Tucked away on the outskirts of Lodi is a place lost in time. The colonial-style home, built in 1864, during a time when our nation was at war with itself, still stands as a testament to the strength of its era.
And many of the magnificent oak trees once cared for by the original owner, William DeVries, a well-regarded historical figure in San Joaquin County, still live on, giving credence to the estate name of Oak Farm.
But oak trees and history are not all that occupy this historic estate. Among its 70 acres lies a grape vineyard and a new up-and-coming winery and tasting room run by a local farming and trucking family: the Panellas.
The Panella family purchased Oak Farm 11 years ago solely to farm it for its grapes, but soon discovered that the estate possessed potential for more.
From this vision emerged Oak Farm Vineyards, a blend of the modern and the ageless.
Graphic design and video production was a career path for Dan Panella. But his path changed when he discovered a hidden passion for grape growing and wine making.
Panella, whose family dabbled in farming walnuts and cherries, found that he had an affinity for farming, but he didn’t discover a passion for agriculture until his family purchased the Oak Farm property once owned by William DeVries.
“We didn’t have any vineyards until we bought this place. Once that happened I had something I could wrap my head around, and that I had a passion for,” said Panella.
Panella’s passion didn’t stop once the grapes were harvested. He also fell in love with the estate and the history that came with it, and wanted to find a way to share it with others.
“My family and I thought this was too pretty not to share with other people, and we decided to turn the property into a winery,” Panella said.
With Panella’s vision of a winery came a new vision for the grapes. In order to create a wine profile and style unique to Oak Farm Vineyards, Panella wanted to grow his own fruit. To accomplish this, he would have to make room for new Varietals. Since the grapes planted on the estate were all Zinfandel grapes, a clone of Zinfandel designed by Gallo to be used specifically for White Zinfandel wine, he would have to remove most of the vines.
“Right now we have pulled up most of the old vines. It looks a bit like the surface of the moon, but that will change in about a month when our new vines go in,” said Panella.
The new vines will compliment the estate’s picturesque grassy areas, expansive man-made lake, old-fashioned barn and tasting room.
But the vines are not all that will be new. Oak Farm Vineyards currently contracts with another location to produce their custom wines from the grapes that Oak Farm Vineyards purchases from other growers. These wines are used in the tasting room, and are available for purchase. In July of this year, Oak Farm Vineyards will be celebrating the opening of its new on-property winery and tasting room. This will make it easier to bring their unique wine experience to the public, and to share the winemaking process with visitors. Something that Panella looks forward to doing.
“They want to know more than just what the wine notes say. They want to know what it took to get to the glass. Basically, they want you to tell them a story. ” said Panella.
Chad Joseph has worked as a winemaker for the past 17 years, and now works alongside Panella. And while the new vines take root, he helps source fruit from local growers that will meet the qualifications for the style of wine found at Oak Farms Vineyards. He also oversees the custom wine processing.
Joseph and Panella agree that their favorite part of winemaking is the creativity and the process involved.
“It’s great to be able to create and craft something in your own style, and to have the opportunity to take exceptional fruit and let it speak for itself, but at the same time push it to fit the concept in my head and see it finished,” Panella said.
Through their continuous experimentation with blending flavors, creating new flavor combinations and fashioning new techniques, Panella and Joseph have created a standard wine list that stands out in Lodi.
“We try to do as many whites as we do reds. For Lodi this is rare,” Joseph said.
Oak Farm Vineyards tries to keep four white and four red wines on hand, but that does change. This list is just the beginning. Joseph and Panella believe that there is plenty of room for growth.
“The cool thing about being in Lodi is that it’s a new emerging wine region that has good history, but its future is still to be told,” added Joseph.
The Panella Family opens Oak Farm Vineyards up to the public, and Panella encourages people to bring a picnic basket, sit by the lake for a few hours, sample some wine and enjoy the serenity and the seasonal local wildlife. For visitors who like to be more interactive, Oak Farm Vineyards offers bass fishing in the pond in their catch and release program.
Panella also hopes to make Oak Farm Vineyards a destination. There is a large grassy area with a signature oak tree that is perfect for weddings. Some businesses have used the estate for weekday business retreats, and there is plenty of wide open space for family reunions.
Panella hopes guests take time to relax, learn about the estate’s history and experience Lodi in a slightly different way.
“It doesn’t feel like the rest of the area. It doesn’t feel like you are in Lodi. People kind of have a feeling that they have been transported back in time a little bit,” Panella stated. “With the colonial-style home you feel like you could be in the South, and the house was built in 1864. Abraham Lincoln was president at the time the house was built.”
Oak Farm Vineyards combines Lodi history with the amenities of today, and shows a different side to Lodi. And the Panella family invites the community to Oak Farm Vineyards to share in the experience of a different wine region.
“It’s nice when they come to visit, because we always think of California wines as Napa or Sonoma, and they are surprised,” said Panella. “And it’s another way to expose people to our wines and our estate who would otherwise not know that we are here.”