On January 1, 2012 the Lodi Winegrape Commission – representing over 750 Lodi region growers plus over 80 wineries – will embark on a new era with the departure of Mark Chandler, the organization’s first and only Executive Director since its establishment 20 years ago. Mr. Chandler, who has privately been telling friends simply that “it was time,” has composed a farewell in his succinct yet sincere fashion (a long admired signature!) for our readers on lodiwine.com:
To all my friends and friends of Lodi wine: what a wondrous change we see when we look at Lodi today compared to 1991 when the Winegrape Commission started! It is something we can all be proud of. Even with all our success I think Lodi’s best days in the world of wine are still ahead of us. It has been a terrific journey, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to unfold. Cheers! Mark
Mr. Chandler will be missed – because he was the face of Lodi for so many years, to many colleagues within the American wine industry he was Lodi wine – but at the same time, the seeds towards multiple goals originally initiated by the commission as a whole have indeed germinated, and well on their way to full fruition.
- Raising awareness of the Lodi wine region among influential media: although certain individuals in the established wine media remain slow to grasp the full extent to which winegrowers have harnessed Lodi’s ideal Mediterranean terroirs – more than doubling plantings of Vitis vinifera, from about 46,000 acres in the mid-nineties to over 100,000 acres today – the groundswell of positive consumer response has slowly but surely led to the point where Lodi is now generally spoken of as a unique, and serious, winegrowing region.
- Enhancing recognition of the Lodi region through expanded use of the Lodi appellation on wine labels: thanks especially to Chandler’s unceasing efforts, almost every winery that sources wines primarily from Lodi (federal law requires that at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the specified area if an American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is referenced on a wine label) now proudly carries either an Lodi designation, or a Lodi designation along with one of Lodi’s seven official sub-AVAs. Today, wineries like Woodbridge even boast of Robert Mondavi’s “return” to Lodi in nationally televised advertising!
- Providing growers and wineries with information, materials, education, strategies and promotional opportunities, including increasingly popular annual events such as the Lodi ZinFest, Treasure Island WineFest, and the First Sip and Wine & Chocolate weekends.
- Facilitating communication between growers and vintners concerning characteristics of quality, continuously enhancing the value of Lodi’s grapes and wines.
- Expanding opportunities for Lodi growers to supply wineries specializing in ultra-premium priced wines: including numerous multi-award winning wineries located outside the region, such as Turley, Patrick Campbell’s Terra Divina, Dan Lee’s Rio Tinto, Fenestra, Odisea, Sheldon, Cameron Hughs, Jeff Runquist, Soquel, Neyers, among others.
- Conducting proactive viticultural research programs to maintain Lodi’s technological leadership in the wine grape industry.
- Identifying and encouraging implementation of environmentally benign and economically viable pest, weed, disease, and cultural strategies through the district-wide sustainable viticulture program: now recognized as Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, widely imitated as California’s first ever third party certification process.
Then, of course, there is the widely acclaimed Lodi Wine & Visitor Center: the first stop for many a first-time visitor to Lodi wine country.
Added all together, the achievements of the Chandler-led Lodi Winegrape Commission seem almost staggering. As current Executive Committee Chair Bob Lauchland reminds us, “under Mark’s leadership the Lodi region has prospered… the number of wineries in Lodi has grown tenfold to over 85, and today the Lodi appellation is proudly displayed on some 500 premium wines that are found nationally and internationally.”
Bravo, Mr. Chandler!
The industry-wide search for a new Executive Director will take place with care and deliberation over the first few weeks of 2012. In the meantime, Mr. Chandler reassures everyone that he will remain in the Lodi region, where he will be starting up his own marketing firm. His wife, Jan Chandler, is another powerful presence in Lodi, having enjoyed a successful career as President/CEO of San Joaquin Sulphur Co., while also serving as Board President of Lodi Memorial Hospital Foundation.
Mark Chandler’s efforts may have transformed Lodi, but is there any doubt that there is much more to come? Just try and stop us!