is rainfall and time to ripen. Lodi doesn’t see any significant rainfall during the growing season which allows us to water to the exact amount we feel is best for flavor and extend the season for full mature ripe fruit.”

You can see for yourself looking at these highs and lows for Acampo which is the town near Lodi where Acquiesce is located:

Here’s a chart showing a famous area in the southern Rhone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape which we wrote about recently:

 

I admit I was surprised to learn about so many similarities. As you can see, both regions have intense diurnal differences in the summer averaging almost 25 degrees in CdP and over 30 degrees in Lodi. Both are influenced by major mountain ranges — the Alps for the Rhone and the Sierras for Lodi — and rivers too: the Rhone saunters through the Rhone valley while the broad Mokelumne River descends from the Sierra to bisect Lodi on its way to the ocean.

Both regions are also marked by cooling breezes — for Lodi, there’s a gap that draws cool evening air from the Pacific as well as cool air from the vast Sacramento delta, and in the Rhone it is the “mistral” wind, a cold dry north or northwest wind which gets up to highway speeds as it races down the Rhone Valley to the Mediterranean Sea.

For CdP, the soil of the appellation is varied, with “gales” or stones covered in clay, pockets of alluvial sediment gravel, calcareous clay, and sand. Lodi soils are also quite varied, but in general Acampo is alluvial, sandy, gravel.

Lodi Wine website says that  Lodi’s diverse soils were formed thousands of years ago through geological events and alluvial waters.  Two major rivers originating in the Sierra Nevada mountain range feed the Lodi appellation – the Mokelumne and Cosumnes. These rivers have brought soils rich in granitic-based minerals that lend complex flavors to the wines of Lodi.

Historically, Lodi vineyards were developed in the fine sandy soils surrounding the community of Lodi. It’s here along the banks of the Mokelumne River where the majority of Lodi’s century-old own-rooted Zinfandel vineyards lie. This area is noted for producing uniform and balanced vineyards that deliver fruit-driven wines with a rich silky texture”

Sue tells me that “Our soils are river bottom sandy loam soils which were part of the banks of the Mokelumne River before the dam was constructed.  Very fertile soils which produce very balanced fruit driven wines.”

Because of these factors, Sue says there’s a

“huge interest in Rhone whites in Lodi.  It’s a great location for growing these quality grapes.

We have a climate very similar to the Southern Rhone and our weather is actually more forgiving.  We usually don’t get rain during the summer and in France they deal with rainstorms and hail throughout their growing season.  We are able to deficit water which prevent problems in the vineyard.

I receive calls all the time from winemakers wanting to buy my unique grapes . . . just don’t have enough to share.”

So how did a gal born and raised in Chicago, with an Irish heritage, and a love of food and wine end up making Rhone whites in Lodi? Following raising three sons and living in several states and Europe with her corporate executive husband, she moved to Portland, Oregon where she owned a successful mail-order business and developed an appreciation for Pinot Noir.

June 2017 photo of Acquiesce, Lodi winemaker Sue Tipton by Gwendolyn Alley

Then she had that first taste of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, and she was off to recreate that experience herself on their 18 acre property in Lodi.

Her white Rhone grapes are hand-picked, whole-cluster pressed, and fermented in stainless steel; you can taste them in light-filled restored 100-year-old barn surrounded  by vines. She’s currently on a Winery Marketing Committee at the Lodi Winegrape Commission and on the board of the CWEF (California Wine Education Foundation) also through LWGC.  A founding member of the Lodi Association of Wineries, she also served as Treasurer for the Rhone Rangers.

Acquiesce is also a member of Lodi Rules, a groundbreaking and industry leading sustainability program; one of the founding Lodi Rules authorities is Acquiesce’s vineyard manager.

“We live on the property,” says Sue, “so in addition to being good stewards of the land for the next generation, we drink water from the wells, enjoy the wildlife population of the vineyards and love to walk our property.  By conserving the soil and the water through responsible management of our vineyards we are dedicating ourselves to higher quality grapes, a necessity for the wines I’m creating.”

June 2017 social media influencers in the Acquiesce vineyards photo by Gwendolyn Alley

In June 2017, I visited Acquiesce winery on a press trip organized by Visit Lodi. We met Sue and her husband Rod, and we sat outside beside the vines learning about their enterprise as we tasted the wines along with some amazing home made crackers! I must say that Sue and Rod exude the essence of hospitality; it feels like visiting a French country home.

photo of Sue and Rodney Tipton courtesy of Acquiesce

I was so taken by their wines  that I purchased three (with an industry discount) to take home: a Grenache Rose which we wrote about a few days later for Rose Day, a Picpol Blanc because I loved it and it is so rare, and the Belle Blanc, a blend similar to the one that first inspired Sue Tipton to travel this path — and which I found inspiring as well.

June 2017 Acquiesce, Lodi photo by Gwendolyn Alley

Que Syrah Sue is more of a reds fan than whites, but I was also betting she’d be a fan of these! And she was as you’ll see from our tasting notes below. For our wine pairing dinner with:

2016 – Acquiesce – Lodi Picpol Blanc $28 (100 cases)
2015 – Acquiesce – Lodi Belle Blanc $28 (288 cases)

we went with foods that Sue had been researching for a Picpul dinner for April’s #winophiles prompt — rich seafood!

