We've all heard about Napa and Sonoma in California's wine country, but have you ever heard of Lodi? I won't lie, I wasn't even sure how to pronounce "Lodi" (hint: LOH-dy) earlier this year, but my visit to the city with the folks at Visit Lodi was a beautiful and fun weekend getaway that I'd repeat in a heartbeat with my wino friends. With wine tastings around $5-10 instead of the $40-50 in Napa, wine not?!
Located in California's Central Valley, Lodi is known as the "Zinfandel capital of the world" - in fact, many wineries in Napa and Sonoma buy grapes from Lodi. But for some reason, Lodi's reputation isn't as prestigious as Napa or Sonoma. I've been to my fair share of wineries lately and I found the wineries in Lodi to be just as beautiful and the wine to be just as amazing. There are about 85 wineries in Lodi that produce about 40% of all Zinfandels in California. It's the sandy soil and Mediterranean climate that helps produce these old vine Zinfandel grapes.
The ideal itinerary for your weekend retreat when you visit Lodi would be exactly how I spent my first trip to this warm and sunny wine country. The wine in Lodi was delicious, the people were friendly, and the small-town feel was a nice break from city life. Take a drive there, sip some wine, and enjoy!
Calturas. We started off with a wine and cheese pairing at Calturas, a massive converted car dealership that's now a winery. Very cool. Like many in Lodi, these winemakers also have a passion for beer. The wine paired with cheese from Cheese Central was the perfect way to kick off this weekend.
Acquiesce. If you're looking for white wine in Lodi, Acquiesce is the place to go. Susan Tipton, the owner and winemaker started a white winery because people thought it would be too difficult. She wanted to prove wrong the critics who thought that red wines are the only big sellers. I love that attitude and while I do normally prefer red over white, her wine was wonderful and bottled in those akin to those you might find a genie hiding in, a very classy and elegant look. She paired her wines with delicious little bites that they even provide recipes for in their shop.
M2. Talk about wine with personality. We walked into the gorgeous open space of winery and stumbled upon a 1960s themed party for wine club members. Everyone was having a blast! The owners had such fun and quirky personalities that made me enjoy the wine even more. Layne Montgomery, the winemaker and founder broke it down very simply for us:
"Fundamentally, wine is just fancy-ass fruit preserves."
So true, Layne, so true. From the down-to-earth personalities to the modern tasting room, I loved everything about M2.
Pro tip: Don't make the mistake of drinking and driving - take the Sip Shuttle! It's a safe and fun way to explore the Lodi wineries without having to worry about how you'll winery hop or get back to your hotel.
Additional Wine Tastings
Scotto's Wine & Cider. The live music really made the ambiance at Scotto's a lot of fun. I loved their reds, and the cider also looked good. I like a place with options, and Scotto's wine and cider selection was very tempting.
Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Wine tasting in a town visitor center? Best. Idea. Ever. We actually learned a lot about wine at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, especially about the sustainability program that ensures Lodi winegrapes are in tip-top condition. This is one visitor's center you definitely want to visit.
Coffee at School Grounds. Great coffee and atmosphere! If it wasn't so early in the morning when I went, I would have also opted for their gelato. I didn't expect to find such a funky and cool coffee shop in Lodi!
Biking and kayaking around Lodi Lake. Weekends in Lodi are spent enjoying the lakeside views. It seems there are always events occurring, people fishing, relaxing, biking, and kayaking. I opted for the 7:30am bike ride around the lake and am so glad I woke up early for it. Biking through Lodi was a bit like what I imagine biking through the town in The Truman Show. The bike shop bikers waved and greeted everyone we passed - by name!
Kayaking with Headwaters Kayak was an energizing way to start the beautiful day. Their kayaks are all brand new and it was a fun way to learn about the area. This man-made lake was easy to kayak even better when enjoyed with post-kayak mimosas!
Olive oil tasting at Olive Drop. Now this was a cool place. Another family-run operation (like many in Lodi), Karen Chandler bought her property without knowing what to do with it. Then she started making olive oil. She searched online for tips on how to make olive oil and found two experienced olive oil makers who'd been in the business since 1935. Instead of keeping their knowledge to themselves, they taught her everything from growing olive trees to watching the olives turn purple and ready to pick, press, and bottle.
Her infused olive oil is so good and I'm still cooking with the bottles I bought. She even made homemade orange-chocolate chip cookies with orange infused olive oil; they were some of the best cookies I've had in a long time. Karen invited us into her home with open arms and I couldn't get enough of trying her olive oils and treats. If you don't go to Lodi for the wine, you have to go for this olive oil!
Amazing Dinner & Wine Spots
The Dancing Fox. This restaurant also falls into the category of a winery and brewery. Another cute, family-run operation, the intricate and whimsical wine bottle labels were created based on stories the owner told his kids when they were young.
Viaggio Estate and Winery. The Viaggio property is gorgeous. I almost pinched myself to make sure I was living real life as we walked around the winery and grounds. There was a wedding going on at the same time and we ate a delicious meal paired with wine. Viaggio's own wine trolley dropped us off at our hotels, capping off a wonderful weekend in wine with Visit Lodi.
What resonated with me the most was that each winemaker's story was a success story. Most didn't know much about winemaking before getting involved in the business and all built successful wineries in due time. It made me think...hmm...maybe I could be a winemaker one day! Time will tell, but Lodi was the perfect place to inspire me to learn more about wine.