It’s true, sometimes you never know what treasures are in your own backyard until someone else starts talking about them. This is what I realized on a recent trip to the city Lodi, located just shy of 100 miles east of San Francisco, after living nearby for more than six years. Like so many, I was drawn to the status and reputation that both Napa and Sonoma have both become known for which easily caused me to overlook an area that is now one of my true favorites, Lodi Wine Country.
This past May, we featured the wine country of Livermore which is even closer to San Francisco and also the home of my absolute favorite vineyard, Wente. This was an introduction to some and a confirmation to others that smaller and less known wine countries in California are also producers of some of the best wines in the world. While Livermore has a history of leading the industry in chardonnays and petit sirahs, Lodi is praised for its reds, specifically its zinfandel and is considered the “zinfandel capital of the world,” producing more than 40 percent of the wine coming from California. You may not have heard of the area, but most likely you have enjoyed the grapes in the bottle of your favorite California wine.
Lodi is a small town that thrives on agriculture and has been a major winegrape growing region since the 1850s. With more than 750 growers and a Mediterranean climate, the region yields approximately 600,000 tons of grapes or 20 percent of California’s winegrape production which is more than Napa and Sonoma counties combined.
Until recently, this mature and humble wine country has stayed under the radar, but that has changed. In 2000, there were just eight wineries in the area and fast forward to 2012 and you’ll find more than 85 of which 50 have tasting rooms. When asked about the recent push for more visibility, Jeremy Rowe, visitor center manager and wine club director at Lodi’s Wine and Visitor Center, shares, “I am sure there are a lot of reasons, but one that kind of sticks out in my mind is that growers really want to showcase what they can do here and I don’t think they were getting the recognition they deserve.”
I had an opportunity to have a private tasting during our talk and have to say everything he poured was wonderful. His choices included:
2011 Albariño by Jeremy Wine & Co.
2011 Garnacha Blanca by Bokish Vineyards
2011 Torrontes by Kenneth Volk (grapes sourced from Lodi)
2011 Sangiovese by Troppa Bella
2010 Barbera by Macchia
2009 Paisley (Red Wine Blend) by McCay Cellars
The Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (2545 W. Turner Road, 209-365-0621) is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm and is the perfect way to start your adventure in the city. Rowe and his team greet visitors from around the world who have heard either first hand or through the grapevine that Lodi is one wine country not to pass by. “When people come here, they get a different feel. I think that the feeling they get is that it is warm, it’s ‘we want you to have something in your glass that is enjoyable.'”
Take Time to Smell the Roses
Stop in and do a little wine tasting before getting on the wine trail or grabbing a bite to eat. I had a reservation at Towne House Restaurant nestled on the property of Wine & Roses Hotel – Restaurant – Spa. I instantly fell in love with the quaintness of the property that was illuminated on a warm fall afternoon. I was supposed to just have about 45 minutes to take it all in before heading to my next stop but decided to take a little longer to seize the moment.
While dining, I enjoyed friendly service, freshly baked bread and a menu of edible delights of which I ordered the petite steak sandwich and mixed salad along with a cup of soup. It was the perfect filler to help me continue the rest of the wine tasting planned for the day.
After lunch, I took a few minutes to walk around the property. Instantly, a few plans came into my head and I said to myself, “our readers really need to be here to see and enjoy this.” A tented area perfect for any occasion celebrations, a wedding garden for exchanging nuptials and rooms that allowed for relaxation and self-pampering made me feel as if I was in Napa or Sonoma. The parrots nearby were also a perfect addition to the scenery as they blended in naturally.
Next, a stroll through the vineyard across from the Wine and Visitor Center that showcases a fraction of the varietals grown in the area was a great way to wrap up my visit here. It was nice to see the grapes up close and of course, they had one of my favorites, viognier.
Tasting hours for the wineries are between 10 am – 5 pm and with so many to visit, it is recommended to come up and spend the weekend and book a room at Wine & Roses or another property nearby. Even then you won’t be able to get to them all which means multiple trips will be required. A few timing suggestions include February for the annual Wine & Chocolate Weekend, March for the Lodi Spring Wine Show, and May for the ultra-popular Zinfest.
Because it was just a short trip up and back to Oakland for me, I just had an opportunity to visit two wineries, but they were two that I clearly remembered from the recent Lodi Wine at Treasure Island event at the beginning of October. LangeTwins and Klicker Brick not only produced exceptional wines, but have a long history in the area, helping to put Lodi on the map of California wine countries.
Pride and Passion – LangeTwins
With a little navigation assistance from Randy Lange, I finally pulled in and was greeted by his wife Charlene. LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards (1525 East Jahant Road, Acampo, 209-334-9780) was started by brothers Randy and Brad whose family started growing watermelons n the 1800s and then branched off to winegrape growing by 1916. Today, the brothers enjoy a family business that includes the children (five between both of them) who are being pruned to keep the family legacy going. Their winery was built in 2006 with a beautiful tasting room opening its doors soon for regular tastings.
Together, Randy and Charlene were truly enjoyable to visit with. Charlene poured as Randy shared more of the family history and future of the family business. My afternoon tastings at LangeTwins included a chardonnay, viognier and their latest red blend from their label Caricature. The pride and passion that goes into each bottle were evident upon my first sip. “Wine is a beverage and people need to be reminded that wine is an accompaniment to your meal; it increases the enjoyment,” Randy shares in between glasses. It is clear that the wines are produced to be enjoyed daily with one’s meal versus just sitting in a wine rack collecting dust. “I think it is very important that people drink what you like – throw out the rules of pairing and experiment. There are so many great wines to be found.”
Big, Bold Zins – Klinker Brick
Few laughs later, I had to say my farewells to head over to Klinker Brick (15887 North Alpine Road, Lodi, 209-224-5156) owned by Steven Felten. This winery currently only produces hearty reds and is a force to be reckoned with regardless of its small size. Like the Langes, Felton’s family has been growing wine grapes for generations and it was a natural progression to go from growing and selling them to making and putting their own name on a bottle.
As we enjoyed a glass of syrah, Felten shares, “In 2000, we got the bright idea to start our own brand and once we found the right person [sales] it just took right off.” Klinker Brick makes three zinfandels, a syrah (named after his daughter), a blend (cabernet sauvignon, petit sirah and zinfandel) a rosé and a sangiovese (for wine club members only). Future vintages will include an albariño which will be their first white.
Also a family affair, Felten’s daughter, Farrah, has joined the team, making her the sixth generation to get into the business. Winning award after award, Felton and his daughter work closely with winemaker Joseph Smith, a native of Belize, to keep the red wine powerhouse going.
Their tasting room (open from 11 am – 5 pm, Thursday – Monday) has a very cozy feeling that is perfect for down to earth conversations about wine without having to know the big words that may or may not represent your wine IQ. “Lodi is what Napa was 35 years ago. It’s nice here and the people who are coming here say ‘we love Lodi' and that everyone is friendly. We may not have the Taj Mahals and the castles and everything else, but most like to think we are pretty good people and can relate to most people.”
In just a few given hours, I don’t know if I could even say I scratched the surface of what this wine country has to offer which gives me at least 48 more reasons to visit again.
To a complete listing of wineries and events, visit www.lodiwine.com. You can also call the Wine & Visitor Center to receive a wine map and guide so that you can plot your adventure before you arrive.