Acquiesce means “to surrender, to become quiet.” Sue Tipton, winemaker extraordinaire for Acquiesce Winery, has made that her winemaking “motto.” She submits to the nature of the vineyard and let its true character shine.
We are fortunate enough to know Sue and her husband, Rodney, for close to four years now. Our first experience with Acquiesce wines was the tasting of the 2010 Belle Blanc; so crisp, aromatic and mouthwatering. You know now a good wine through your nose, but you fell in love when your taste buds wake up to such mouthwatering feeling, acidity, and hypnotic presence. Her wines are crisp, aromatic, enticing and seductive. The pleasant wine acidity makes them extremely food-friendly, and their aromas invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy.
We recently asked Sue a series of question for this articles, and as a gracious, as she is and always willing to please her friends and customers she replied back to all of them. Hopefully, through our questions, you’ll get to know the motivation behind such outstanding white wines from Lodi, CA.
Sue, what is your winemaking mantra? What do you seek from your vines that make your wines so distinctive? “World class wine at all costs. Meaning our wines will stand with any in the world arena, and I focus on the grapes in the vineyard, the hand picking, several sortings, gentle pressing, cold fermentation and countless hours in the vineyard and cellar. Attention to quality and detail is the difference”.
That she is now in her seventh vintage and has such a loyal following is a testament to her winemaking mantra and business success. As soon as you get to meet her, you understand why her philosophy transpires into her winemaking. Self-thought and resilient, she brings to the business presence and charisma like no other.
Sue and her husband Rodney moved to Lodi in 2000. Then, in 2003 they acquired their home and twelve acres of Zinfandel grapes in Acampo, north of Lodi, CA, where her career began as a home winemaker.
I understand your first plantings were used for home winemaking. What prompted you to become a Winery owner? “It’s a love story. We purchased our home and twelve acres of Zinfandel grapes on an 18-acre property. I started making red wine with the Zinfandel grapes but was always wanting to make a lovely rosé with the grapes. I quickly realized that making white and rosé wines were entirely different that making the reds. When I tried a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine for the first time in 2005, I fell in love . . . What was this wine? Why haven’t I tried it before? Can these grapes be grown here?
My research showed that only 7% of the grapes grown in Châteauneuf-du-Pape were white, and they export to 50 different countries. So when you find a nice white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is pretty expensive. When we visited the area, we noticed the white wines on the tasting room menus were more expensive than the reds. I asked a winemaker why that was, and he said, “You should know they are harder to make!”
Lodi’s climate is similar to that of the Southern Rhone region of France where they have been growing for hundreds of years. We are a few degrees warmer during the day during the growing season summer and slightly more than a few degrees cooler at night. The grapes want to and can, reach full ripeness here because our weather stays pretty dry through harvest. In France, they must sometimes pick the grapes early due to the weather and then need to put them through malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity.
I proceeded to plant Grenache Blanc in 2008. We were thrilled with the result and wanted to plant the others. You might say this was a hobby out of control. At some point, I made the decision to “go professional” and continue my journey with the whites”.
Self-tough vine growers, Sue and Rodney, have learned grape growing by living on the property for 13 years now. They see the effects of too much water, not enough sun, too much sun, etc. They also work with a second-generation vineyard manager who was raised in Lodi and knows how to grow premium wine grapes. Sue credits his knowledge as the key to doing what they do.
“We wake up every morning and see a different vineyard . . . it is a beautiful way to live’”. Sue Tipton, Acquiesce Winery
Except Grenache Noir for the Rosé wine, why planting white grapes only? “I honestly feel that Lodi is perfect for these whites. I wanted to focus on the whites and give them their due, to make the best whites I could. I think sometimes the whites are “second class citizens” in the tasting room because the reds usually command a higher price. I wanted to focus on them because they’re sexy too and give them the spotlight they deserve”.
And sexy they are! Just look at the bottle that she chose to showcase her wines!
“I got to choose what bottle I’d like since I’m the owner, winemaker, designer, and buyer! The bottle expresses the feminine, beauty, uniqueness, classic and French. It’s pretty expensive, but I love it, and we sacrifice for love don’t we?” Sue Tipton, Acquiesce Winery
In a sassy business decision, in 2014 they decided to take all the Zinfandel vines out and plant all to Rhone varietals. To date, they have 10.25 acres of Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul Blanc and Clairette Blanc. Presently, they produce a Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Belle Blanc (blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier), Grenache Rosé (from Grenache Noir), Viognier, and Roussanne. Acquiesce total annual production is now 1,500 cases but soon hope to grow to 3,500 cases with the recent 2015 plantings.
Sue credits Acquiesce success and loyal following to her passion for the wines, the focus on quality, the terroir and the way the wines pair with food. She is one of the 18% female winemakers in California. Out of curiosity, I asked Sue what percentage of Acquiesce wine club members are women, and as no surprise, she replies that about 60% of the wine club members are females. She adds, “Women love to support other women who are making strides in a male-dominated world.”
About Sue’s passion: “Early on, I was told by some well-meaning winemakers that I’d never survive without a red wine in my lineup . . . I told them if I can’t sell the wine, I’ll drink it. Wine lovers can tell when you are passionate, focused and driven”. Sue Tipton, Acquiesce Winery
How’s been the Acquiesce 2016 vintage so far? “Looks like a great year! We’ve had some refreshing rain for the young vines early in the year, and they have responded accordingly. The crop size is good, a bit more than last year. The berries are nice and small, the grape bunches are evenly spaced, and the fruit is tasting great!!”
Visitors to the one-hundred-year-old converted barn tasting room get to write in the “Before I die” blackboard when visiting.
What have you learned from your wines as you look forward to future vintages and what motives you to continue with wine making? What motivated your “Before I Die Board” at the winery? “I’ve learned that everything counts. There is no room for shortcuts. Nature loves her variables, so it is critical that we strive for ideal – world class wines. You only get one chance every year to learn, grow and improve your skills. The challenge of hopefully having only 20 harvests left in my lifetime makes me pay relentlessly close attention! I’m very excited about the new varietals Bourboulenc and Clairette Blanc and anticipating some remarkable blends using these in conjunction with the established varietals. This coincides with the “Before I Die Board” . . . I want to make better wine every year Before I Die! It’s a fun and interactive way to create discussion with your guests. It’s a way to reflect on what is important in your life and what isn’t”.
Undoubtfully, Acquiesce wines are exquisite and reasonably priced. As I said before, they have a loyal following and every year they sell out. Wine Club members are guaranteed the precious wine nectar and thus been in the Wine Club has a unique advantage. Want to be part of the action? Better get on the waiting list! If your palette is thirsty for crisp, high acidity, food-friendly, unoaked, true to nature, delicious white Rhone varietals and a beautiful Rosé of Grenache, look no further and surrender to Acquiesce!
Photos by Edgar Solis & Julie Santiago