BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL Wine is poured at LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards in Acampo during the Wine & Chocolate weekend at participating wineries Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lodi Wine and Chocolate Fest drew hundreds of visitors to dozens of wineries in the Lodi appellation.

Typically held the weekend before Valentine’s Day, there was no festival this past February. Rather, the Lodi Winegrape Commission has announced on its website the festival will be back May 15 and 16. But with restrictions and guidelines from the California Department of Public Health in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this year’s Wine and Chocolate Fest will look and feel a little bit different.

“The festival has historically been one of the most popular events for visitors,” Lodi Winegrape Commission President Stuart Spencer said. “Guests really seem to love coming to Lodi for the wine and the chocolate. It is going to be a little bit of a different event with COVID restrictions in place, but we’re excited to be able to hold it.”

To ensure the safety of guests and winery personnel, the 2021 festival will implement a reservation-only format that will require visitors to pre-select tasting locations or wineries at the time of online ticket purchase at lodiwineandchocolate.com.

Reservation times will be consistent among all participating wineries, such as 11 a.m., 12:45 p.m. or 2:30 p.m., and wineries will be allowed to limit the number of guests they can accommodate during each reservation time.

During past festivals, guests have been known to arrive in large groups via limousine or bus. Due to this year’s format, buses will not be allowed, and groups will be limited to six people at all wineries.

Groups with more than six guests will be turned away.

Tickets are $65 for both days, and includes a commemorative wine glass guests can take with them to each winery.

While the festival has featured more than 40 wineries in years past, this year there will only be 20 locations for guests to sample wine and treats.

Estate Crush will once again offer up its traditional festival fare of grilled tri-tip with port reduction, as will Macchia, providing its famous meatballs in homemade chocolate habanero Zin port-reduction sauce.

Macchia will also have live music both days, as well as a photobooth Sunday.

Live music will also be performed at Barsetti Vineyards, Goodmills Family Winery, McCay Cellars, Oak Farm Vineyards and Stama Winery.

Oak Farm Vineyards will have artisan vendors oh-hand, as will Barsetti Vineyards, which will also offer non-alcoholic slushies as well.

Heritage Oak Winery will offer chocolate brownies paired with Solera dessert wine; Lodi Vintners will pair wines with “chocolate junk food”; M2 will have triple chocolate decadence in a parfait, and chocolate bark from Colmar’s Kitchen; Peltier will have samplings from Smitty’s Incredible Candy; Sorelle Winery will offer chocolate covered strawberries and wine slushies; and Dancing Fox will have its brick oven pizza, fudge brownies and cherry port ice cream, as well as merchandise discounts.

One lucky guest will also find a golden ticket on their chocolate treat and win a 2022 Lodi Row x Row Festival Weekend Getaway.

Formally known as ZinFest, the Row x Row typically takes place in mid-May at Lodi Lake. This year’s event will be replaced by the Wine and Chocolate Festival, as Spencer said guidelines and restrictions would not allow the commission to host 3,000 guests this year.

He’s hoping to hold Row x Row next year, depending on the festival landscape and any restrictions that may be in place.

For more information about the Wine and Chocolate Festival, visit lodiwineandchocolate.com.

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