Last year you read in this column about how Lodi’s Michael David Winery sent some of its grape juice up to the International Space Station as part of a scientific experiment. The juice came back to earth a couple months later after fermenting in space (the first in history). The grape juice was shot into space in plastic IV bags. An identical experiment was being conducted at the same time here on earth. However, the bags inexplicably developed gas and sprung a leak in space, says winemaker and project manager Jeff Farthing. So, the experiment was cut short, but not before the juice had fermented. Theirs was one of hundreds of unrelated experiments being conducted at the space station. The main purpose of the test was to give scientists a better understanding of how to grow food in space. Much has happened since last year. The winemakers at Michael David had the space juice analyzed, and they discovered some unique microbes (yeast).

Those new bugs are being kept in a “bio bank,” according to Farthing. But before they were deposited, some of them were used to make a small experimental batch of wine. And, it was good, says Farthing. However, he and his colleagues are looking to return to space to finish what they started. He says they are working on a project plan that must first be approved by NASA before it gets on the launching pad. Farthing also says they are going to make a much larger batch of “space wine” this year, using the yeast they discovered and grapes from Mike Phillips’ Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. If it turns out, it might be offered for sale to the public, he says. But like every good wine, it won’t be released before it’s time, which could be in a couple years, after it ages.

THEN IT HAPPENED: Where there’s thunder, there’s lightening. And it looks like lightening can strike twice. Lodi’s Clare Reynolds posts on her social media page that she hit it big at Thunder Valley Casino a week ago, winning $12,191 on the “Lightening” slot machine. It was only last year that her husband Fred brought home his own jackpot, winning $18,000 at Harrah’s in Ione. And a couple years before that Clare says she bagged a $5,000 win at Harrah’s. Mr. and Mrs. Lucky, for sure.

COMING SOON: If you like Squeeze Burgers, made with their famous cheese skirt, then you’ll be happy to know they are opening a place next to IDOL Brewing on Sacramento Street. They are taking over the space vacated by McKay Winery. Katie Hausauer and husband Brandon have operated the Squeeze Burger truck for the past four years, which is usually parked in the Pet Supplies Plus parking lot every noontime at Stockton and Kettleman. However, both of them have worked at the Squeeze Burger in Galt for 15-plus years. They are hoping their new location will be open for business by mid-November.

NEW ARRIVALS: The Lodi Police Department welcomed five new officers to their squad last week. They are Dustin Vang, Jena Blasingame, Cesar Duron, Jadyn Lopez and Austin Escobar, all of whom graduated from the Delta College Police Academy the same day they were hired by LPD. All were immediately sworn in and issued their badges. Each must successfully complete field training before being unleashed for solo patrol. The department has experienced significant staff shortages the last few months, with some officers being moved from special duty assignments into regular patrol, just to fill shifts.

LIGHTS OUT: Well, it was all a big mistake. As we all now know, the “shed load” order Lodi received last week from the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) was issued in error. The order was immediately obeyed by city officials. The result was 1,300 customers sitting in the dark with no air conditioning and outside temps north of 110. Of course, mistakes happen, but some Lodi residents are calling for someone’s head to be on a stake; someone should pay. Then, the next evening even more customers were plunged into darkness after an equipment failure cut the city’s power supply by about a quarter. The problem was a city relay blew in the extreme heat and high demand, not an uncommon occurrence. City utility officials questioned the size of curtailment, but PG&E threatened to completely shut down the city if their demand was not met. City crews were able to replace the relay by about 9 p.m. that night, but it took PG&E until 5 the following morning to inspect and approve the repairs, according to City Manager Steve Schwabauer.

LIGHTS ON: Perhaps the last time Lodi was ordered to curtail power consumption and execute rolling blackouts was in 2001. However, then-Lodi Electric Utility Director Alan Vallow refused to go along with the program. He rejected PG&E's demands to reduce consumption by 1.2 megawatts. In effect, Vallow told PG&E to cut its own power. His rationale was that the city of Lodi had secured more than enough power to supply its customers, and he wasn’t going to turn the lights off to save PG&E’s hide. It was later reported that PG&E fell short of covering its load because it couldn’t pay the expensive power bills. Vallow’s actions put Lodi in the spotlight, so to speak. Other Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) member agencies reportedly signed a letter saying shortages caused by PG&E’s inability to pay electricity generators wasn’t good enough reason to force rolling blackouts.

PEAK PERFORMANCE: Most people drive by it but don’t know what it is or does. It’s the Hughes “peaking” power station on Turner Road, across from the old General Mills site. It was built as a standby power generator to be used during peak usage periods. It’s expensive to run, so it’s only fired up on special occasions. Last Wednesday evening was one of those occasions. City officials say it brought the city back up to 90 percent capacity when PG&E throttled the city back to 65 percent, following an equipment failure. The peaking plant was named after the late former mayor and councilman Richard Hughes, who died of a heart attack in July of 1984 at age 46. Hughes was instrumental in the creation of the NCPA, to which the city belongs, in the 1970s, a move that reduced the city’s reliance on PG&E for its power.

FLASHBACK: It was 25 years ago next month that Sell-Rite Market on Lockeford Street in the Lakewood Mall announced it was closing. Their last day of business was Oct. 15, 1997. The locally-owned grocery store was built when the mall was constructed, in the mid-sixties. Sell-Rite was originally a partnership including Roy Miura, Ted and Henry Yamada, and Eddie Wakimoto. Their first store was built on the corner of Lodi Avenue and Church, where McDonald’s is now. Their second store in Lakewood Mall followed a few years later. “We were a landmark,” said the late Bill Furuoka, who was son-in-law to Miura and partner in the store when it closed.

“The day that big Sell-Rite sign goes down will be a sad day,” he said. The store was able to compete with larger grocery stores because they offered something larger groceries couldn’t: personal service. Sell-Rite took grocery orders over the phone and did home deliveries for the elderly and disabled. They even allowed shoppers to buy on account. The store also bought much of its produce from local growers, all meticulously washed and trimmed. Store manager Scott Davis knew his customers by name and was never too busy to share a joke with them. The meat department was a separate business called George’s Quality Meats, owned and operated by George Aberle and son Bob. When the doors closed forever that October day, it brought to an end the small-town influence that mom and pop groceries had on Lodi. The Sell-Rite building was demolished and replaced by a larger grocery store called Landucci’s Market. Unfortunately, the store folded after a few years. Earlier that year locally owned Lodi Supermarket on Cherokee and Kettleman was to be torn down to make way for the Pep Boys automotive store.


Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at