Sorry that I have been incommunicado, but we went to Northern California Wine Country. If you follow us on Instagram, you may have seen some of our social media posts. Just know, we were hard at work exploring, learning, tasting, and more tasting of wine from Lodi, Sonoma, Napa, and Suisun AVAs. We traveled with friends and fellow wine writers Amber & David Burke of Wine Travel Eats and Allison Levine of Please The Palate. This trip would not have been possible without them and the countless others that set us on this journey.
In eight days, we visited 36 wineries. We had five wine dinners and three wine lunches, and one wine breakfast (that is a story for which you will have to wait a bit longer to read). All while tasting upwards of 40-50 wines each day. Oh, and we also went to an olive ranch and tasted 5 different olive oils. Most days, we’d start at 8:30 each morning and end around 11:00 pm each night. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! And yes, with tasting that many wines in a day, we spit a lot but still enjoyed every minute of it. This wine trip started in Lodi, CA. So let’s start tasting Lodi Wine – Our Overview in two Days.
My original goal of going to Lodi was to meet Sue and Rodney Tipton of Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards to thank them for partnering with me. Of course, this partnership is good for both of us, but I needed to say “Thank You.” But these two days became so much more. The people we met. The fantastic wines we tasted. And the hospitality of a community that set the bar very high for the rest of the trip.
Gary and I at Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards
Getting to Lodi
Lodi is accessible from several airports in northern California. In fact, these are the same airports that you might use to get to Napa or Sonoma. The closest airport is in Sacramento, CA, just a 47-minute drive to Lodi. The San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose airports range from a 75 to 90-minute drive. Gary and I chose San Jose airport because the flights worked out best for us. From there, you either rent a car or Lyft to your hotel. Once you are in Lodi, you will want to hire a driver to take you around. Day drinking and driving do not mix.
Lodi AVA is in the middle of California’s vast and flat central valley. Unlike Sonoma and Napa, you do not go to Lodi for the spas, the mountain views, or to watch the fog roll in, all while tasting their wines. Instead, you go to Lodi for the diversity of wines made from over 100 different grape varieties (more than any other region in California). You go to Lodi for the thousands of acres of “old vines,” some of which date back to the 1880s. And you go to Lodi for affordable, well-made, and delicious wine.
Winegrapes are a Family Affair
There are 110,000 acres planted to winegrapes in Lodi. Many of the ranches that grow these grapes have been owned and operated by local families for generations. We had the opportunity to meet the Maley’s: Joe, Todd Sr., and Todd Jr. The three generations currently farming the 21-acre Wegat Vineyard, which is the crown jewel of their 330-acres farmed by the Maley family. Of note is that there were two generations before Joe that began farming in the region, dating back to 1864. Also of note… the grape does not fall far from the vine. The Maley’s, the Mettler’s, and the Harsher’s still own and farm the hundreds of vineyards here in Lodi, and they all seem to be a cousin of a cousin from one another.
The current generation, in many cases, is not just farming winegrapes but is also making wine. Todd Jr. is currently making Maley Brothers wine, including the Lodi Native label, which is handmade with minimal intervention, native yeast fermentation, and neutral oak aging to allow for the truest sense of place and time for this lush and expressive wine.
Jorja Lerner (of the five-generation Mettler family farmers) is also making wine from the family vineyards at Harney Lane. This was our first stop on our visit to Lodi. Geeze, they set the bar super high. Their wines are stunning. (more on them later in a dedicated post). Harney Lane is also the owner and steward of the Lizzy James Vineyard, one of the most revered “old vine” Zinfandel vineyards in California. This vineyard was originally planted in 1904. Take a look at the picture above of one of those ancient vines.
Affordability of Tasting Lodi
One of the biggest costs in a bottle of wine in the DTC (direct to consumer) market is the fruit. Well, actually, it is the land that is used to produce the fruit. If the land has been in your family for five generations, then the “cost” of the land is significantly lower than, say, the land in Napa Valley. And while one may argue that the terror of Napa or Sonoma has unique characteristics that make for excellent wine. On the other hand, you can not discount the value of that land which makes for expensive wine. Just look at what one ton of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes cost in 2018 according to the Grape Crush Report Final 2019 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture:
Napa – $7,925.00 per ton
Sonoma – $3,114.00 per ton
Lodi – $831.00 per ton
My point here is that Lodi wines, on average, retail in the $20.00 to $45.00 range, which makes Lodi wines much more affordable to the average American wine consumer. The quality of these wines ranges from simple and easy to drink to complex and age-worthy. This is an up-and-coming AFFORDABLE region that you need to experience.
Who to Visit when in Lodi?
There are only 85 boutique wineries making handmade, small-lot wines in Lodi. (Only 70 have tasting rooms.) That means that tons of fruit are being shipped out to other wineries throughout the US and some large industrial, corporate wineries (five of which have facilities in Lodi). But just like other wine regions throughout the world, after generations of being “just” winegrape farmers, the best fruit can now stay right here so that these boutique wineries can turn out some beautiful wines.
These are the tasting rooms and wineries that we visited (in alphabetical order). I have a lot more information about each place to share with you, but that will come in feature posts in the coming months.
Others We Met with or Tasted
in Alphabetical order:
We were unable to taste his wines, but we did meet him.
Maley Brother Winery
does not have a website, and their wines are only available locally. Images included in the story above.
That is all for now.
Gary & Rick