Visit California’s unsung wine country hero.
By Caroline Eubanks
California is dotted with wine regions, all of which boast picturesque rolling hills striped with vineyards. Some like Napa, Sonoma, and even the Russian River Valley seem to get all the attention. But Lodi? The San Joaquin Valley town is the hardest-working region in the state. In fact, you’ve likely been drinking Lodi wines for years without realizing it. There are over 85 wineries producing more than 450 labels, most of which grow grapes both for their own production as well as to sell to wineries throughout California and across the United States. Lodi grapes even make up a percentage of fruit used in several Napa- and Sonoma-labeled wines. Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay are the most common varietals found in Lodi, but lesser-known Spanish and French grapes can also be found.
Founded in 1906, Lodi, California is a year-round destination that’s ideal for oenophiles as a vacation with friends or a romantic getaway. Located 45 minutes from Sacramento and less than two hours from San Francisco, getting there is a pleasant drive.
What to Drink…
Wine is a key attraction in wine country, of course—and as a bonus for anyone seeking an adults-oriented getaway, wineries tend to lure more adult visitors than families. Cheers!
The Lodi AVA dates back to the 1850s when the first vines were planted. Thanks to its climate that compares to that of the Mediterranean and the loamy soils similar to those at Chateauneuf du Pape, Lodi is known as the Zinfandel Capital of the World. You’ll find well-known high-production brands like Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi as well as family-run labels like Hamlin Lane.
With dozens of wineries in Lodi, a great place to start your trip is at the Lodi Visitors’ Center where you can taste local wines plus pick up a map of all the nearby wineries. One glance at the map can be an eye opener: you may recognize winery names that you didn’t before realize were located in this region.
Acquiesce Winery is the area’s only winery devoted entirely to white wines. Its scenic tasting room offers the chance to try small batch whites and rosés inspired by the Southern Rhone region, including grenache blanc and viognier. For a taste of Spain, head to Bokisch Vineyards one of the few to focus on the styles of the Iberian peninsula. Don’t miss the tempranillo and albariño. Mettler Family Vineyards has been family run since 1899. Pinotage is the flagship varietal, a wine from South Africa that resembles a big and juicy pinot. Other wineries to try include Klinker Brick, Fields, Harney Lane, m2, and Michael David.
Downtown tasting rooms make it easy to visit multiple wineries without driving. Jeremy Wine Co. is a small tasting room set in a circa 1900 building. It crafts old vine zinfandels and albariños, but the chocolate port is most indulgent for anyone with a sweet tooth. Weibel Family, Lodi Wine Cellars, Riaza, and Estate Crush are a few other places to try.
In addition to wine, more adult beverage options are poured in downtown Lodi. Lodi Beer Company is located inside a stunning historic building and offers house-made brews like barrel-aged sours as well as elevated pub fare.
Scotto’s Wine and Cider opened as a downtown tasting room by Scotto Family Vineyards. It serves both wines and ciders, including one variety made with pinot grigio. Reclaimed wood and exposed brick lend the atmosphere a casual vibe; this place is a cozy spot for an afternoon drink.
Where to Eat…
Good wine warrants good food and options abound in Lodi.
Dine on Italian fare at Pietro’s Trattoria, named for the chef who studied in Italy before coming to work at the restaurant. Farm fresh ingredients are used and the pizza oven was sourced straight from the Motherland.
The A&W Root Beer company started in Lodi. A local entrepreneur mixed up the first root beer here in 1919. It was so successful that he opened another root beer stand in Sacramento and later a chain of drive-in restaurants. The brand is still the best-selling root beer in the world. This location has a small museum devoted to the history and still serves a menu of burgers and root beer floats.
The Dancing Fox has a little bit of everything, operating as a small winery, brewery, bakery, and restaurant. Indoor and outdoor seating includes antique furnishings. The menu is made up of sandwiches, wood-fired pizzas, and house-made sausages.
For casual American cuisine and daily happy hour specials, Rosewood Bar and Grill offers a seasonal menu of shared plates, wood-fired pizzas, and premium steaks. It was rated one of OpenTable’s top area restaurants for 2017.
What to Do…
Wine and food are key attractions, but there’s more to Lodi than drinking and eating.
If there’s one “must-do” in Lodi, it’s taking a picture of the arch downtown that features a golden bear on top. Known as the Mission Arch, the 1907 landmark is the most well-known structure in town. Once you’ve snapped a photo or two, take time to discover the murals on buildings that detail significant events in the area’s history. While wandering downtown Lodi, pop into any boutique shops that pique your interest; merchants carry a range of goods from clothing to art to antiques.
If you prefer to get more active and burn some of the calories you’ve consumed, Headwaters Kayak runs tours on Lodi Lake and the Mokelumne River, including nighttime paddles and a combined wine and kayaking tour. The company also offers stand-up paddle boarding yoga, which is great for beginners thanks to relatively calm water. The area is rich in wildlife, so you never know what you might see. Consumnes River Preserve and Isenberg Crane Reserve are reputed to be great places for birdwatching.
San Joaquin County Parks offer dozens of places to explore, but the Japanese Garden is a special local treasure. Members of the local Japanese community came together to raise money and volunteer to create the garden, bringing in an expert gardener from Japan, as well as cherry blossom trees and other plants.
To be prepared to recreate the flavors of Lodi back home, you might want to take a cooking class at Cheese Central.
Where to Stay…
Unlike the prices in California’s other wine regions, that often range from $200 to $400 per night, Lodi’s hotels cap out at around $250 per night. I checked into Wine and Roses, a resort that draws inspiration from its surroundings. The property’s name evokes appropriately romantic images for its garden rooms. It also pays homage to an important part of the local wine industry: Rose bushes stand at the ends of grapevine rows, ready to alert farmers of issues with the vines, much like a canary in a coal mine. The original home on the property dates back to 1902 and now serves as the restaurant with a few upstairs rooms. The lavish gardens offered a scenic overlook from my balcony room.
Cottages on Armstrong is a romantic, cozy property made up of three 1920s cottages. Guest cottages offer two bedrooms, full kitchens, and living spaces. Your stay includes a bottle of locally made wine. Enjoy a glass of wine on the porches and patios. This place is even pet friendly.
Bella Vino B&B has a similar atmosphere, set in a 1912 Craftsman bungalow. Each room is named for a different type of wine and is decorated with romantic crystal chandeliers and iron frame beds. Enjoy daily breakfast and afternoon wine and cheese receptions.
Further out from Lodi proper is The Inn at Locke House, a National Register-listed brick farmhouse-turned-bed and breakfast. It has four guest rooms as well as a one-of-a-kind suite in the water tower. Amenities include claw foot tubs and views of the San Joaquin delta.
– Photos courtesy Visit Lodi
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