Lodi Growers Ripping Old Zinfandel Vines Out of the Ground

LODI -- Lodi is sometimes called the zinfandel capital of the world.

Some of the vines there are a century old.

“The soil in Lodi and the climate in Lodi gives us some of the finest grape growing in the world," said Lodi Mayor Mark Chandler.

Chandler, a wine grape grower himself, said even though the last two seasons have yielded rich, abundant crops in Lodi, these are challenging times for the zinfandel growers in particular.

"Especially when you have a vineyard like this that has to be hand-tended, the labor cost just becomes unsustainable," he told FOX40.

David Lucas of Lucas Winery has been in the business since the 1970s. He makes high-end wines and does well selling directly to the consumer.

But at lower price points, it's becoming very difficult to make money producing zinfandel.

"Because zins are the most difficult grape to grow in the world," he said.

Growers FOX40 spoke with said they are battling rising labor costs and changing tastes in the market. There is more global competition these days and the trade war with China is also making it hard to ship wine overseas.

Lucas also pointed out the governments of some other counties where zinfandel grows subsidize grape growers.

“We don't have that benefit in California, nobody really helps us,” Lucas said. “We're out here with these old vines, tending them and hoping that people will enjoy the fruits of the vine's labor."

Lucas is committed to maintaining his old vines but in recent years, some growers have actually ripped theirs out of the ground.

"Tore the vines out, put them in a pile, went through a wood chipper," Mayor Chandler said.

Chandler showed FOX40 a recently planted vineyard that replaced one that used to have old vines. The new vines can be machine harvested, as opposed to old vine zinfandel, which has to be harvested by hand.

"It's a matter of the economics and you can only lose money so many seasons in a row before you've got to make a change," he said.

But it would be unwise to say the Lodi zinfandel’s day in the sun is over.

"Oh, I hope not. Come on people, drink!" Lucas said.

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