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Sneak away to the Old Sugar Mill

Just 40 minutes outside of Lodi, between the Sacramento River and sprawling vineyards, there is a little-known ‘daycation,’ where visitors have discovered eight wineries within a partially renovated sugar mill. It’s historic, elegant and totally unique.

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Posted: Friday, February 17, 2012 9:25 am

The red bricks of the Old Sugar Mill glow between the curving river and seemingly endless vineyards on a recent rainy afternoon. The golden sunlight peaking through dark clouds hits the stories of window panes that wink to passersby. From the road, the historic mill seems lonely between fields of dry brush, a few blackberry bushes and acres of vineyards. There is an eeriness in seeing the old building, with its broken windows and scraps of concrete on the ground.

But it’s welcoming, too. As you drive down the road, you see it’s been renovated. And the mill — huge and industrious — is quite beautiful.

When you pull into the parking lot, you see the front of the building that you can’t see from the first view on River Road. Once an industrial mill, where men labored long hours and trains bustled in an out, the giant brick building is now home to eight wineries: Todd Taylor Wines, Three Wine Company, Merlo Family Vineyards, Rendez-vous Winery, Heringer Estates, Clarksburg Wine Company, Elevation Ten and the Carvalho Family Wines. Each have retail tasting rooms, and several even do wine production on the premises.

Vice president and general manager John Beckman says a ninth winery is expected to move in this spring.

When visitors arrive at the Old Sugar Mill for the first time, they are surprised by the venue’s unexpected uniqueness.

“People don’t expect to see what they see when they go out there ... this huge old industrial brick building that looks like it was dropped out of the sky,” Beckman said.

When he describes the location, many have a hard time visualizing the gem of a building that is less than five miles from Highway 5 and less than an hour from Lodi. Once they see it, though, he says the building and the property speak for themselves.

Though the mill still has its charm of old windows, original bricks and even the dilapidated factory, the center of the mill is now the atrium-like hub, where you can taste wines made with grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Amador, El Dorado, Lodi and beyond. 

Mary Tye, the mill’s marketing and events manager, says visitors will get a different experience in each winemaker’s tasting room.

“I think every (winery) does have its own feel, its own vibe,” she said. “Don’t underestimate the amount of variety and quality of wines we have here.”

From marbled floors to its glass ceiling, the main room encompasses the historic character as well as the new ambiance that is comfortable and classy, quaint and fun.

 The history

The Old Sugar Mill was originally the Amalgamated Sugar Company, a functioning mill in Utah that closed during the Great Depression. It was shipped piece by piece, brick by brick, to Clarksburg, where it was rebuilt and functioned as a mill that turned sugar beets into pounds of sugar until 1993.

Many Clarksburg residents who worked the mill still live in the area, Tye said. 

From 1993 until 2000, the mill was vacant until it was bought by John Carvalho Jr., and renovations began in 2003 to make it a wine and tourism destination. Carvalho also opened a tasting room, though he sold the mill to Koy Builders Inc., out of Pomona. Beckman is now the general manager and vice president of the Old Sugar Mill and president of the Clarksburg Wine Co.

Though part of the mill has been renovated, the skeletons of the factory remain. You can see the history just by wandering around the premises, and guided tours are available by appointment. 

Every building is in some phase of renovation, but the premier area is now the area where the tasting rooms are. It has glass pane ceilings and huge wooden doors that open to each of the wineries and barrel rooms. When it was a mill, the alleyway was not enclosed; it was a passageway for the train that stopped between the two buildings. 

A ‘daycation’ spot

With regular wine events — like last weekend’s Port and Chocolate events — the Old Sugar Mill has gained the status of “daycation” for those who visit and enjoy a day of wine tasting.

About 40 minutes from Lodi and 20 minutes from downtown Sacramento, the wine center attracts wine drinkers from the region. 

“Even with the economy down, we’re able to keep being a daycation spot,” said Tye, who adds that there’s nothing like the sunrises, sunsets, owls and foggy vineyards she sees. “You feel like you’re getting out of town.”

The Old Sugar Mill is now open seven days a week. Weekends are the busiest times for wine tasting, though still relaxing among the setting and in the brick tasting rooms. 

Visitors — the entire family and even the family dog — are welcome to visit and enjoy sandwiches from Baguettes, the sandwich and panini shop that opens a food kiosk during the weekends. 

Tye describes the Old Sugar Mill as a mall, but with wineries instead of shops.

“It’s like Disneyland for adults,” she said.

Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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