Just about everyone in Lodi has heard of DeVries Road. But few know the history of the estate that sits at the northern end, and how the DeVries family was vitally important to the local wine industry.
The "Oak Farm" property and home were developed by William Henry DeVries during the 1860s. He was born in Carroll County, Md., but decided to immigrate to California in 1853 at the young age of 21.
DeVries had ancestry roots dating back to the Tinkers, who came from England on the Mayflower in 1620. His gravestone still exists at the west end of the Oak Farm estate. But the real hero of the wine industry was his son, Marion. He was not only a California congressman during the William McKinley administration, but also the presiding judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. for over 20 years.
Marion DeVries was born at his father's home on Aug. 15, 1865. He graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1888. He had a life-long practice in Stockton and was elected district attorney for San Joaquin County.
During the 1930s, DeVries served as chief counsel to the Wine Institute and represented the industry in Washington, D.C. He fought against threats to domestic producers that resulted from tough foreign competition.
A Lodi News-Sentinel story from Nov. 21, 1933 quoted the retired judge as encouraging local wine producers to begin a major advertising and educational campaign to "contradict the extensive propaganda for foreign wines." DeVries helped push through higher tariffs in Congress on foreign wines to protect local vintners. He is credited with being "largely responsible" as a lobbyist for the success of this legislation.
Another breakthrough for local producers happened when the Woodbridge-born attorney and rancher successfully argued before the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional all interstate barriers against commerce in wines. A September 1939, his News Sentinel obituary stated that, "Adjustments to the wine tax levels favorable to California interests were attributed in several instances almost solely to the efforts of DeVries."
He is buried on the same property with his father.
Some of Judge DeVries' descendants have been and are still part of this area. His nephew, also named William Henry, was the founder of the Tracy airport and taught the first aeronautics class in 1928 at the College of the Pacific. He was a well-known real estate agent in Lodi during the 1950s.
The judge's great niece, Diane DeVries Hansen, still lives in Lodi. Her daughter, Monica LoBue, owns a ranch in Acampo. Other descendants are scattered throughout the East Coast. Recently, Diane's niece, Marjorie Kravitz, M.D., came from Massachusetts to visit the home of her ancestors and the recently established Oak Farm winery.
Today, the Panella family owns the property. The original colonial-style two-story home and barn are still standing. The Panellas take pride in local history, and have spent over $300,000 in restoring the barn alone.
They have named their winery "Oak Farm Vineyards" in honor of the original founder and his prominent son who had done so much to pave the way for the success of local California wineries.
Oak Farm Vineyards is open to the public from Friday through Sunday. Details are available on their website.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.