© 1998 JDM Enterprises
GOOD BUGS EAT BAD BUGSby Jerry D. Mead
Ten years ago, organic farming was something a few folks in the wine grape growing community did, but that almost no one talked about. As consumers we weren't sure why, but if something were "organic" or had some other special designation, it might taste like the inside of a health food store smells, like some vitamin pill run wild.
"Organic" never really did anything to earn its bad reputation. It was just an image kind of thing, sort of like how I feel about anything that is currently labeled "no fat," which I'm convinced equates to "no taste."
Maureen Lolonis brought me samples of her family's Mendocino Estate wines. Anyone who meets Maureen for the first time thinks of her instantly as a "pushy broad." Make that a "pushy Irish Catholic broad," and you'd be closer to correct. I call her these names in the very best sense of the terms and hasten to add that she is my favorite "pushy broad" in the wine industry.
Married to one of two Lolonis brothers who are second generation Mendocino Greek grape farmers, it is nearly impossible to imagine how this marriage between a stern, somber, nearly silent Greek Orthodox man of the earth and this woman who has chased buyers down the hall demanding attention for her products, could possibly survive.
One of their sons says it truly is a case of opposites attracting and each partner recognizing their weaknesses and their partner's strengths. The son does not necessarily recommend being a child growing up between two such volatile entities.
I do not remember the specific wines Maureen and I tasted that day a decade or more ago, but I do recall that one way or another our conversation turned to the fact that the Lolonis brothers almost never employed pesticides, but that they bought by special order millions of lady bugs and hundreds of thousands of praying mantis to eat the bad bugs for which many other growers spray.
I thought only a few kooky health food freaks engaged in such sustainable agriculture, and pumped Lolonis for more information.
As a result, I made the good bugs vs. the bad bugs a major part of the story, and it turned out to be the thing that people remembered about Lolonis. Everywhere Maureen went, people started asking is she was the "lady bug lady," and if her wines were the ones made by lady bugs.
Not one to overlook a marketing hook, Lolonis soon added the likeness of a lady bug to the top of the foil capsule that covers the cork, and added another small lady bug on the label itself.
When Lolonis was attending public wine tasting forums they always had tiny "peel and stick" lady bugs to adhere to everyone's sweater or lapel.
Next came lady bug silk ties for men and lady bug jewelry for women.
What I'll never understand is why the lady bugs took off, but not the praying mantis. I could have really gone for a praying mantis tie!
Fetzer, Bonterra, Robert Mondavi and many others now promote organically grown grapes, but Lolonis and its lady bugs were first to place organic wines in the national spotlight.
Regarding the reviews to follow, many loyal readers will feel I have underscored the wines for quality...that the very thing I have marked them down for is why they would score them higher. For some there cannot be too much of a good thing...for me there can be...too much ripeness, intensity, alcohol, flavor.
Lolonis 1996 "Redwood Valley-Mendocino" Fume Blanc ($11) Classic varietal qualities, specifically grapefruit and overt but not unpleasant grassiness. Dry but not austere; very forward citrus fruit; super food companion. Match with swim-fishes or any white meats with savory seasoned sauces. Rating: 89/87
Lolonis 1996 "Redwood Valley" Chardonnay ($16) Toasty oak nose; apply flavors; dry but not austere. Slight awareness of alcohol in finish. Rating: 84/84
Lolonis 1993 "Mendocino Private Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) Ripe, really big and powerful, with flavors leaning to blackberry and black plum. Some earthy, smoky after-flavors. Rating: 86/84
Lolonis 1994 "Mendocino Private Reserve" Orpheus Petite Sirah ($16) Blended to 15 percent Valdiguie. Flavors are very ripe plum in this really, really big, bold, extractive red wine that must be matched to equally bold foods, like wild game, Cajun-blackened anything, serious barbecue. Rating: 86/84
Lolonis 1995 "Mendocino Private Reserve" Merlot ($22) Bigger that perhaps Merlot ought to be, or least than you might expect it to be. Really ripe, very intense black cherry flavors. You have been warned. Don't buy it unless you like your Merlots big and chewy. Rating: 89/84
Lolonis 1994 "Mendocino Private Reserve" Zinfandel ($19) Big ripe plum, some berry, even a little prune. Nicely oaked. The best of the reds. Rating: 92/88
Lolonis wines have good national marketing, though they tend to be limited to better bottle shops and restaurants. To track down nearest outlet contact national marketing office: Lolonis Cellars, 1904 Olympic Blvd #8A, Walnut Creek, CA 94596 (510) 938-8066.
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK