St. Jorge Estate Winery

Lodi, California


Ten feet below the tasting room of the St. Jorge Estate Winery, Vern Vierra, owner of the winery, traces his fingers along aging port barrels.

Growing up on the property since he was eight years old, the dairy-turned-winery has seen decades of hard-work and Portuguese tradition that stems back to the early 1800s when his relatives came to America.

Though Vierra initially was invested in crafting beer, he met an offer one day that he couldn’t refuse. Years ago, he ventured into town to hunt down a few beer supplies when the store-keep offered him an expensive de-stemming crusher from Italy that another customer had ordered and left behind.

“I left the beer there and came home with a de-stemmer,” Vierra said, laughing excitedly inside his Portuguese-themed winery during our interview.

Everything vineyard related kicked up for Vierra in 2007, when he began growing his Tinta Oriz grapes, a Portuguese tempranillo, at the St. Jorge Winery vineyard.

Now, the winery offers ports, aged for up to five years in the cellar located underneath the winery in a temperature-controlled room, as well as experimental blends that Vierra concocts, including mixed ports of different percentages from different years. More than that, the winery offers Cabernet Sauvignon, Verdelho, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Zinfandel.

The vineyard and winery, what Vierra calls the wine garden, has been constructed to look like the yard of a house in Portugal where grape arbors sprawl on the back lawn. Currently, the garden can seat about 300 people.

For Vierra’s vineyard and winery, the details and painstakingly intricate process are what makes their wine boast quality. All grapes, Vierra calls them berries, are choice-picked by hand, leaving out anything less than perfect. While destemmers may be used, crusher rollers never are. The berries are then put into the tank for a 50-degree cold soak for up to five days, followed by a temperature raise and then a three week, first-fermentation process.

The production process, though slow-going, Vierra admits, is what makes their product so unique and successfully.

“We take our production, like our growing, very seriously,” Vierra said. “The more effort you put into growing, and the production of wine in the cellar, the better the wine is.”