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Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 10:00 pm | Updated: 11:04 am, Sun Jul 4, 2010.

A tour of the Lodi wine region offers plenty of attractions for both the novice and expert wine taster.

Experts will enjoy the wide variety of wines being produced in the Lodi appellation as well as the ever-improving quality. Those just beginning to appreciate wine can enjoy the multitude of opportunities to learn more about wine by chatting with friendly and accessible winemakers in a casual, fun atmosphere.

Lodi's reputation as a fine wine destination is still maturing but the area has been a home to winegrapes for decades.

Many of the area's farmers are part of families that have been working the land for generations. In decades past, the most popular varietals were table grapes, which included the Tokay Flame grapes.

The two local high schools are Tokay High School and Lodi High, whose mascot is the Flames.

Farmers found a profitable market for Tokay Flames as table grapes, shipping their product throughout the nation. In the 1950s and '60s Lodi growers had nearly 40,000 acres of Tokay grapes.

That market suffered after consumers began to favor seedless grapes and Southern California growers developed a strain of seedless Tokays.

Currently there are just a few hundred acres of Tokays scattered around the region.

One varietal that has stood the test of time and has been the foundation of Lodi's reputation as a place for fine wine is Zinfandel.

  • The Lodi Wine Region is located 100 miles east of San Francisco near the Delta, south of Sacramento and west of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Lodi has been a major winegrape growing region since the 1850's. Today, the area has more than 75,000 acres of winegrapes, farmed by over 750 growers.
  • Lodi leads all other California wine districts in the production of the top five premium wine varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.
  • The region enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Average annual rainfall is 17" (42.50 cm). Deep, sandy clay loam soils predominate.
  • The region's annual yield of approximately 600,000 tons of grapes is valued at over $300 million, and comprises 18 percent of California's total winegrape production - more than Napa and Sonoma Counties combined.
  • The "Lodi" appellation was approved by the federal government in 1986.
  • In 1991 local growers voted to fund the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. With its $1,000,000 annual budget, the commission conducts programs in marketing, grower education and viticultural research. The Commission has also launched the industry's only district-wide Integrated pest management program to reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides used in winegrape production. In addition the commission recently opened the "Discover Lodi Wine and Visitor Center" - a "must see" experience for anyone interested in grapes or wine.
  • There are five major wineries in the area - Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Turner Road Vintners, Sutter Home Winery, Bear Creek Winery, and Oak Ridge Vineyards. However, more than 60 leading California wineries buy grapes from the region including E&J Gallo, Glen Ellen, Fetzer, Delicato, Napa Ridge, Ravenswood, Kenwood Vineyards and Beringer.
  • Smaller "boutique" wineries are becoming well-established - among them are Lucas Winery, Peirano Estates, St. Amant, Spenker Vineyards, Jessie's Grove, Michael and David Vineyards, VanRuiten-Taylor, Olde Lockeford Winery, and Century Oak Winery.

    Source: Lodi-Woodbridge WInegrape Commission, http://www.lodiwine.com.

This grape does well with plenty of sunshine and heat and so it thrives during Lodi's summers. Those same summers give Lodi Zins a zesty, fruit-forward taste with long and luxurious finishes.

Old Vine Zinfandels are usually considered to be older than 30 years, although many wineries boast vines far older than that; some dating back to the 1800s.

Jessie's Grove Winery features a Zinfandel blend made with wines from vines 63- to 119-years-old. These ancient vines require meticulous upkeep and yield low quantities of exceptional fruit.

Jessie's Grove Winery is located on West Turner Road and features a museum showcasing the property's history. The winery's Earth Zin and Fire Zinfandel is a great example of Lodi Zin.

The vines ages are remarkable in that they survived for so long and also through the Prohibition era. Lodi growers were able to maintain their vineyards through the "dry" '30s by shipping their grapes on refrigerated boxcars throughout the country. These grapes often came with written warnings on "how not to turn these grapes into wine."

During the 1950s, growers continued to build the region's reputation by investing in improving their product.

Although Napa took the spotlight in the '80s and '90s, many wines produced in Napa County were made using Lodi grapes. The region's abundance of quality winegrapes was almost a double-edged sword as the region became known for quantity rather than quality.

That began to change in the late '80s and '90s as the number of Lodi wineries exploded and the wines began winning awards and garnering good press. Much of this publicity came with a greater appreciation of Lodi's distinct Old Vine Zinfandel.

Today, many in the wine world no longer consider Lodi an emerging wine region but one that has taken its place alongside Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast appellations.

The visiting wine enthusiast will discover that while Lodi may equal other regions in quality it does not in terms of wine "snobbery" or pretentiousness. Here, the taster will often find the winemaker pouring his or her wines at the tasting bar and most tastings are usually free.

Many of Lodi's winegrape growing families have entered the market looking for a better return on their investment into the soil.

Tom Hoffman and his wife Carmela opened Heritage Oak Winery this year on land his family has farmed for five generations.

The winery produces a Zinfandel, Sauvingon Blanc and Vino Tinto, a blend of Zin, Syrah and Petite Sirah. Located in Acampo the winery also features a hiking trail that leads to a picnic area on the banks of the Mokelumne River.

Another family that entered the wine business after making its name in farming is the Mettlers. The winery's Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah have earned much acclaim. The '03 Petite Sirah received a 91 score from the prominent wine critic Robert Parker.

While Zin will likely always be king, some Lodi wineries have branched out into other varietals.

Bokish Winery specializes in Spanish varietals like the red Tempranillo and the white Albarino. Mokelumne Glen Winery offers German wines like the red Dornfelder and white Kerner.

Ripken Vineyards and Winery, Inc. located on West Sargent Road outside of Lodi has an eclectic collection of wines produced at the "barnista" winery. Richard Ripken and his wife Nancy Ripken's wines include the Rhonealicious, a white blend of Viognier and Roussane, and a '03 Alicant Bouschet. A specialty of the winery is its Vintage Port made with 55 percent Souzao grapes and 45 percent Touriga.

Many of Lodi's large-scale wineries also offer the chance to taste their quality products.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi has long been a backbone operation of Lodi's wine industry. The large winery is located on East Woodbridge Road in Acampo and offers tours and tastings daily. Visitors to Woodbridge by Mondavi can sample a variety of wines from Zinfandel to Shiraz as well as the winery's Select Vineyard Series.

A tour of Lodi's wine country can also be a one-stop trip with a visit to the Vino Piazza. Located in the small town of Lockeford, just minutes outside the city of Lodi, Vino Piazza is a collection of small wineries all housed in a sprawling complex that once was the Lockeford Winery.

Visitors can wander the hallways to discover tasting rooms tucked away in old concrete wine fermenters that offer a cool respite from hot summer days.

Old Lockeford Winery offers the unique opportunity for wine tasters to sample wines while taking in a collection of fossils and gems.

Another one-stop option is the cellardoor tasting room on School Street in Downtown Lodi. This relaxed wine bar offers tasting flights, glasses of wine or bottles and often has live music on the weekends.

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