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Fields Family: Hands-off approach works for wines that focus on vineyards

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Posted: Saturday, March 15, 2014 12:00 am

One Lodi winery is committed to a no-frills vibe for their estate tasting room. It’s one wall of the stark warehouse where Fields Family Wines crushes and ages their vino, just steps from the barrel storage area next door.

The winebar is a solid plank of wood salvaged from a former construction project across the road, balanced atop two barrels. But winemaker Ryan Sherman says this approach keeps the focus on the wines, not on the location.

“Being a smaller winery, to keep the wine quality high, we have to be mindful of the cost of everything, from our barrels to our tasting room,” said Sherman.

The winery is run by two buddies who, like many Lodi winemakers, started out making a barrel or two of wine in one another’s garages. Owners Russ Fields, an attorney, and Sherman, a Realtor, both keep to their day jobs. These days, they’re making about 1,500 cases a year, placing themselves firmly in the category of a boutique — but growing — winery.

Fields grew up around wine. His uncles and grandfather made wine in the family’s basement.

Sherman came into the wine business from the social and entertaining end, taking clients to high end restaurants during his previous career in pharmaceutical sales. When the garage wine habit got out of hand, it was time to get serious.

The functional tasting room opened in 2010 so the winery could share wines from the 2008 harvest. This year, Sherman and Fields are pouring 2011 and 2012 wines.

Fields Family Wines are poured at Woodbridge Inn, Wine and Roses, School Street Bistro and Alebrijes, as well as in the Woodbridge Road tasting room.

They’re known for their Syrah, Temperanillo and Zinfandel. Sherman is also working on Rhone blends using Grenache, Carignon and Mourvedre varietals. Each one ages in a used barrel to reduce the harshness of oak in the wine.

“I like to showcase what’s possible from specific vineyards,” said Sherman. “Our winemaking is very down-to-earth. It’s not any kind of high art.”

To achieve such vineyard-focused wines, Sherman cultivates close relationships with grape growers. The idea is to work as hard as possible among the vines, then to not mess it up once the grapes reach the winery, said Sherman. To emphasize this connection, the grower’s name or vineyard location is printed on each bottle’s label.

Sherman’s no-fuss style of winemaking makes the Fields Family Zinfandel a perfect candidate for membership in Lodi Nativea group of six Lodi wineries that showcase specific vineyards in their Zinfandel wine.

“We use no new oak, and we do basically nothing with the wine once it’s out of the vineyard,” said Sherman. “I call it ‘the no-no wine’.”

The wine is 100-percent Zinfandel from a single vineyard, and it goes straight from the vine to the barrel to the bottle with minimal human interference.

Other wineries in the Lodi Native group include McCay Cellars, Macchia Wines, M2 Wines, Mettler Family Vineyards and St. Amant Winery.

The Fields Family team has won a few awards in the past four years, including the International Winemaker’s Challenge in 2013.

But Sherman says the winemaker’s challenge starts over again every year, with each new crush.

“You might get good reviews for a 2011 wine, but then it’s all gone, and you have to wait and see how people like the next year’s wine,” he said. “You go from hero to zero.”

Sherman and Fields are growing their winery the same way their winegrape partners grow their vines: carefully. They’ve never made more than 1,600 cases in a season.

“We make wines we’re proud to have on our own table,” he said. “We sell what we like to drink, and if it doesn’t sell, we’re happy to drink it.”

Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at



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