While Lodi’s vineyards include such white-wine varieties as chardonnay and pinot grigio, it is mostly red-wine country with two-thirds of its grapes yielding wines like cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah and, most especially, zinfandel.
Susan Tipton recognizes that history. Twelve of the 16 acres she and her husband tend in Lodi are planted to zinfandel. But she’s a white-wine enthusiast, selling the zinfandel to other vintners so she can focus on making white wines with such little-known grape varieties as grenache blanc, picpoul blanc and roussanne.
“There were a lot of naysayers at first, saying I wouldn’t be able to sell my wines,” says Tipton. “In that case, I’ll drink them all myself, I thought.”
She hasn’t had to do that. Quite the contrary. In proving the naysayers wrong since opening her Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards two years ago, her wines have sold so quickly and so completely that she’s hardly had a bottle to sell since November.
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That will change Friday, however, when she starts to release wines from this past fall’s harvest.
Her success is due in part to how little wine she and her consulting winemaker, Heather Pyle-Lucas, make – 800 cases from the 2012 vintage, 1,000 from the 2013, with long-range plans not to exceed 2,500 cases annually.
And part of Acquiesce’s quick success is no doubt a result of Tipton’s affability and graciousness as a hostess. She’s keen on cooking and entertaining and uses those twin talents to pair her wines with creative foods in Acquiesce’s artful and engaging tasting room, a salvaged and restyled century-old barn formerly used to store hay and process walnuts.
Visitors linger there not only to snack and sip but to contribute their thoughts to a blackboard inspired by New Orleans artist Candy Chang’s “Before I Die …” chalkboards.
Mostly, Acquiesce’s wines have sold for their novelty, vigor and balance. Wines from the 2012 vintage included a silken and lilting grenache blanc, a floral and fruity viognier that’s unusually crisp and lingering for the varietal, and an exceptionally complex and sturdy roussanne.
When I stopped by the winery, Tipton pulled from a tank a 2013 sample of her most unusual wine, picpoul blanc, one of the wines she is to roll out this weekend.
A varietal only now starting to generate interest in the United States, where fewer than 10 acres are believed to be cultivated, the picpoul blanc was assertively aromatic and spirited with clean fruit flavor. Its floral aroma was followed in brisk succession by a suggestion of spiced honeydew melon, a dash of pineapple and an acidity sharply refreshing.
“It loves all things Thai,” says Tipton in talking of foods appropriate to pair with her picpoul blanc.
Tipton planted 100 vines of picpoul as an experiment, knowing that the grape yields a high-acid wine that she figured she could use in blending. That’s one of its roles in France’s Languedoc and Rhone Valley, where it also is known as picpoul de pinet.
“Wow, I have to bottle that,” she recalls thinking when she sampled the wine early on and found it to be as fruity as it was crisp. So she did and then watched customers eagerly buy it. She’s ordered 600 more picpoul vines to plant.
Her flagship wine goes by the proprietary name “Belle Blanc,” the 2012 version of which is an expressive, seamless and persistent blend of 60 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent roussanne and 10 percent viognier.
“Belle Blanc” is Tipton’s tribute to the wine that prompted her interest in white wines, in effect leading to the founding of Acquiesce, a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the 2006 vintage. “That was the best wine I’ve ever had,” Tipton says.
The closest she comes to making a red wine is her deeply and brilliantly colored grenache rosé, dry yet fruity, with atypical richness, body and length for the genre.
In contrast to many growers and vintners in Lodi, the Tiptons are relative newcomers, without a history of farming in the area. They settled in Lodi in 2000 after living in the Midwest, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and Sweden, headquarters of the aseptic-packaging company Tetra Pak, for which Rodney Tipton was director of field services. Today, he’s president of Power Automation Systems in Lathrop, a developer of automated warehouses.
Though Tetra Pak makes packaging for wines, Acquiesce’s releases stand out in part for their strikingly tall and bulbous bowling-pin bottles, a shape traditionally associated with wines of Provence.
“They’re quite spendy, but I love them,” says Susan Tipton of the bottles, made in France. “They’re my body shape, though my neck isn’t that long.”
The Tiptons bought the vineyard in 2003, with Susan Tipton initially using it to exercise her green thumb by grafting, pruning, thinning, harvesting and otherwise tending vines. Early on, she gravitated to using the grapes for home winemaking.
From the start, they’ve called the site Acquiesce, now perhaps the only winery in the country named for a k.d. lang song.
“Twenty years ago in Portland, Rodney and I were sitting on the patio after he’d returned from a long work trip. We were listening to a k.d. lang album, and when her “Acquiesce” came on, he turned to me and said, ‘One day we are going to have a place and we are going to call it Acquiesce. We’ll have beautiful views, lots of land and we will be able to “acquiesce” there.’ ”
Today, they interpret acquiesce to mean that they will interfere as little as possible in allowing their grapes to have their say. “We make wines from our grapes without much amendment or intervention,” says Susan Tipton. “We hand-pick, whole-cluster press, cold ferment, filter carefully and use no oak additions. We let the fruit show itself in the wine glass,” she adds. “Our plan is to acquiesce to the grapes.”