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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

For successful family-run California winery, sustainability is ‘at the core of who we are’

For five generations, the Lange family has been a sustainable grower of premium grapes in the Lodi appellation of California.

In 2006, LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards opened a winery in Acampo, California, just 90 miles east of the San Francisco Bay Area, to showcase their passion for growing superior wine grapes and creating sustainably farmed, luxury wines.

Today, LangeTwins farms over 7,000 acres in both the Lodi and Clarksburg appellations. The vineyard and winery operation is owned and managed by twins Randall and Brad, their wives Charlene and Susan, and children Marissa, Aaron, Philip, Kendra, and Joseph. Here is a link to the history of the place.

David Akiyoshi, a 35-year industry veteran who graduated from the University of California, Davis, and Karen Birmingham – who earned her bachelor’s and master’s at Washington State before returning to her native California to work at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi before joining the LangeTwins team in 2008 – are the winemakers.

The LangeTwins family is committed to sustainable winegrowing, restoration projects, and using renewable energy.

Located at 1525 E. Jahant Road, the tasting room is open by appointment only.

Its portfolio includes four lines: LangeTwins, Sand Point, Caricature, and Ivory & Burt.

Marissa Lange, the company president, recently was nominated for Wine Enthusiast’s prestigious Wine Executive of the Year, Wine Star Award. The magazine award highlights individuals who have made outstanding achievements over the past year in the wine and alcoholic beverage world.

LangeTwins Family Winery

Says company president Marissa Lange of LangeTwins Family Winery: ‘Our wines are more than just estate wines – they are single vineyard wines proudly sourced from vineyard blocks we have cultivated for decades [and in many cases, generations].’

In response to that announcement, she said: “For generations, our family has been dedicated to farming the land in a way that preserves the same opportunities for future generations and it’s an immense privilege to be a part of that next generation leading this family business. Wine Enthusiast shares our values of family ownership and commitment to a more sustainable future through fostering the next generation of wine enthusiasts.”

Her nomination notes that she “has propelled the organization to unparalleled heights and has been instrumental in driving growth and diversification of the family business in both branded products and business-to-business custom services. Her family’s farming legacy and her personal commitment to sustainability are integral to the success of LangeTwins, a winery renowned for its innovative approach to environmentally responsible viticulture.”

In addition to her roles with the winery, she is a member of the Public Policy Committee of the California Wine Institute.

She took on a variety of questions from PennLive and returned these answers:

Q, First, tell me about the winery. What are a couple of things my readers should know about the wines you make?

A, We are a fifth-generation, farm-first, family-owned organization crafting estate-grown wines, which are dual-certified in the practices of sustainable wine growing. Our wines are more than just estate wines – they are single vineyard wines proudly sourced from vineyard blocks we have cultivated for decades [and in many cases, generations]. The wines reflect the grounding concept of “somewhereness” [aka terroir] in a boldly vulnerable way through our desire to showcase individual vineyards and the characteristics they impart. In that way, our wines are both accessible and extremely exclusive because no one else can access them!

Q, So many families provide the fabric for the wine industry. What has worked for your family in terms of turning that into a successful business?

A, Before our generation had the option of returning to the family business, our parents created a family charter that spelled out both the advantages and challenges of family business. This charter served to differentiate between opportunity and inheritance and established ground rules surrounding contribution, sweat equity, and market value. We bifurcated our ownership as separate from our employment – and hold ourselves accountable to what is best for the business and our responsibility to our land, our community, and our team of employees [and their families], all of which depend on us. The business is now actively managed by my generation with our parents acting as sounding boards and mentors, offering historical perspective and advice as we face the challenges of our day.

LangeTwins Family Winery

The LangeTwins single vineyard wines are made to express the true characteristics of each individual vineyard.

Q, What are a couple of the biggest challenges facing your business and the industry as a whole?

A, The economic sustainability of the family farm. UC Davis conducts research surrounding the costs of vineyard operations across all agricultural products regionally – and vineyard operating costs have been on a steady increase since the mid-’90s [i.e. the cost of annual operation, not the amortized costs of land and vineyard establishment]. However, the cost per ton of grapes from Lodi and other key grape-growing regions in California has not kept pace with increases in operating costs, to the detriment of the grower. With Lodi representing just over 20% of all fruit grown for wine in CA, the long-term sustainability of the grape farmer is certainly a challenge – if not a risk – facing our industry. Other challenges would be the consolidation of our mandatory three-tier distribution system and the resulting market-access restrictions that imparts on smaller producers [which challenges the diversity of products available for retail or restaurant distribution]. And changing market trends. The alcohol beverage industry [certainly in the retail channel] was one of the winners in the pandemic and is now – in the face of changing consumer behavior – experiencing a post-pandemic shift.

