Mettler Family Vineyards Opens Lodi Tasting Room

Multi-generational business has proud past, eye on future

by Jon Tourney
Mettler Family Vineyards
Tasting room manager Kelli Mettler and owner Larry Mettler stand behind the tasting bar in the new Lodi, Calif.-based Mettler Family Vineyards tasting room that will hold a formal grand opening Sept. 28.
Lodi, Calif.—The Mettler family has grown grapes in the Lodi area since 1899—across six generations—and has produced wine under the Mettler Family Vineyards label for 15 years. But the family just recently opened its first tasting room after spending the past two years planning and finishing construction. A formal grand opening will be held Sept. 28 at the new tasting room and event center, on a 25-acre property on East Harney Lane in southeast Lodi, Calif., acquired by the Mettlers in 2011. The property is the site of the former Vino Con Brio Winery tasting room and Amarosa Inn. Acquiring the property was a logical move for the Mettlers, who already owned 70 acres of adjacent vineyard land.

Larry Mettler is the fourth-generation owner of some of the original property farmed by George Mettler in Lodi beginning in 1899. As Larry Mettler explains, “Mettler Family Vineyards really is a family operation, not just a name.” As owners, Larry and his wife Charlene Mettler are actively involved in the business overseeing operations and helping out in the tasting room. Each of their children holds a position in the business: Kimberly Mettler-Eells is general manager, Kelli Mettler is tasting room manager and Adam Mettler is winemaker. (His day job is as director of winemaking at Lodi’s Michael-David Winery, producers of 7 Deadly Zins and Earthquake wines.) In addition, son-in-law Jason Eells is vineyard manager, and Larry’s second cousin John Anagnos is operations manager.

Vineyards supply California wineries and Mettler brand
The Mettlers manage 1,000 acres of vineyards in the Lodi area with about 300 acres under family ownership. Vineyards are certified under the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing program. In 2010, they went a step further, certifying 75 acres organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). “We wanted to try organic growing with no herbicides or chemicals because we thought it would be better for the environment, and we thought we could improve our soil,” Larry Mettler said. Although the grapes have not been marketed as organic to date, Larry noted increased consumer interest in organic products and left open the future possibility of promoting wines made from organic grapes.

The Mettlers sell the majority of their grapes to wineries within California, and they have their own trucking company for shipping. The vineyards produce about a dozen different varieties, with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel—the three main varieties bottled under the Mettler Family label. The brand currently produces 12,000 cases of estate Lodi appellation-designated wines, nearly all sold in the past through distribution in about 40 states across the United States. The tasting room now enables the family to expand direct sales and wine club membership.

The wines have received numerous awards and good reviews under Adam Mettler’s direction. Most recently, the 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel, from 50 year-old vineyards, received a gold medal in the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and the 2010 Petite Sirah took a gold medal in the 2013 California State Fair Wine Competition. Mettler enters about 10 wine competitions each year. Larry Mettler said, “So far, our philosophy has been to make one blend and bottling of each variety the best we can, rather than make three or four different layers of Zinfandel, for example.”

Mettler recently released its first white wines, a 2011 Chardonnay and a 2012 Muscat Canelli, both available only at the tasting room. Another tasting room-only wine is the 2011 Pinotage (from a 4-acre block planted on the property by former owner Mike Matson), which was the signature variety of Vino Con Brio. Matson experimented with several non-traditional varieties, and the Mettlers plan to produce limited bottlings from some of these in the future for tasting room sales. Mettler wines range in price from $19 to $25 per bottle at retail.

New winery planned for future
The Mettlers produce their wines at a small bonded winery on one of their nearby properties. However, Larry Mettler said they already have site approval to build a new medium-sized winery on the 25-acre tasting room property. A construction schedule is not yet developed, and the facility will likely be phased in over time, he said. “We’ll expand as the marketplace dictates. Our growth is steady, and we think the new tasting room will help grow our sales and expand our wine club.” Mettler added, “We have the capacity to expand and make more wine from our own grapes, and we have the capacity to work with different varieties.”

Tasting room décor combines traditional and modern
The newly built tasting room is shaped like a half circle around the curved tasting bar, with a 180° view through floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking an outdoor patio with bistro seating and nearby vineyards. Interior features include stacked stone pillars and rockwork of quarried gray quartzite. A chiseled granite-topped tasting bar is supported by custom-crafted white oak that resembles winery cooperage. Other features include an ornate chandelier from the former Alhambra Theater in Sacramento, Calif., black walnut benches and a fireplace mantel made from wood from a historic tree that formerly grew on the Mettlers’ property. Explaining the background of the design elements, tasting room manager Kelli Mettler said, “We’re a multi-generational business, and our family and brand is a blend of traditional and modern, something we wanted reflected in our tasting room.” As a nod to the modern, the tasting room includes two wall-mounted flat screen TV monitors for visitors to watch sporting events on weekends, and the screens can also display videos of vineyard and winery operations as educational and promotional tools.

Tasting room hours are Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to hosting tasting room visitors and wine club members, the facility and grounds are available for weddings and events. The property includes 7 acres of gardens and landscaped areas, including a koi pond.

While he is proud of the family history, Larry Mettler is focused on current and future operations. “This is an exciting time in the wine industry. Demand is strong, grapegrowing and winemaking techniques are greatly improved, producers are making better quality wine and consumers are responding by drinking more wine. Put it all together: It’s a prosperous time, and we hope it continues,” he observed. “With this new tasting room, and our wine brand doing well, the next generation has a lot to look forward to.”

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