It’s not Napa, Amador or El Dorado, yet has become just about as sexy. As a wine tasting destination, Lodi is close to home yet scenically rural, and its fees are nominal—often waived with a bottle purchase—or nonexistent. Unless you venture down for one of the big events such as February’s Wine & Chocolate or May’s ZinFest, crowds are minimal and you’ll have no trouble bellying up to the tasting bar for a chat with well-informed pourers or, often, the winemakers themselves.
Lodi’s wine legacy, which dates back to the 1800s, has experienced several booms throughout California history for its Tokays, Zinfandels and dessert wines. But it really got a nudge in the mid-1980s when the area was designated a wine appellation and a marketing plan was put in place. Today, some 80 wineries produce Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon here. But the one varietal that’s received lots of notoriety in Lodi is Zinfandel—particularly Old Vine Zinfandel, made from grapes off vines that are older than 30 years. Indeed, some of Lodi’s old vines date back to the 1800s. These gnarled tree-trunkish-looking vines, majestic in their own raspy way, grace fields and corners throughout the area.
The trip to Lodi from Sacramento takes about 30 minutes, and anyone with good sense will take a designated driver on any wine-tasting tour. These country roads are fickle and so is Old Vine Zin. Keep in mind that once you’re here, it might be a good idea to taste on one side of Highway 99 or the other, or one side of central Lodi than the other. However you break it up, here are a handful of wineries worth a stop while you’re in the vicinity.
East Side of Highway 99
Woodbridge Winery — Start on the outskirts of town with this behemoth, established by Robert Mondavi in 1979. Take the tour—one of the best around, it will enhance your wine knowledge and add layers to your tasting experiences the rest of the day. Woodbridge’s tasting room is cozy and friendly, loaded with wine paraphernalia and snacks. The chocolate port raspberry sauce tastes great even on the stick pretzels it is sampled with; imagine how good it would be over ice cream or cake. At the tasting bar, try some limited production wines such as Barbera or Portocinco, and if you’ve got time for a picnic on the pretty grounds, settle in and stay awhile.
5950 E. Woodbridge Road, woodbridgewines.com
Heritage Oak Winery — Near the banks of the Mokelumne River, Tom Hoffman and his wife, Carmela, opened Heritage Oak Winery in late 2007 on property that has been in his family since the mid-1800s. Visit the tasting room and you’ll be treated to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet and, of course, Zinfandel, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to meet Tom, who will happily talk about grape-growing and wine-making. A delightful aspect of this winery is the trail that leads to its private beach along the Mokelumne. Bring your lunch and uncork a bottle of one of Tom’s handcrafted Zins while you watch the river roll by.
10112 E. Woodbridge Road, heritageoakwinery.com
Clements Ridge — This place on Highway 88, out in Clements, is a favorite stop for travelers journeying to and from Kirkwood ski resort. The wine tasting is just part of the fun—the on-site deli, bakery and gift shop provide goodies for any and all appetites. You’ll find local nuts sold in bulk, seasonal produce, and gift boxes loaded with housemade candy and nuts, pasta and olives. Ask to have one custom-packed. While you’re there, taste wines from five local wineries, gobble a tri-tip sandwich or chicken pot pie, and definitely try a slice of chocolate cream pie. Or blackberry pie. Or strawberry-rhubarb pie. Or apple pie. Or . . .
23225 E. Highway 88, clementsridge.com
Omega Vineyards and Winery — Step onto the grounds of Omega, on Highway 88, and discover a couple of French varietals well worth the visit: the 2010 Mourvedre Rose, winner of the gold medal at the 2010 Lodi International Wine Awards, and the 2007 Mystico Bordeaux Blend, winner of the Best in Class at the 2009 California State Fair Wine Competition. Founded by Frank Natsis and his two sons in 2002, the winery reflects Frank’s Greek roots. During special events, the baklava alone draws visitors to the tasting room. Get there early.
13731 N. State Route 88, omega-cellars.com
Harmony Wynelands — This winery, with its pretty patio and gardens, beckons visitors to sip a few samples in the tasting room, then grab a glass of GMA Rhone blend, which took Best of California in the state fair wine competition in 2010, and settle back to listen to owner Bob Hartzell’s tunes. The walls inside the winery come alive as Hartzell’s pipe organ—originally from San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre—bursts into song, with finned windows gasping and sound pouring forth onto the vast surrounding vineyards.
9291 E. Harney Lane, harmonywynelands.com
Harney Lane — The giant Theodore pine trees that shade the patio and winding garden paths at Harney Lane were planted by winery owner Jorja Lerner’s great-great grandfather. Sit beneath them and sip a refreshing Albariño or lusty Old Vine Zin, and picnic with your tasting buddies. At the bar in Harney Lane’s tasting room/gift shop, try the Tempranillo (a best-seller that goes fast) and Syrah, and when you’re ready to relax some more, take a glass of something out to the patio fire pit, sink into an Adirondack chair and toast your toes by the fire.
9010 E. Harney Lane, harneylane.com
d’Art Wines — On secluded North Curry Avenue, d’Art is a cozy little winery owned by Dave and Helen Dart, who got into the wine business so they could combine their love for wine and art. Dave’s drawings hang on the walls, giving visitors something to peruse as they’re tasting the winery’s reds; he creates the beautiful wine labels as well. You’ll find no white wines here, and port lovers, get ready—the stuff is especially good when they serve it with the almond toffee they get out for special events.
