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The Ideal Holiday Sparkling Cheer Produced by a Winery named after Leticia, Vanessa, Virginia and Rose

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The Lodi wine region has never been associated with traditional Champagne-style sparkling wines–until now.

That all changed in July 2016, when LVVR Sparkling Cellars opened its tasting room doors in Lodi’s Tuscan Winery Village located in Lockeford, just east of the city of Lodi.

Of course, production of the finest sparkling wines–those produced in the style of sparklers originating in the Champagne region in France (called méthode Champenoise)–is a laborious process taking years to master. LVVR winemaker/owner Eric Donaldson started his project in 2012. That is when four close friends and sisters named Leticia, Vanessa, Virginia and Rose (hence LVVR) with a taste for bubbly encouraged Donaldson to have a go at it.

One whiff of Donaldson’s LVVR Brut Lodi Sparkling Wine tells you that you are experiencing authentic, meticulously wrought, Champagne-style wine, beginning with its crystal-clear, bright effervescence and floral, subtly tropical nose of Lodi-grown chardonnay (suggesting citrus, apple and white flowers) laced with toasted biscuit-like aromas. But it is on the palate where the LVVR Brut is most surprising; it has a bracingly crisp, mouth-wateringly dry, lemon/grapefruit-like tartness, reflecting a dosage of just .5 percent residual sugar and allowing silky mineral sensations to linger like a feathery breeze.

And that’s just a start. Donaldson has crafted three other star-bright, contemporary-style sparklers from his initial chardonnay-based wines blended from multiple vintages.

Donaldson, a native of Ohio and product of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, brought a little bit of familiarity with the science and craft of sparkling wine production from working in the wine production industry in his home state as well as New Mexico, prior to his arrival in California in 2009, and then finding himself “stuck in Lodi” in 2011.

Donaldson relates, “I was working as a cellar rat for a Lodi winery, while also working for Vanessa at the Cellar Door, one of Downtown Lodi’s wine bars. I happened to mention that I was thinking of starting my own business, and she suggested going into sparkling wines, Why? Because no one else in Lodi was doing it, and it seems like there is a growing market for it.”

From the beginning, Donaldson was determined to produce traditional yet new-fashioned sparklers in a style that is even drier and lighter than the famous champagnes of France and virtually all the commercial brands grown in California.

For a little bit of non-geeky Champagne 101, the method embraced by LVVR’s Donaldson involves taking wine that has already been fermented completely to dryness (that is, no residual sugar is left to be turned into alcohol), and then putting the wine into sturdy bottles, where a little more sugar is added along with yeast to start a secondary fermentation within the bottles. This step produces the bubbly character that’s the result of carbon dioxide trapped in the bottle, which everyone loves in sparkling wine.

The tricky part of the Champagne method is that fermentations taking place in the individual bottles, sealed by crown caps during the process, eventually expend dead yeast cells called lees, which cloud up sparkling wines if left in the bottle. So as far back as the 16th century, clever winemakers have devised systems of coaxing the floating lees into the neck of the bottle while the secondary fermentation is doing its thing.

Then once the bottle fermentation is done, the lees are disgorged along with a tiny bit of the cloudy wine. Immediately after, a small amount of wine, usually with a tiny dose of sugar, is added back into each bottle; and the final product is corked with the usual wiring and capsules to prevent any errant popping.

LVVR’s Donaldson has invested heavily in all the equipment necessary for production of the finest sparkling wine including two separate bottling lines for the processes of post-primary as well as post-secondary fermentation. He also procured gyropalettes, large, machine-operated cages holding 504 bottles, which gently shake the fermenting bottles over five to seven days until the bottles come to rest completely upside down, at which time the lees resting at the bottom of the bottle necks can be easily removed.

But as with everything in life, it takes more than tools to paint a masterpiece. It also requires high-quality grapes and terroir, which Donaldson is totally convinced Lodi can deliver, particularly chardonnay grapes of pristine flavor, picked at lower sugars to produce delicate, lower-alcohol-base wines and the higher natural acidity that give the finest sparkling wines their sharpness and precision.

Donaldson affirms, “Good sparkling wine should be very light and delicate, which we get by picking at lower sugars. We get a depth and complexity of fruit flavor in Lodi vineyards, just enough that it is never overpowering. We base our picking decisions on the grapes’ acid level because, frankly, that’s where the market is going. People are looking for a firmer, crisper, drier finish.” ■

Sparkling Wine and Holiday Food Matching
There are reasons tart, bone-dry sparkling wines are ideal for holiday parties. For one, who doesn’t associate the sound of popping bottles with celebration? And two, light, lemony tart wines with the edginess of bubbly are perfect for so many of the canapés and dishes we love to serve during the holidays.

The most essential thing to remember about dry sparklers such as Lodi’s LVVR’s bottlings is that they are basically like light, tart, steely dry white wines, only with the addition of yeasty sensations akin to the smell of rising bread and palate-cleansing bubbles. Thus, the ideal dishes for such sparklers are those that are complemented by lemony tart, yeasty sensations such as:

Raw oysters with vinegary mignonette
Shrimp marinated in lemon or lime
Shellfish ceviche (shrimp or scallops marinated in citrus juice)
Crab cakes with lemon aioli
White fowl (chicken, turkey, game hen, squab or pheasant), especially brined or citrusy
Slightly tart, earthy goat milk cheeses (almost any Chèvre)

A favorite appetizer served by Lodi’s Wine & Roses Hotel Executive Chef John Hitchcock is a Yukon Gold blini with caviar, crème frâiche and lemon zest. With dry sparkling wines, the briny taste of caviar takes on a brightly fruited taste, while the tart quality of sparklers helps balance the taste of the crème frâiche and lemon.

Finally, here’s an idea anyone can love: little holiday bowls of luxuriously creamy yet savory lobster mac ’n’ cheese. Lobster meat, after all, absolutely screams for citrusy tart white wine, and ultra-dry sparkling wines cut through the taste of cheeses such as Gruyere and cheddar like hot knives through butter. 

Here’s to Lodi life, love and friendships!

More to Love at LVVR’s Tasting Room
There Handcrafted sparklers available at the LVVR tasting room include these lovely offerings.

LVVR Rosé Lodi Sparkling Wine ($24) uses the same chardonnay-based wine as the LVVR Brut, with a pale, rusty pink color attained by a tiny addition of red wine. It embodies fragrant notes of white flowers entwined with notes of red berries (tart raspberry/cherry) and rising bread yeastiness, silky smooth yet crisply focused sensations with whispers of sweetness of 1 percent residual sugar, finishing dry with a firm, palpable stoniness.

LVVR Blanc de Blancs Lodi Sparkling Wine ($24) contains the tropical/flowery Lodi-grown chardonnay character of this nonvintage blend, heightened by a tad more residual sugar (1.5 percent), yet the lively, high acidity keeps this wine beautifully sleek, bright and finely balanced, finishing with lip-smacking dryness and grapefruit freshness.

LVVR Demi-Sec Lodi Sparkling Wine ($24) is higher in residual sugar (3.2 percent), and a high-toned natural acidity gives this bottling an off-dry rather than overtly sweet taste while also bringing out a white peppery spice in the floral tropical fruit qualities; it lingers with a silkiness in the middle and lemon drop flourish in the finish.

Written by: Randy Caparoso