Q, Are there a couple of trends that you have your eye on?

A, The NA category [non-alcs] and the potential to deliver a wine experience [rather than a grape-based beverage experience] to a consumer interested in discovery.

Q, Can you talk a bit about the importance of sustainability?

A, Sustainability is at the core of who we are – as to be generational, you must be sustainable [and we are striving forward with a generational outlook]. The twins were active collaborators and contributors to the drafting of The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing [www.lodirules.com], a set of thresholds designed to assess farming practices according to environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic viability. This 3rd party certification system was also used as the basis for the creation of the statewide sustainability platform of CSWA [California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance]. We are certified under both. Our sustainable practices span both vineyards and winery. In addition to the cultivation and operational practices governed by our certifications, we continue to collaborate with regional environmental organizations in support of habitat restorations, youth experience, and education, pollinator habitats and are now two years into our pilot program to establish a playbook for regenerative winegrowing at a commercial scale [as scale is necessary to cultivate a lasting impact]. Come to our vineyards and you’ll find drip irrigation and owl boxes, cover crops and grazing sheep, solar panels, and multi-row tractors. We are experimenting with pheromone disruption for pest mitigation, embracing new technologies without replacing the impact of footprints in the vineyard, and patience in the winery toward the end of crafting high-quality wines.

Q, Love the diversity of grapes. What are a couple of newcomers to the LangeTwins portfolio and is there another grape on the horizon that you are looking at planting?

A, With the disadvantage of only one vintage per year, we have actively pursued diversity within the varietals planted across our vineyards in the Lodi and Clarksburg appellations. A decade ago, esoteric Italian varietals were our muse – Aglianico, Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola – and today many of those wines are wine club favorites in our portfolio. But our curiosities persist and five years ago, we planted Chardonnay Rosa (one of the few in the United States and likely the largest) – and plan to develop a sparkling wine program (our first!). Next up: Picpoul Blanc. Our landmark varietal remains Cabernet Sauvignon, first planted in 1982 in partnership with Robert Mondavi [a vineyard that is still in production today].

Q, I saw you mention in an interview a few years back about working with Robert Mondavi. Were there a couple of important lessons you took away from that?

A, I feel very fortunate to have known Robert and Margrit Mondavi on both a personal and professional level. During my adolescence, they would join us around my parents’ home to school us “kids” through a tasting of Lodi Zinfandels (talk about intimidating!). Through that experience, we learned how to evaluate wine, how to speak to its nuances as well as how to appreciate it for the artisan craft that it is. As an unpaid intern at his company, I gained exposure to the three-tier distribution channel and the trifecta impact of brand marketing, public relations, and sales. And as a fellow winery entrepreneur, I embrace what he has often said publicly [and what he many times over shared over a meal]: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” True.

Q, In your bio it mentions your being an avid traveler and serial foodie. So I need to ask… What’s a destination you can’t wait to revisit and one you’ve never visited that’s top of your list?

A, I’ve delighted in urban cultures and have had way too much fun in the bistros of Paris and the streets of San Sebastian. And I was marvelously overwhelmed in the Hawker stalls of Singapore this summer. I’ve also stepped off the beaten path in trekking through Patagonia and the Himalayas, soaking up cultures quite foreign to me. I’d love to revisit all those places but that takes away time from exploring somewhere new! Up next – something long on my visit list – South Africa. I can’t wait to delve into the culture, the landscape, the food, and the wine [as often, the local gems never make it out of the country].

Q, Can I assume that part of the fun of your travels is sampling/exploring the food?

A, Absolutely. My favorite culinary experiences are in spaces or places where the chefs – whether haute cuisine or street food – dare to explore the unexpected. Whether that is presented through new ingredients or in the reimagining of common cuisine presented in an altogether different way. I don’t even care if I like the food [arguably I almost always do] – rather, I think chefs should be celebrated and supported in taking risks and I can appreciate their effort all the same.


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