Dinner is served! Scallops and wine from Acquiesce; March 2017 photo by Gwendolyn Alley

As it was also a school night — and a #winestudio night! — we wanted to keep it simple. Since we were pairing a ragu with the Magari from #winestudio, we went with a scallops linguini. I bought oysters from Vons but unfortunately, most of them were bad — boo hoo! My husband picked up a crab cake also plus we had brie and a few other delights for appetizers.

Acquiesce wines with homemade crackers; March 2017 photo by Gwendolyn Alley

But if you ask me, as much as I loved how Sue prepared the scallops, the star of the night were the amazing gouda with fresh thyme crackers following the recipe from the Acquiesce blog. Sue whipped these up by hand — while I don’t have a fancy mixer, I do grow fresh thyme!

We used a little violet confit that I also purchased in the tasting room and which they served on the crackers for us. And with a small smear of brie?? — so so good! How did I not know that crackers are basically savory shortbread??

2016 – Acquiesce – Picpol Blanc; March 2017 photo by Gwendolyn Alley

2016 – Acquiesce – Picpol Blanc – 12.0% alcohol

We were very excited to have the opportunity to sample this wine because we just don’t have a lot of experience with this grape. Both of us had heard of this grape before and what a lovely wine it produces. Sue had never tasted it prior to this evening and I had only had the experience of tasting it for the first time at the winery during my visit to Lodi last June for the Lodi tourism commission press trip, so that we could learn about food, wine, and travel in the Lodi area.

Color – very pale and pretty. It catches the light perfectly. The bottle and the label is super classy and appealing which adds to the beauty of this wine.

Nose – we tried this wine in three different style glasses to see which we preferred. The pinot grigio glass brings out the florals in the wine. The chardonnay glass brought out green apple notes in the wine and the Sauv. Blanc glass kind of concentrates the nose, but doesn’t necessarily compliment the wine. We decided that we liked the pinot grigio glass best.

Palate – this is a delicious wine: bright and crisp bursting with acidity, as well as  having a floral and fruity characteristic without being sweet. Light in body, not heavy but has some nice intensity to it. It is peppy and a perfect pair for our scallops and pasta this evening.

This went so well with our Scallop pasta tonight. The bright acidity cut through the fat and the dish brought out the fruit in the wine. The wine made the food better, and the food made the wine better.

2015 – Acquiesce – Belle Blanc – 13.5% alcohol
Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Viognier

Color – pale and delicate a slight bit more yellow than the Picpoul. Another classy looking wine.

Nose – we also tried this wine with our three different glasses to see which direction the wine would take us.  In the Sauv blanc glass, to be brutally honest, it smelled like dirty socks. In the pinot grigio glass it was the minerals that came through, it was not brilliant, but it was alright. We both liked the Chardonnay glass because more of the delicate nuances of the wine were able to shine. You get some of the wet stone without the mossy funk brought out by the Sauv Blanc glass.

Palate – stoney and slippery on the tongue, smooth silky and viscous. Great body without being overly heavy. This wine has lovely grassy notes, This wine is the yin to the yang of the Picpoul, the flavor is lovely but this wine is all about the mouthfeel. Nothing on the palate jumps out at you, whether it be fruit, flower, grass or mineral. This wine is most beautiful as it rolls across the mouth hitting all the right places and making them feel so very good. This wine is great with food. We imagined it would go well with a roast chicken. Perfect for a holiday meal, especially with the beautiful label. It was fantastic with our brie and pate, making us think this would go quite well with duck. This wine was also super with the scallop linguine. The wine did not cut through the fat, it just kind of mingles with rich pasta.

Both of these wines were interesting, yummy, they both really bloomed and came alive with the dish we paired them with this evening. It was an awesome syncronisity.

As I mentioned above, we were also doing an awesome red wine that night for #winestudio but Sue did not want to move on to the reds, and that never happens! That says a lot about the complexity and fascination we had for these wines!

Enjoy the recipe from the Acquiesce website for
Thyme Gouda Crackers

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 ounces grated gouda cheese (we used a little extra)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (we used a little extra)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

  • Using a paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy (I don’t have one of these so Sue used a handheld pastry blender).
  • Add gouda, flour, salt, thyme and pepper and beat until it clumps into a ball and pulls away from sides of the bowl.
  • Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper and roll into a 13-inch log.
  • Wrap tightly in parchment paper and freeze for 30 minutes until firm.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Slice the log into ¼ inch pieces and bake on a sheet pan for 12 to 16 minutes until firm and golden brown.
  • Makes 30 to 40 crackers.

They pair this recipe topped with Violet Flower Confit and Acquiesce Grenache Blanc in their tasting room– so we did that too! WOW. These crackers were fantastic with a little brie, topped with a little confit of violet flowers and they went great with the Picpoul too. Great before dinner or as a dessert. Seriously — try this for dessert or for an afternoon the party with wine instead of tea!

The preparation for the scallops in pasta was based on this recipe.

What’s next for Acquiesce? Sue says,

“We have released our beautiful 2017 Clairette Blanche this month and it’s generated lots of interest.  We’ll be releasing our 2017 Bourboulenc in June and a 2016 Method Champenoise Sparkling Grenache Blanc in July.  My next project is a fun blend of my new grape varietals in addition to our Belle Blanc blend.”

Lots to look forward to! Next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to find Acquiesce and check out their fabulously unusual white wines! But beware: since 2012, Acquiesce has basically sold out of ALL of their wines by Thanksgiving each year; this contributes to why they close the tasting room down until spring.

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