From outside the red brick Central Street storefront, there is no feeling of a traditional Lodi winery. No barrels filled with bright flowers, and no planters of vines plucked from a vineyard. There’s not even a sign to let passersby know Viñedos Aurora wines are made inside.
But the gentle aroma of fermenting grapes and sturdy oak barrels permeates the worn green door. Inside, Gerardo Espinosa is in the process of working with the recently completed harvest and refurbishing the former restaurant into a winemaking home base.
“When we got in here, it was so close to crush that there was no time for refurbishment,” said Espinosa, who works as an architect in Stockton. “Two weeks after we got the place we were getting fruit.”
Plans are still in place to create the first tasting room on Central Avenue. Espinosa wants to build a patio in the back alley, and move more barrels downstairs to make room for a tasting bar on the ground floor.
He’s not worried about the time this will take. Viñedos Aurora wines already have a presence in Downtown at Pamplona Tapas, right next to Alebrijes Mexican Bistro on Oak Street. The tapas and wine bar is a joint effort between Espinosa and chef Ruben Larrazolo.
It’s an opportunity for people to taste the wines paired properly with food, to experience the textures and flavors melting together, he said.
“We want to get people to taste the wine, get the textures and flavors with the food, spices, vegetables and fruits,” Espinosa said.
At the winery, everything is casked in oak barrels save for five fermenting bins of late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Sirah, blended in the field. But it will be crushed and blended in a few days’ time, locking up the 2013 harvest for months of aging.
A trapdoor in the floor of the building allows a hydraulic lift to transport barrels between levels.
With the full open basement, Espinosa has 3,600 square feet of space to crush grapes, ferment fruit, store barrels and blend wines to meet his experimental and exacting demands.
But how did an architect get into winemaking in the first place?
The seed was planted in 1944, when Victor Anaya Rocha came to the Central Valley from Michoacan, Mexico, to work in the fields. That spurred three generations of the family to grow up traveling between Mexico and California as farmworkers. By pooling their resources, four brothers (Victor, Armando, Ramon and Gerardo Anaya) planted the first vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Sirah in their own vineyard in Clements in 1998.
Winemaking began for Espinosa as a hobby in 2002. He made wine from their fruit in small batches each harvest.
By 2007, he was accustomed to having his own barrel of wine in the garage to pour for parties or a quiet night in. That’s the year his winemaker friends convinced him to enter a few amateur competitions. After a gold ranking at the San Joaquin Fair and a double gold ranking at the California State Fair, Espinosa was encouraged to move forward and make his own label.
“My whole goal was to do a small brand, between 500 and 1,000 cases,” he said. “But for next year we’re aiming for 1,500. This thing is growing.”
Today, the winery uses fruit from the family vineyards in Clements for their Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Sirah, and sources grapes from other Lodi vineyards for their other vintages. Also in the rotation are a Rosado, Albariño and a Sintesis, a blend of Temperanillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, Espinosa is experimenting with Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
With his day job and young son, Espinosa can’t spend as much time in the vineyards during the year as he’d like to.
He relies on the work and expertise of his uncles to accomplish the final vision: a structured wine with concentrated flavor.
“I enjoy the whole process, since I started I just like doing it,” he said. “We’re known for our Petit Sirah, but all of them are my favorite. That’s why I make them.”
Aside from a few seminars in chemistry and beginning winemaking at UC Davis, all of Espinosa’s wine education has been hands-on.
Before they had the Central Avenue winery location, Espinosa leased space with Estate Crush on Lockeford Street. Juggling locations was a challenge, because it was hard to keep track of what equipment would be needed on a given day. With help and guidance from Ryan Sherman, of Fields Family Wines, Lane Montgomery of M2 Wines and Mike McCay of McCay Cellars, the transition to their own place is well begun.
“We know now what we need to do to get where we want to be,” he said.
Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.