A Wine Lover’s Dream at ZinFest

I had only a few hours but there were 250 wines to try. Yep…250 wines. Lodi ZinFest is a wine lover’s dream–a festival of fine wine, food, music, and more wine held on a series of lakes in one of my favorite wine regions, Lodi, California. ZinFest celebrates the variety and quality of Lodi wines (well, that’s no surprise) in a really fun, laid-back atmosphere, perfect for both wine newbies and aficionados. Here’s a peek:

Lodi Zinfest | This Is My Happiness

Photo credit: Kimberly Charles of Charles Communications Associates

As I entered Zinfest, I was given a wine glass and booklet with a map of the 50 participating wineries. Then I noticed the booths, one after another, offering tastes.

In most cases, the wineries offered tastes of two whites and two reds, so ZinFest is definitely not a Zinfandel festival…Lodi is best known for Zinfandel because it grows so perfectly in Lodi and has thrived here for more than 100 years, but this festival shows off the variety of Lodi wines. In typical Lodi fashion, the winemakers are on hand pouring the wines, happily offering descriptions and answering questions.

Lodi Zinfest | This Is My Happiness

Photo credit: Kimberly Charles

Wine Seminars

Wine School” takes place every hour, and I was fortunate to attend two of these sessions. The seminars include several tastes of wines with the winemakers explaining the story and process behind each wine. It was so interesting to hear the winemakers’ stories of how they came to the product we were drinking…how they decided when to harvest the grapes, how much acidity they were going for, where the vines were planted and why. Participation in these seminars is free for all ZinFest attendees.

Lodi Zinfest | This Is My Happiness

Borra Vineyards’ winemaker Markus Niggli explaining their new Gewürztraminer. Photo credit: Kimberly Charles

One seminar called “The Light and Refreshing Side of Lodi” focused on some of the varietals that people may not normally associate with this area that’s so known for fruit-forward reds. Lodi’s unique climate that combines lots of sun, hot days with cool nights, long summers and cold winters allows more than 100 varietals to grow here. Many white varieties that are normally grown in southern France, Corsica, Portugal, and even Germany grow well here.

Lodi’s dry sunny summers allow the character of the grape to come through quickly, giving the growers the option of picking grapes early to lower the sugar. The result is flavorful yet dry whites and rosés, such as these:

2013 McCay Cellars Lodi Rosé: The winemaker picks these grapes early, resulting in less sugar and more acidity and a a savory wine that’s good to pair with food.

2013 Borra Nuvola: This Gewürztraminer was one of my favorites of the day. Like most of the other whites, this one is picked early to bring out more acidity and avoid a sweet wine. The vineyard is located on a river where cool Delta breezes allow this German varietal to thrive. This would be excellent with salads and spicy food, but only 71 cases were made, so those who get it now are the lucky ones.

Lodi Zinfest | This Is My Happiness

Wine writer Randy Caparoso and the Lodi Outsiders. Photo credit: Kimberly Charles

Another Wine School seminar called “Lodi Outsiders” featured winemakers from outside the area who choose Lodi grapes to add variety to their winemaking. Adam Webb of Odisea Wines in Napa explained the process behind their 2010 Lodi T3 Tres Tintos. This nice blend of three grapes from the Rioja region of Spain is a subtle, earthy white.

The Wines

With about 250 wines to choose from, it would be impossible to give a good overview. I didn’t have a chance to try wines from some of the area’s hottest wineries, like Harney Lane, m2, and Macchia, but I did try wines from other favorites, such as Borra Vineyards, McCay Cellars, St. Amant Winery, Oak Farm Vineyards, and Bokish Vineyards. Besides those mentioned above from the Wine School, here are some of my highlights:

St. Amant 2012 Mohr-Fry Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel: This wine displays what I love about old vine Zinfandel, dark berry fruit with spice, but I especially liked the chocolate and cherry notes. An excellent wine for only $18.

St. Amant 2012 Barbera: Barbera is becoming a popular varietal around here. It grows well in the Sierra Nevada foothills but also does well in Lodi where the character of the grape seems to come alive. This is another excellent wine for only $18.

Oak Farm Vineyards 2012 Barbera: Another fruity yet slightly spicy Barbera from Lodi. I love the lightness yet complexity of a good Barbera. Yum!

There was also information about Lodi Rules, Lodi’s sustainable winegrowing program. Currently about 20 Lodi wineries produce wines in concordance with the Lodi Rules sustainability guidelines.

Food

Lodi is located in the heart of California’s agricultural center where fresh, local ingredients shine. Regional cuisine from several local food purveyors was available for purchase. I chose lunch from the local gourmet Mexican restaurant Alebrijas–snack-size chimichangas with avocado cream and a spicy yet sweet shrimp and jicama salad, all for $9.

Four Cooking School seminars are offered throughout the afternoon, and like the Wine School, the Cooking School is free for attendees. Naturally, each food item is paired with a local wine.

Fun: The Vintner’s Regatta & Live Music

Lodi Zinfest | This Is My Happiness

One of several live music groups at ZinFest. Photo credit: Kimberly Charles

Despite the high quality of many Lodi wines, the winemakers are down-to-earth and showed that they know how to have fun during the ZinFest Vintner’s Regatta, a new event this year. Local winemakers crafted boats from wine barrels and then raced in the water. Cameron King, the executive director of the Lodi Wine Commission, led the race:

Lodi ZinFest | This Is My Happiness

Cameron King narrating the regatta on Lodi Lake. Photo credit: Kimberly Charles

ZinFest draws people from the surrounding area and even as far as Canada. This one delicious, educational day of wine is actually just part of the whole ZinFest weekend. Friday includes a winemaker’s dinner and Sunday celebrates with winery tours and open houses at 33 Lodi area wineries. As I left, I stopped at the ZinFest Wine Shoppe, picked up a bottle of the 2012 Mohr-Fry Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel, and promised myself that I would make time to attend all three days of events next year.

Have you been to ZinFest or another wine festival? Do tell!

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