Building the Lodi Brand – Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission

Building the Lodi Brand – Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission – Brief Article

Larry Walker

When Mark Chandler took the position of executive director of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission in 1991, his job was to get more wineries to buy Lodi appellation grapes. For the last ten years, Chandler has been marketing, building the Lodi “brand.” Today, more than 60 wineries buy grapes from Lodi growers, triple the number of ten years ago.

The number of Lodi wineries has risen from seven to 13 and Chandler expects that will double in the next two to three years. The growth in wineries is spurred by Lodi growers starting to produce their own brands and by outside wineries (like Cosentino) establishing wineries in Lodi.

“It’s true that Lodi is not well-known to consumers,” Chandler said during a recent interview. “But the commission is funded by growers, and our job from the beginning has been to promote the winegrapes of Lodi to wineries and the trade. In this, we have been remarkably successful. In that time, the value of the grape crop has grown from $75 million to $300 million. We have paved the way for increasing the number of Lodi appellation wines from five or six to nearly 100.”

Given the success of marketing Lodi to the trade, what about the possibility of building greater consumer awareness for the wines?

“Our strategy to increase consumer awareness involves our new Wine Visitors Center,” Chandler said, “but it doesn’t end there. The number one item is to get more wineries established in Lodi. This is happening quickly as many growers are vertically integrating their operations. We also need to get the large wineries who could be using the Lodi appellation to put Lodi on the label.” Chandler said they were very close to getting a couple of large wineries to do just that. Chandler said it was also necessary to reach critical mass in terms of new hotels and restaurants to attract visitors.

“The Wine Center plays an important role there as we are working on joint programs with the city of Lodi to promote tourism. We have also been successful in getting trade events scheduled in the center, up to two or three times a week,” he said.

Chandler said the Visitors Center would also be the key point in an ambitious program of wine education. “I want to take wine education and make it a major program for Lodi, just as we did with our IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program.

Chandler said Lodi will continue with a strong advertising campaign, like the current “Zins of Lodi” program. “We’ll be doing more of that, and for other varieties.”

He believes the character of Lodi wines makes them perfect for current efforts by groups like the Wine Market Council to get more wine on American tables. “Our wines have that soft supple character that consumers are looking for. I say Lodi wines are the quintessential wines for the American palate. They are distinctive wines without a lot of added cost.

Beyond the commission’s efforts, Chandler pointed out that local wineries have launched the Lodi Appellation Winery Association. “This is a welcome development and we’ll be doing a lot of cooperative promotion,” he said.

The association will enable Lodi wines to go on the road for consumer and trade tastings, much like Sonoma and Napa have been doing for years, which should surely have a major impact on consumer awareness of Lodi.

In what could be another consumer-plus, Chandler believes that Lodi is well-suited to growing Rhone varietals such as Syrah and Viognier, which seem to be attracting greater consumer interest. And Zinfandel, which remains wildly popular, comes up aces in Lodi (Lodi always has been known for Zinfandel, along with Flame Tokay).

The commission is also working to establish a process whereby growers can be certified for an eco-label (not organic) that will inform consumers about environmentally friendly farming practices, such as IPM, which has been a key part of Lodi’s vineyard development.

None of this marketing success for Lodi has happened overnight. “It’s been a slow process, building Lodi awareness brick-by-brick,” Chandler said.

Lodi Book Focuses on the Vineyard

The vineyard remains the center of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission’s approach to the marketplace. Last year LWWG published “The Lodi Winegrower’s Workbook: A Self-Assessment of Integrated Farming Practices” by Cliff Ohmart and Steve Matthiasson. The authors say they sought to follow the classic definition of sustainable agriculture, taking economics, the environment and maintaining a healthy rural community, into account.

The book has been highly praised by a number of vineyard managers, and others, including a glowing review in Western Fruit Grower last year. It is being sold to growers outside the Lodi area.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group