Wine column | Wine Culture

Lodi's Lange family steeped in California wine history

Charlene and Randy Lange of LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards. (Sandra Silfven / The Detroit News)

If you drink California wines, I can just about guarantee you have tasted something from the Lange family in California’s Lodi appellation.

The Lange twins, Randy and Brad, are fifth-generation wine growers and do it on a mass scale. They are bulk wine producers, making millions of gallons off thousands of acres of estate-grown vineyards, and they sell to wineries all over California.

Before the sale of Robert Mondavi’s enterprises to Constellation Brands in 2005, the Lange family supplied 30 percent of the grapes for the Woodbridge label, and before that for Mondavi’s first value wines, Bob Red and Bob White. The Mondavi Twin Oaks brand was a partnership with the Lange family.

The Lange winery today is not a boutique place, but the twins think like boutique vintners. They employ sustainable growing practices, paying respect to the soil and using energy-saving measures in the winery. They restore poor vineyard sites to their natural habitat and build nesting areas for birds.

And now they have a side business — they are making their own brand of wines under the LangeTwins label, with Lodi’s “Certified Green” emblem on the back.

“We call our practices generational farming,” Randy Lange said on a visit to Michigan last week with wife Charlene. “We are the fifth generation in the family to grow grapes. We are growing for the eighth and ninth generations. We want to leave the soil in better condition than we received it.”

Randy and Charlene Lange, both 62, visited restaurants and stores across the state to promote their LangeTwins wines. Charlene was born and raised on a farm in Chelsea and has an agricultural degree from Michigan State University, so selling in Michigan was just the natural thing to do.

The Langes are making a range of varietals, including an impressive Old Vines Zinfandel off 100-year-old vines, a brooding Petit Verdot-based red blend called Midnight Reserve, a Moscato with a light sparkle and well-crafted Chardonnay. They use a  gentle hand with oak. “I grow fruit, not wood,” Randy said.

The Lange story runs deep in the history of California winemaking. Robert Mondavi’s father, Cesar Mondavi, bought grapes from the Lange family during Prohibition to sell in New York because a limited amount of home winemaking was allowed.

“With the Mondavis,” Randy said, “I learned the difference between being a wine grape grower and a winegrower.”

He explained that usually when you sell your grapes you never see them again. But at Woodbridge, each grower’s grapes were fermented separately. Before Woodbridge made the final blend, growers were invited to sit down together and taste each other’s wines. It was the opportunity to compare growing practices to make better wines.

Randy said the Mondavis elevated the quality of winemaking in California by sharing information.

The LangeTwins brand is impressive for its value, quality, green practices and deep roots in California wine history.

LANGETWIN WINES

>> Top sellers include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Zinfandel, Midnight Reserve, Sangiovese Rose, and Petite-Sirah-Petit Verdot red blend.

>> Some of the stores that sell them: Novi Fine Wine, Novi; Whole Foods, Ann Arbor; Arbor Farms, Ann Arbor; Western Market, Ferndale; Chelsea Market, Chelsea; Merchant’s Fine Wine, Dearborn; Discount Drinks, Wyandotte; Market Square, West Bloomfield.

>> The distributor is U.S. Wine Imports in Ann Arbor.