In 1937, two Swiss winemakers, Rudolph Weibel and his son Fred E. Weibel Sr., left their native Switzerland to embark on a journey to the United States, bringing with them “time-worn techniques” of the trade. After a short stint of working at Columbia Winery in Vancouver, Washington, father and son moved to San Francisco, California in 1938, where they began making sparkling wine in the basement of the William Tell Hotel. Applying their talents and newly learned skills, the wines quickly got noticed and became immensely popular, as did the reputation of the Swiss winemakers. In 1946 the Weibels had the opportunity to buy 100 acres of the historical Mission San Jose vineyards in Freemont, California. Originally owned by California Governor Leland Stanford in the 1800s, the vineyards and winery were neglected and needed total restoration. The Weibels determination and drive led to the replantation of the vines and restoration of the production facilities. The Weibel Family Winery was created and today spans over eight decades and four generations of winemaking.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Weibels produced sweet and fortified wines, introducing drier wines in the 1960s. Sadly, Fred Sr. passed away in 1996, and that same year his son, Fred Weibel, Jr., grandson of Rudolph, relocated the family winery and its dedicated employees to Lodi, California. Today, Fred Jr.’s son Justin, a winemaker and UC Davis graduate is the COO of the family’s business. Jim Cimarusti holds the position of Vice President, Adam Poirier, who graduated from California Polytechnic State University, is the Winemaker, Edgar Rodriguez is the Assistant Winemaker, and Diana Weibel, Fred Jr.’s sister, is the Special Project Coordinator.
Fred Jr. is still the owner and President of Weibel Family Wines. And together with his son Justin, they produce 17 sparkling wines, three white wines, eight red wines, and two rosés. Diana said, “We own 365 acres in Potter Valley and Redwood Valley in Mendocino County, and we practice sustainable farming.”
Diana explained who their target consumer is. “The backbone of our business is sparkling wine. Our largest target consumers are hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and events that want a quality yet affordable sparkling wine to serve.” Jim Cimarusti added, “They use our Stanford Brut for their sparkling wine By The Glass business. Our private label is also a big part of our business. Our Weibel Family flavored sparkling wines are sold in numerous retail wine shops and stores throughout the United States.” Diana said, “We specialize in Flavored Sparkling Wines, and our Tasting Room in Lodi offers 14 different flavors. We like to think that we offer something for everyone’s palate.”
As you can see in the above photo, two of Weibel’s sparkling wines are allowed to use the word “Champagne” on the label. This is because the wines fall under the 100-Year-Old Loophole making California Champagne legal. Here is a very condensed explanation. California winemakers began producing sparkling wine in the 1860s, and many of the wines were labeled as California Champagne.
As most everyone knows, for a sparkling wine to bear the label “Champagne,” the wine must be produced using the méthode champenoise from the Champagne region of France. The rules are strictly enforced by the European Union (EU) and are set forth in EU regulations, national laws, international trade agreements, and treaties. However, this law did not apply to the United States.
It wasn’t until 2006 that the United States and the EU finally signed a wine trade agreement that prohibited this practice, with the proviso that the pact also includes a grandfather clause. As a result, any winery that made sparkling wine labeled as Champagne prior to September 14, 2005, was allowed to continue doing so. Diana said, “We can use the term “Champagne” on our Stanford sparkling wine because it was grandfathered in when President George Bush signed the agreement with the European Union. Once signed into law, we could no longer use it on any new labels.” After the pact was signed, several wineries chose to omit “Champagne” from their labels, but Weibel has continued to carry on this long-established practice with the two Stanford labels.
All of Weibel’s sparkling wines are produced using the Charmat method (secondary fermentation takes place in tanks.)
Here is a sampling of four of Weibel’s sparkling wines.
The Brut and Rosé Cuvée Stanford Sparkling wines are made with Chenin Blanc, French Colombard, and Chardonnay. They are crisp and refreshing with sweet fruit, fine bubbles, and a creamy mouthfeel. The brut is sweet and savory, while the rosé is a touch sweeter.
Pairing Suggestions: Enjoy as an aperitif or with light fare.
When Diana mentioned that Weibel offers a wine for every palate, she wasn’t kidding. They have an impressive selection of flavored sparkling wines such as almond, peach, peach mango, strawberry, raspberry, pina colada, pomegranate, and citron. As with the Stanford sparkling wines, all the flavored wines are a blend of Chenin Blanc, French Colombard, and Chardonnay. And only natural flavors are added to the blend.
I tasted the Almond and Peach Mango Demi-Sec wines which were refreshing, fruity, sweet, and had a lovely mouthfeel of soft bubbles. The almond-flavored wine has notes of marzipan, almonds, and a hint of vanilla. The peach mango wine has tropical notes that include juicy peach, ripe mangos and ends on a sweet note.
In addition to the sparkling wines, I sampled three of Weibel’s still wines.
2020 California Chardonnay is fruity with notes of pear, tart apples, tropical fruit, and a creamy mouthfeel.
2019 California Cabernet Sauvignon is layered with plum, strawberry, baking spice, smooth tannins, and a hint of pepper on the finish.
2020 California Syrah is lush with dark berries, floral notes, baking spice, chocolate, smooth tannins, and blueberry pie lingering on the finish.
I asked Diana if there was a wine that they were partial to. She replied, “We produce a red blend called Patriot in honor of those who have served in the military, became disabled, or lost their lives. We donate a portion of each sale to the San Joaquin County Disabled Veterans organization. We are also proud of our Stanford Champagne, as it carries on the legacy of our grandfather, Rudolf Weibel, and our father, Fred Weibel Jr. It also honors California Governor Leland Stanford.”
In addition to producing wine, Fred Weibel, Jr. also has a passion for giving back to the community, especially when it comes to helping those in need. Fred volunteers his time and both his plane and piloting experience. He is a member of Angel Flight West, an organization of 1,000 pilots who donate their time and airplanes to fly medical patients to and from treatment centers and transport burn victims to burn centers. He is also a member of Wings of Rescue—a rescue organization that flies hundreds of dogs and cats from “kill” shelter areas to “no-kill” shelter areas that have a shortage of animals for adoption.
If you’re looking for good value and quality wines, and happen to be in Lodi, stop by the Weibel tasting room and explore their range of sparkling and still wines. The wines are also available on their online store or check your local wine shop.
Until next time…
Feature photo is of Fred Weibel, Jr., courtesy of Weibel.