Wine seminars, olive oil tastings, a massive wine giveaway, barbecue suckling pig and winetasting drew several hundred people to the Grape Festival for the 31st annual Lodi Spring Wine Show on Friday evening. The two-day event features more than 40 wineries, food samples from local restaurants and a chance to mingle with area vintners.
Orange balloons, streamers and banners were draped throughout the Grape Festival pavilion as part of this year's theme of "Orange Crush." The crowds worked their way through the displays, sampling from local vineyards or testing their tastebuds at the "Wine 101" class. Official numbers for how many tickets have been sold won't be available until after the event, but one regular attendee believed that Friday's crowd was larger than in recent years.
"I've been coming for 11 years, and it seems like it keeps getting more crowded," said Lodi resident Jadi Pinkerton. "I liked when they had the crafts for sale instead of the olive oil tastings, but the olive oil is more reflective of our area."
This year marked the first that a section was devoted to olive oil tasting, but wine was the main attraction for Diane Atkins, of British Columbia. The Canadian resident is visiting her sister-in-law in Lodi and attended the wine show for the first time Friday.
"There is nothing better than Lodi zinfandel," she said. "I love its full-bodied texture and bold colors."
The show's door prize, a collection of more than 130 wines, caught the eye of Stockton native and University of California Santa Barbara student Ali Shepard. Tickets for the raffle of the "Ultimate Wine Basket" cost $20 and benefit the festival's Bucks for Books program. The college student said she was happy to donate to a charitable cause.
"They had me at 'scholarship,'" she said.
While the event traditionally draws 2,500 people over the two-day period and many enter the annual raffle, Shepard still let herself imagine what she would do with the wine if her ticket was drawn.
"I would have a wine party with my entire sorority," she said. "Actually, it would maybe be two parties."
The drawing for the raffle will be held Monday.
The "Wine 101" seminar is another popular exhibit for guests. Tasters are given samples of wine and guess what varietal they are. Pinkerton said she guessed wrong on some of the four samples she tasted but enjoyed the challenge.
"The zinfandel I tasted was more herbaceous than I expected a zin to be," she said.
Food is also in abundant supply at the show. Papa J-Fuller's BBQ in Stockton brought a 27-pound suckling pig to the show. The pig was marinated in lime, garlic and other spices before being barbecued for about three hours, said Louis Bynoe, chef for Papa J-Fuller's.
"The pig itself acts like a convection oven, so it cooks pretty quickly," he said.
The pork is shredded and served with savory rice. Bynoe said meat from the cheek is among his favorite on suckling pigs, but all of it is tender and rich.
"It's still moist from being on its mother's milk," he said.
Besides looking to wow the tastebuds of participants, wineries worked to create visually impressive displays.
Several booths — including those for E2 Family Winery, E&J Gallo Winery and Frog's Tooth Vineyard — featured San Francisco Giants themes because the team wears orange. Van Ruiten Winery opted for a prison motif with its booth, with employees wearing orange jumpsuits.
Employee Tony Fachner said it was the idea of tasting room manager Janice Lucas and took about a week to get all the props together.
The back wall of the booth featured a cot and pictures of bikini-clad women. Separating employees from the public were prison bars fashioned from PVC pipes spray-painted silver.
"Janice always comes up with really good ideas," Fachner said. "We are always trying to win the award for best booth."
The Spring Wine Show continues today from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Grape Festival Grounds. Tickets are $30.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com