13299 N. Curry Ave., dartwines.com
Klinker Brick Winery — Specializing in Old Vine Zin and Syrah, Klinker Brick is run by fifth-generation grape growers Steve and Lori Felten (and their daughter Farrah), and they’ve got some old vines indeed. Theirs were planted in the early 1900s and produce the grapes used to create their Old Ghost, an elegant, full-bodied red. The brick tasting room is new—open just longer than a year—and very comfy with chairs you can relax in while you taste. Coming and going, watch for the Feltens’ two brown dogs that are sometimes bounding around on the gated-off driveway next door.
15887 N. Alpine Road, klinkerbrickwinery.com
Berghold Estate Winery — Been to church lately? You may be reminded of it in the Berghold Estate tasting room, where stained-glass windows and dark wood floors lend a touch of grace to the Victorian style. It’s big, designed to replicate a romantic California barn, and it holds scads of gorgeous artwork and antiques collected by winery owners Joe and Kay Berghold. You’ll also find plenty of wine-related merchandise and boutique clothing. Taste the Footstomp Zinfandel, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Viognier, then wander the grounds, which include marble fountains—a dominant one just outside the tasting room—olive trees and rose gardens.
17343 N. Cherry Road, bergholdvineyards.com
West Side of Highway 99
Fields Family Wines — At Fields Family Wines, they say no wine snobbery is tolerated, and it seems they mean it. The tasting room the day we visited was bustling with event-goers nibbling on snacks and crowding up to the tasting table for sips of organic Syrah, Old Vine Zinfandel, White Cuvee and others. Jokes flew and spills were wiped, all while the pourers—members of the Fields family themselves—dispensed information about the wines they were pouring and invited people to “now try this.”
3803 E. Woodbridge Road, fieldsfamilywines.com
Cycles Gladiator — The label brings ’em in the door—the famous Parisian artwork of a naked nymph flying on a winged bicycle—and the wines keep ’em standing around for more. In the visitor’s center, which opened last year, you can taste Zin, Cab, Chardonnay, Merlot and perhaps some refreshing Pinot Grigio, which would taste great after a bike ride. Pick up a new cycling jersey—nymph logo affixed—or shorts. Noncyclists might prefer a T-shirt or ball cap. Play some bocce ball on the courts out back or hang around for a picnic.
3750 E. Woodbridge Road, cyclesgladiator.com
Viaggio Estate & Winery — Viaggio’s tasting room, Vino Di Vita, is open Fridays and weekends starting in April. Visitors are invited to tour the 23-acre estate, a stunning spot on the Mokelumne River that includes a mansion, a barn, walnut orchards and paths along the river. While you’re tasting the wines (be ready for the $7 tasting fee, which is steeper than most Lodi wineries), move out to the brick patio, where a fire roars in the outdoor fireplace and European music wafts from invisible speakers. It’s an experience.
100 E. Taddei Road, viaggiowinery.com
Lodi Wine & Visitor Center — Attached to the renowned Wine & Roses inn/spa/ restaurant, Lodi’s visitor center has a long tasting bar and plenty of knowledgeable folks pouring a variety of local wines. While you’re there, pick up maps and brochures and take a self-guided tour of the model vineyard to see how your favorite grapes grow. This is a great venue to start your tour or to hit halfway through the day, when you’re ready for sustenance. The Wine & Roses restaurant serves wine country cuisine— duck confit, “drunk” short ribs, salads topped with fine cheeses—in a lovely setting. Sit outdoors on the veranda on a fine spring day, among the lush and blooming greenery, and sip a light white with your lunch.
2545 W. Turner Road, lodiwine.com
Jessie’s Grove Winery — Come in to taste reds and whites in the circa-1870s tasting room, then explore the surrounding farm. Jessie’s Grove began as a wheat farm in the 1860s, and the artifacts remain as a museum that visitors can explore: rusty plow and tillers, an old barn. The historic farm feel is present throughout Jessie’s Grove, where no new buildings have been added and a 32-acre oak grove shades the museum.
1973 W. Turner Road, jessiesgrovewinery.com
Michael-David Winery — The wines have funny names— 7 Deadly Zins, 6th Sense Syrah, 7 Heavenly Chards— the baked goods are cubed up at the sample bar, the restaurant’s tri-tip sandwiches stand mouthwideningly tall, the grounds spread out green and gorgeous beyond the tasting room, and if you wander past the pond, you’ll even find some very friendly goats. No visit to Michael-David is complete without staying for the whole experience, so taste some wine, grab some lunch and take a leisurely walk out back.
4580 W. Highway 12, michaeldavidwinery.com
Woodbridge Uncorked — This lovely brick tasting room sits on a corner in downtown Woodbridge, a tiny community close to Lodi’s Turner Road. Taste wines from a collection of local wineries, including St. Sophia, Lobo Loco, Grady, Akin Estates, Maley Brothers and Weibel. Come out in the evening, enjoy some food and wine pairings, and hang around to hear live music.
18911 N. Lower Sacramento Road, woodbridge uncorked.com