The gnarled vines catch your eye first thing. Thick and dark, unencumbered by supportive wires, these stumpy woods march symmetrically through Lodi’s springtime green meadows, showing their age.
Some of these vines are more than 100 years old, testament to Lodi’s status as a wine region going back to the late 1800s. In the mid-1980s, it earned designation as a wine appellation. The area’s more recent marketing of itself as a destination, particularly for Zinfandel tasters, has spurred the interest of Sacramento wine enthusiasts who seek a shorter drive and a less-expensive outing than they would get by traveling to the Napa Valley. Many Lodi tasting rooms charge no fee or very low fees ($3–$5), and the winemakers themselves often staff the counter, educating visitors as they sip. On your tasting tour, unless the Lodi jail is your preferred destination, make sure to designate a driver or rent a limo.
Here are a few of our favorite spots:
Lodi Wine & Visitor Center
The logical place to start, the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center stocks maps, brochures and knowledgeable folks to help visitors devise the perfect wine-tasting excursion. Curious about how wine is made? Can’t remember if you prefer Zinfandel or Cab? Explore the exhibits. Wander among the grapevines in the model vineyard; note how they grow and maybe you’ll be able to recognize them later as you drive by fields full of vines. Jump-start your tour with a taste or two from the bar and be on your way. (2545 W. Turner Road; lodiwine.com)
When owner Bob Hartzell sits down in the tasting room and begins to play the organ, visitors suddenly realize that the walls have pipes. The finned windows breathe and the music roars through, out the doors to the gorgeous gardens and patio. Grab a seat outdoors with a taste of Harmony Wynelands’ wine or Champagne and enjoy the tunes. (9291 E. Harney Lane; harmonywynelands.com)
Stop in at the tasting room alongside the Phillips family’s Farm Cafe to meet the folks who make the funny-named wines: 7 Deadly Zins, 6th Sense Syrah, 7 Heavenly Chards. Taste crispy whites and lip-staining reds, stay for lunch at the cafe (tri-tip sandwiches, anyone?), then venture out back to talk to the animals: chickens, geese, rabbits and some extremely friendly goats who are hot to eat your shirt. (4580 W. Highway 12; michaeldavidwinery.com)
It’s worth the short diversion off Highway 12 to see this restored 1940s distillery. Opened to great hopes in 2002, Vino Piazza—“wine plaza” in Italian—filed bankruptcy about a year ago, but as of this writing, the place was packing them in on the weekends. During events, the courtyard fills with people dancing, lubed up with generous pours from the on-site tasting rooms: Boitano, The Coliseum, Olde Lockeford, Pasos, Stama and Watts. (12470 Locke Road, Lockeford)
In Italian, macchia means “the spot,” and on weekends, this spot teems with wine tasters drawn to the pretty grounds, homey tasting room and award-winning wines. Zins dominate the lineup, many named with appropriate adjectives: Outrageous, Voluptuous, Serious, Serendipitous, Flirtatious. Macchia’s a fun winery to visit on your way into Lodi, or on your way out. (7099 E. Peltier Road; macchiawines.com)
Vino Con Brio
The pond beneath the weeping willow beckons visitors to sit back and enjoy the view. Do a little tasting—no Chardonnay, Merlot or Cab here, but plenty of Zin and something called Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault). Trivia: Vino Con Brio is the largest producer of Pinotage outside South Africa, where it’s most commonly created. Whatever you do, do not leave without purchasing some of Vino Con Brio’s Late Harvest Zinfandel truffles. (7889 E. Harney Lane; vinoconbrio.com)
Van Ruiten Family Winery
With a pretty patio and a vine-covered tasting room, Van Ruiten makes a pleasant stop as you make your way along Highway 12. Be sure to try the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel—not just because The Wall Street Journal voted it Best Zin in America last year, but because it’s really good. When the barrel room out back gets opened up for special events, it’s the best-smelling place in the world: like a good red-wine cork. (340 W. Highway 12; vrwinery.com)
Harney Lane Winery
Pull in here on a warm spring day and you’ll discover the perfect spot for sipping some of Harney Lane’s light, fruity Albarino: under the giant trees that shade the tables and meandering paths out back. If the day is cool, sink into an Adirondack chair made of barrel staves and belly up to the crackling outdoor fire pit with a glass of stiff Old Vine Zin. (9010 E. Harney Lane; harneylane.com)
Jessie’s Grove Winery
Established as a wheat farm in the 1860s, Jessie’s Grove invites visitors to taste reds and whites in its dark tasting room—housed in a building from the 1870s—and explore its barn and museum. Stand back from the vicious blades on the old, rusty plows and tillers, and the teeth on the horses behind the fence. Watch for Tortie, the African spurred tortoise who suns himself (herself?) by the chicken coop. (1973 W. Turner Road; jgwinery.com)
