Before 1900, Lodi grape growers did not have a lot of options. They either sold their crop on the fresh market or hauled their grapes to George West's El Pinal Winery northeast of Stockton. West was the valley's pioneer winemaker in operation since 1858 and was the only winery in the region.
In 1900, Lodi's wine industry began when a 38-year-old German native came to town.
Adolph Bauer was born in the wine region of Alsace, Germany on Oct. 21, 1862, four years after George West started making wine near Stockton. As he grew up in the region lined with vineyards, Bauer learned about grape growing and winemaking. At the age of 18, Bauer was an apprentice at a brandy and wine company.
Sometime in 1880 or 1881, the 18-year-old Bauer left his homeland and boarded a ship for America. He came to De Kalb County, Illinois. There he worked and farmed until 1886 when he moved west to California. He settled in Yolo County and worked in the Orleans vineyard and later the Yolo Winery in Woodland. Bauer's winery experience and skill elevated him quickly to the position of manager at the California Winery in Sacramento in 1889. He held that job for 11 years.
In 1899, the 37-year-old Bauer married Carrie Blickley. In 1900, Bauer and his bride moved to Lodi. His timing was perfect.
With nearly 20 years of farming and winemaking experience behind him, the German-born Bauer was well prepared to create and shape Lodi's wine industry. At the same time, Lodi farmers were shifting from growing watermelons to the more lucrative grapes. With more and more Lodi acreage being converted to grapes, Bauer could see that there was room for another winery between Sacramento and George West's pioneer El Pinal Winery in Stockton. Bauer was the man to start the wine industry in Lodi.
In 1900 Bauer became partners with his friend, Lodi butcher John Guggolz. That year they began building wineries. The first was the San Joaquin Valley Winery Company at the intersection of Stockton and Pine streets, just two blocks east from the Lodi business district. The second winery was called the Urgon Winery just over one mile north of Lodi on the west side of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. The winery apparently took the name of the Urgon Station that was just south of Woodbridge Road.
The Urgon Winery was initially under the name of Bauer and Guggolz. But later the ownership was listed as Bauer and Jacob Brack, who was a well-known and respected pioneer farmer and the driving force behind the San Joaquin & Sierra Nevada Railroad.
Lodi grape growers must have been thrilled to have a choice of where to sell their wine grapes. No longer were they forced to accept the $4 per ton price offered by the Wests. Bauer's Urgon Winery paid growers $20 to $22 per ton of grapes, substantially more than they had been getting at West's.
Launching the wine industry had its trials for Bauer. A fire swept through the Urgon Winery, but it was quickly rebuilt. George West and Son Winery, in control of the market for so long, undoubtedly put up a fight to secure the region's grapes for its operation.
In April 1902, Bauer sold his interest in the Urgon Winery but continued to act as superintendent. The Lodi winery that Bauer and Guggolz built was moved a few blocks away Pine and Stockton streets southwest to Sacramento Street south of Lodi Avenue.
George West and Son Winery continued the pressure, and by 1904 the Stockton-based enterprise owned both Lodi area wineries and again controlled the market. They immediately dropped the price to grape growers and paid $3.50 per ton. Bauer stayed on as manager of both the Lodi Winery and the Urgon that was then re-named the San Joaquin Winery. Bauer continued to run the two wineries for West for the next 15 years when Prohibition, which outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol, took effect.
While Bauer stayed on the sidelines like a parent watching his child play sports, the Lodi wine industry took off.
Eager to escape the Wests' grasp and provide a market for their grapes, growers formed the first co-operative in the Lodi area. The Woodbridge Vineyard Association, incorporated on Dec. 20, 1904 with John C. Thompson as president, built the area's third winery on a 10-acre site in 1905. It was built along the south bank of the Mokelumne River, roughly opposite today's Woodbridge Golf and Country Club. This winery, with John C. Thompson as president, was built in Woodbridge.
A fourth winery was built in 1907. Lee Jones built the Mokelumne Winery at the north end of Sacramento Street just south of the river (where the River Pointe subdivision is today.) In just a few years, Jones sold this winery to growers, and the winery became a co-operative called the Community Grape Corporation.
Also in 1907, the West Winery Co. built six receiving stations in the Lodi area. Growers hitched their teams and hauled their grapes to these stations where they were crushed and then delivered to Stockton.
In 1908, wine grape growers in Victor built Farmers Mutual Winery, which had a capacity of 500,000 gallons.
Although the Wests still controlled a large part of the winery market, the expanding wine industry created a growing demand for wine grapes. The Wests' stranglehold on the market it had controlled since 1858 eventually eased as more grapevines were planted and more wineries were built.
When the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol, became law in January 1920, Lodi growers feared the worst. Without the ability to commercially make wine, growers and winemakers feared they were finished. Some wineries did close down, and certainly no more were built in the 1920s. But the grape industry actually continued to flourish during the Prohibition years. Wineries made grape juice and some medicinal or sacramental wine that was allowed. Growers sold grapes on the fresh market and to home winemakers who could produce 200 gallons of "non-intoxicating" fruit juice for home use.
The Woodbridge Vineyard Association winery stopped production in 1923 and sold the winery plant and 650 gallons of wine to Sam Sebastiani. Later, the winery was named the Rio Vista Winery.
In 1922, the Roma Winery was formed. Brothers J. B. and Lorenzo Cella bought the Scatena brothers' winery and renamed it the Roma Winery. Its brick building can still be seen on the north side of Victor Road just east of the Central California Traction Line rail tracks. The Cella brothers eventually sold to Schenly. Later, John Graffigna and Felix Costa bought the winery and it was renamed Mid Valley.
The Repeal of Prohibition in December 1933 gave the wine business a real boost. New wineries were rapidly built. East Side, Bear Creek and Del Rio wineries began production, and Lodi then had a total of 11 wineries with a combined 16 million gallon cooperage. The next year, Acampo Winery with J. B. Gundert and Archie Cellini was built. It was followed by Mokelumne Winery in Woodbridge, Rancho Del Oso, Jack Bares Winery west of town and Edward and Joseph Da Roza's wineryon Cherokee Lane north of the Mokelumne River. The 190-member Cherokee Vineyard Association cooperative winery started production on Woodbridge Road at the Central California Traction Line tracks, near where Woodbridge Winery is located today.
When the wineries started production again in 1934, the Lodi industry's founder Adolph Bauer was back helping Bear Creek Vineyard Association. He was the winemaker.
Vintage Lodi is a local history column that appears on the first and third Saturday of the month.