That’s Lodi For You
“I want to see what happened in 1909, a link to our past, where our families all came from. A different era…I feel fortunate in carrying on the tradition.” Steve Millier, VP and Director of Winemaking at Ironstone Vineyards, made this statement surrounded by a group of other Lodi growers and winemakers. They all nod or speak up in agreement. Lodi is nothing if not for its past, the idea of family tradition. These men and women work the same vines their parents did, and their grandparents before them.
Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.
Lodi: Where Old is New
In winemaking, this is nothing new. Multi-generational family vineyards and wineries are more common than rare, in California and around the world. What’s interesting about Lodi is that some of the roles have changed. Family businesses that at one time singularly grew grapes to sell to big winemaking houses have now structured their own labels. Some of these labels are in partnership with other growers. New family lines are being drawn as local growers and winemakers establish relationships. Mike McCay of McCay Cellars says, “Things are changing and it’s a lot of fun.”
For wine lovers, Lodi is very exciting. Pulling into town gives a gold-rush feeling. Things have a dusty sort of look, but not in a disappointing way. It feels like The West out in Lodi, a place where the rules are still being made and tested. If someone wants to try things differently, then go ahead. As Randy Caparoso from the Lodi Winegrape Commission says, “That’s Lodi for you.”
Car enthusiasts gather on a tree lined street in downtown Lodi. Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.
Lodi is located between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains and has a Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool nights. Summer visitors don’t need to pack an umbrella; most of their average annual 17 inches of rainfall comes during winter months. Lodi is well-known for the ability to cultivate Zinfandel, which is grown widely. But the area is also a space of vast diversity, with growers finding success with Spanish, German, Southern Rhône, Portuguese and Italian varietals as well.
Bokisch Vineyards grows Spanish varietals. Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.
The Lodi American Vinicultural Area (AVA) was established in 1986, at which time wine grapes had been grown in the region for over 100 years. In fact, many of the vineyards of Lodi are quite old, earning the colloquial titles of ancient vines and old vines. Because the land is so precious to the local growers and winemakers, The Lodi Rules were crafted in 2005, to state with conviction the sustainable guidelines for practicing wine business in the following areas: business management, human resource management, ecosystem management, soil management, water management, and pest management.
Welcome to Lodi
Approximately 45 minutes by car from Sacramento International Airport, visitors must drive or get a lift out to wine country. Hampton Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express are both located in easy distance to downtown as well as wineries. For a more cozy experience, check into the Wine and Roses Hotel, Restaurant and Spa.
Stroll downtown and see the classic Mission Arch which is crowned with a 23-karat, gold-leaf-covered California state bear, built as the entrance of the first Lodi Grape Festival in 1907. Browse the shops on School Street, where walking with locals is welcoming and relaxed. Have dinner at Dancing Fox Winery; the tasting room in the back is a fun stop while waiting for a table in their decorative dining room or outside on the patio or street-side terrace. Downtown Lodi is home to several tasting rooms, including the fresh new space of Scotto Cellars, a 5th generation family wine company.
The dining room at Dancing Fox is welcoming and decorative. Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.
For an orientation, visit the Lodi Wines & Visitor Center where maps, education and advice are available as well as a tasting room to sample Lodi appellation wines during a guided experience. There are over 80 wineries and 110,000 acres of vineyards in Lodi, each one unique and meaningful.
Michael David Winery is known for their distinctive labels and widely distributed wines such as 7 Deadly Zins and Freakshow. Visit their tasting room, which offers an option to upgrade to a reserve and limited-release tasting. Weather permitting, outdoor patio tastings are offered. Schedule a spot at Harney Lane for their Grape to Glass Tour, which is a hands-on and informative experience. After the tour, enjoy a picnic on their beautiful property, which is their family home and working winery. Stop into d’Art Wines to be inspired by the tasting room, filled with owner/winemaker Dave Dart’s photography artwork. Save time for a glass of wine on the beautiful vineyard-view grounds.
The distinctive tanks at Michael David Winery are reminiscent of their bottles. Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.
For global varietals, schedule a visit to Bokisch Vineyards, which cultivate Spanish Iberian varietals. Bokisch welcomes cyclists who enjoy riding the country roads nearby. McCay Cellars, mentioned above, runs a cycling club for enthusiasts. Rides are generally once per month and end with a wine down of refreshments (including wine and cheese, of course). Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards creates wine based on Rhône varietals and tastings include a light food pairing designed to accentuate the wines. Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards have been growing grapes for five generations. In 2006, they opened their winery. Of Lodi, Aaron Lange says, “Lodi is at the heart of California grape growing and is synonymous with high quality and visionaries. Lodi is steeped in tradition and very authentic.”
A bottle of Bokisch Vineyards Garhacha looks tempting with vines as a backdrop. Photo courtesy of Jill Barth.
Lodi is a place that feels like a return, even for first-time visitors. The skill, dedication and creativity of the growers and winemakers are evident in their welcome, in the sincere effort to share their energy with visitors.
Jill writes about wine (travel + food too) as a freelancer in addition to her blog, L'occasion, which is the winner of the Best Overall Wine Blog and Best Writing on a wine blog. She is also a fiction writer. Find her on twitter and instagram @jillbarth.
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