So what makes a winery special, accolades from the critics or a really good history? With Van Ruiten of Lodi, California you get both. My passion is history though, so here goes. John Van Ruiten was a young dutch immigrant after World War II who settled in Lodi to raise cattle and run a dairy farm. He had a european's love of wine and soon bought an old Zinfandel vineyard at a time when Lodi was known as a grape growing region for bulk wine producers. Over the years Van Ruiten added to his vineyard land holdings and supplied grapes to Ravenswood, Delicato (DFV), Blackstone, and Constellation, amongst other larger wineries. In 1999 he broke ground on his own winery and had his first Van Ruiten vintage the same year.
In 2001 Van Ruiten hired Ryan Leeman, an upstate New York cheesemaker, to make wine for him, an oddly appropriate move for a dutchman. Leeman's efforts have earned him the "best Zinfandel in America" award from the Wall Street Journal and Hugh Johnson's "one of the twelve best wines in the world" recognition. Those accolades were for the 2007 vintage Zinfandel characterized as "rich, juicy, and velvety with blackberry and coffee". We will be tasting the '08 here Friday evening which is fine with me because the vintage after a great one is usually a sleeper.
Lodi is located halfway between the Sierra Foothills and the San Francisco Bay. The Van Ruitens (three generations) have 800 acres in vines with the best 150 reserved for their own label. Van Ruiten is a custom crush contracting winemaker (like DFV) that is increasing its production capability from 3,000-5,000 cases to 80,000-100,000 annually! The Lodi appellation produces 25-40% of each of the major wine grape varities in the state. Apparently the soil and climate are about perfect.
Mention this article at our Friday evening (5-7pm) tasting here at the store to avaid the $5 cover charge.