We were lucky to meet Dave Dart of d'Art Wines at a recent WineLA event in Hollywood. Dave is the winemaker and owner of d'Art Wines of Lodi California. We were impressed by Dave's wines and wanted to learn more about how he got started. Please enjoy our interview. Dave should serve as an inspiration for garagiste winemakers who are trying to break into the business!
California Winery Advisor: What is special about making wine in Lodi?
Dave Dart of d'Art Wines: The special thing about making wine in Lodi is that there are no expectations on us, or on what can be made here. Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape in our region, we’re known for our third grape, Zinfandel, which can be made into everything from a rose to a sweet desert wine and everything in between.
The other special thing here is the diversity of grape growing. Do you want a Spanish variety or how about French, German, Italian or even Eastern European? Does the winery need 20 tons to the acre for that $4 bottle or 4 tons per acre for the $60 bottle?
CWA: Tell us a little about your winemaking style?
DD: There is a lot of praying that goes into my winemaking style. As a garage winemaker, I started making wine in garbage cans. I moved up a couple years later and bought a macro-picking bin to ferment in. That holds a half-ton of grapes or enough for a barrel of wine. I now have a hundred of those bins and basically still make wine one barrel at a time. My daughter is in charge of the fermentation and barrel aging and I’m in charge of blending and bottling. Our winemaking style is sourcing quality fruit, making and aging great clean wines and then blending for a rich rounded style of wine.
CWA: Can you tell us about some of the challenges of getting started out in your garage?
DD: Starting as a Garagiste winemaker was really a blessing for me. I was not a very good student in school. Had I approached winemaking from the technical side, I would have failed. Instead, I approached it from the cooking side. I don’t care how molecules change during fermentation. I know if I add yeast to grapes, with time and the flavor nuances from oak, I can blend a wine with flavors and mouth sensations that will keep you coming back!
CWA: Lodi is known for old vine Zinfandel, but other varietals thrive there. Can you tell us why Cabernet Sauvignon does so well in Lodi? What other varietals thrive in Lodi?
DD: Lodi is known for our Zinfandels and we have some very old vine Zinfandel vineyards. It is the third most planted here after Cabernet and Chardonnay.
A few things about the Zin here. Zinfandel is the only vine that doesn’t need to be trellised, and farmers are frugal in their thinking, so they planted what didn’t need the extra expense. Also, Zinfandel was the first wine that wineries were willing to label as Lodi. It’s a hard sell selling a "Lodi Cabernet", better to say California than Lodi. This conception of Lodi started long ago with the jug wines produced here and Credence Clearwater’s Stuck in old Lodi again. That started to change when the smaller wineries started to open here and really showcased what could be made here.
Our estate vineyard is Clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon. It needs heat to ripen making it a great choice for Lodi. But what it also loves are cool nights, which we’re guaranteed here in Lodi from the Delta breezes that blow in from the San Francisco Bay every day around sunset.
In the spring we pluck off all the extra shoots on the vine leaving only 12 to 16 canes, which will produce one bunch of grapes each. As the bunches ripen we pull off any leaves covering them so sunlight can get to the grapes. We give the vines a “haircut” trimming the canes on the East side for the morning sun but leave the west side covered. We have sandy loam soil here, so the soil doesn’t retain water. That means we must irrigate, but sparingly. We don’t want to blow the grapes up with water. Then we wait, never rush, to harvest when the grapes develop deep flavors and the seeds have turned woody. If you follow these practices, then any grape will flourish here in Lodi.
Marketing is a big part of remaining successful. How do you get the D’Art brand in front of wine consumers? What do you think works the best?
DD: As far as marketing and competing in this industry, our plan was
always to be a destination for people to come to and enjoy the experience of wine. We found the perfect property in Lodi that we also live on. We sell 98% of our wines in the tasting room. We never had intentions of being distributed. I have a passion for making wine. That’s why we started a winery. We did not start our winery from a big fortune or 4 generations of farmers. We pretty much clawed our way here!
Why should wine lovers visit your tasting room? What are some other great reasons to visit Lodi?
DD: When you visit our winery Helen, my wife, will probably greet you. She’s the hospitality side of the business. In the tasting room, I display and sell my photo artwork that I started producing about the same time I became a home winemaker. We also use my work for our labels. We have a lot of educational events that our wine club members can participate in like; port and wine blending’s, "Adopt a Row" in the vineyard are a few examples. You can find more about this on our website http://www.dartwines.com/. We love to talk about wine and winemaking processes in a simple but in-depth style that everyone can understand.
CWA: We love the name d'Art Wines. How did you come up with it?
I knew before starting the winery it would be d’Art, my last name is Dart and since I’m the winemaker and artist, I frenchified it to “of art”. They’re both an expression of art just using different mediums.
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