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Local patrons make tasting rounds in Vines to Wines tour

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Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2002 10:00 pm

Lodians had a chance to sample the finest wines Lodi has to offer during the annual Vines to Wines weekend.

The event was created to give participants the opportunity to learn about the winemaking process while sipping the result. Local wineries wanted to prove that from grape to glass, there’s more to wine than meets the eye.

For $45 per person, participants are given a passport to the major wineries in Lodi. Each of the 10 wineries participating features a different aspect of what makes a fine wine.

A major change in this year’s Vines to Wines is the combination of more fine food with the wine selections, said Suzie Roget, administrator for the Lodi Appellation Winery Association. Each vineyard offered tasty gourmet eats made to match their best wines.

“The food and wine pairing was really beyond what they had in the past,” Roget said.

Some of the top vintners in Northern California were on hand to answer questions from the crowd and even give a bit of advice to budding wine makers.

Many wine wanderers began their journey at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center on West Turner Road. The center featured exhibits from every step in the process of turning grapes into wine — from how soils affect the taste and quality of the grapes to popping the cork on that bottle of chardonnay.

Mickey Tulley had traveled from Weston Ranch with her husband, Harold, and son, Mark, to visit friends in Lodi. While viewing the exhibits in the visitor center, she noted how complicated the winemaking process really is.

“I never knew so much went into doing this,” she said.

The Bear Creek Winery exhibit was housed in the visitor center and offered wine tasting straight from the barrel. The real attraction, however, was the winery's unique wine “reduction sauce” that was served in tiny chocolate shot glasses.

It takes four bottles of wine to make one bottle of this highly concentrated, syrupy substance, said Craig Rous, director of operations for the winery.

Nearby, the Talus Cellars winery set up a table displaying various synthetic corks. Foods from Cottage Bakery accompanied the winery's fruity-flavored wine.

Just a short drive from the visitor center, the Lucas Winery on Davis Road had a small, but impressive display of classic cars. The winery also invited a recycling and composting expert to teach about efficient living. Another popular attraction was a demonstration in the art of making wine barrels.

Traveling a little farther down Turner Road brought visitors to Jessie’s Grove, which featured fine food and tasting of its old vine zinfandels made from vines planted more than 100 years ago. The walls of the tasting room were adorned with historic photographs and artifacts commemorating Lodi’s rich wine history.

On DeVries Road, the Spenker winery, owned by Chuck and BettyAnn Spenker, paired its distinctive zinfandel with tri-tip steak and grilled mushrooms. The roaming crowd was treated to an exhibit about the fermentation process and the role of yeast in winemaking as well as a display of wine art photography. Bettyann Spenker displayed her handmade quilt, stitched to commemorate the winery’s 100th anniversary.

Phillips Vineyards let visitors wander the expansive grounds and taste each of the wines that comprise its 7 Deadly Zins wine. Visitors chatted with vintners like Franck Lambert, who recently arrived from France.

Lodi wines are really coming of age when compared to their French counterparts, Lambert said.

“I like them because they have a good aroma and the balance is nice,” he said. “For me, it is a good wine.”

Further up Highway 12, the Van Ruiten-Taylor Winery hosted experts in cork and wine-barrel making. The winery topped off the event with Italian-style food.

Oak Ridge Vineyards treated patrons to a displays of painted glassware. Locally grown asparagus was a crowed favorite. The winery premiered its new petite syrah at the event.

Peirano Estate Vineyards showed a large map displaying the topography of the Lodi area. A climate specialist was also on hand to explain how weather affects how different grapes grow.

No Vines to Wines trek would have been complete without a stop at the Woodbridge winery on Woodbridge Road. Visitors took the guided tram tours while they viewed the expansive wine-aging room. In addition to catering from Wine & Roses, Rhoda Stewart, author of “A Zinfandel Odyssey” was available to answer questions.

Though Sunday’s rain might have put a damper on the festivities, Roget said the two-day event was a huge success with nearly 800 participants.

“Wine sales were up, people were happy and lots of people were coming from out of town,” Roget said. “It’s been fantastic.”

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