A pretty brick tasting room anchoring a corner of downtown Woodbridge, a tiny community edging close to Lodi’s Turner Road, Woodbridge Uncorked pours wines from six local wineries: Bixler, Lobo Loco, Grady, Akin Estates, Maley Brothers and Weibel. Pop in for happy hour (5–7 p.m.) after a Saturday of tasting, and stick around to listen to live music; some of the area’s best bands play here. (18911 Lower Sacramento Road; woodbridgeuncorked.com)
This monstrous place, also on the outskirts of town, was established by Robert Mondavi in 1979 and pours tastes of its popular wines, plus some limited-production ones (Barbera, Muscat and Portocinco, for example). The on-site deli case might motivate tasters to purchase lunch fixings and make good use of the picnic grounds. Better yet, plan ahead and bring your own basketful of goodies, including some pound cake to drizzle with the chocolate port raspberry sauce Woodbridge sells. Take a free tour—you’ll learn a thing or two about winemaking and stand agape at the sheer size of the bottling line. (5950 E. Woodbridge Road, Acampo; woodbridgewines.com)
Zinfest—A three-day extravaganza next month that includes dinner with the vintners, a daylong wine-tasting and food-pairing gathering at Lodi Lake, and a final day of winery touring, Zinfest happens May 14–16. Some 50 wineries participate, and the day at the lake promises live music, cooking and wine seminars, and plenty of opportunities to purchase wine and related gift items, such as wine barrel furniture, vineyard photographs and wine totes. Visit zinfest.com for ticket information.
Don’t Drink on an Empty Stomach
Stop for lunch or dinner at one of Lodi’s restaurants. Several light up the landscape with memorable fare.
At Revolucion 1910, a Mexican restaurant next to the Raley’s on Lower Sacramento Road, don’t expect to sit down to complimentary chips and salsa. Instead, pinto beans and soft corn tortillas come to the table, piping hot and a meal in themselves—especially during weekend brunch, when breakfast potatoes accompany them. Revolucion 1910’s menu piques taste buds that bend toward the unusual: No combination plates here, but you’ll find things like cochinita pibil (roasted pork with banana leaves), mole poblano (chicken mole), slow-cooked duck, pumpkin seed-crusted ahi served with watermelon and asparagus, and some of the best carnitas we’ve had in a while.
A longtime Lodi favorite, Pietro’s Italian restaurant on Highway 12 lures repeat visitors for a number of reasons, but primarily: the bread. Soft, housemade, served with garlic butter, it goes fast. Pietro’s specializes in classic Italian fare, so the menu brims with hand-tossed pizzas, housemade ravioli (try the cheese ravioli with meat sauce, laced with Italian sausage) and gnocchi, broiled chicken, and meat dishes including veal served four ways. For a light lunch (Tuesday through Friday; on Saturdays, Pietro’s only is open for dinner and is closed Sundays and Mondays), go for Murdaca’s minestrone soup and a fresh green salad—with bread, of course.
In downtown Lodi, choose from several restaurants, including Rosewood Bar & Grill, Lodi Feed & Fuel, School Street Bistro, Moo Moo’s Burger Barn, Angelo’s and Lodi Beer Company. One to seek out: Crush Kitchen & Bar, a lovely red-and-wood restaurant located in back of a little enclave of shops and galleries on School Street. Try the edamame hummus plate, a beet salad and the eggplant Parmesan for a vegetarian lunch treat.
Stay for a Sleepover
On the grounds of Vino Con Brio winery, Amorosa Inn & Gardens overlooks the property’s pond. Four rooms are available—splurge on The Master Suite ($210 a night) to sleep in a king-size canopy bed and enjoy a private patio. In the bathroom: a steam shower. Whether you reserve this room or one of the others ($169), plan to wake up to a full breakfast and wind down your day with wine in the evening.
Wine & Roses is the standout accommodations option in Lodi, adjacent to the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and expanded to include fine dining and spa services. It would be easy to bed down here for the weekend and never leave. With 87 rooms and suites spread out among the historic inn, the garden and the spa, the property has come a long way since its days as a few-room country inn. Rates begin at $169 for a room in the historic house and top out at $450 for a night in the luxurious Grand Spa Suite.
Out Highway 12 to Lockeford, you’ll discover The Inn at Locke House, a B&B built as a family home in 1865 that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Reserve the Water Tower Suite, a private, three-level suite with its own entrance. Take the spiral staircase to the tower’s top and relax with a stack of magazines. Or sink into the clawfoot tub and soak your weary bones. However you choose to unwind, don’t forget to explore the common areas, where you’ll find historic books, a fireplace, piano and pump organ and several outdoor activities. Lawn bowling, anyone?