Old Vines, New Wine Country

This part of Northern California is a great place to be when I can’t get out and explore farther away. Lodi is one of those local places that I’ve loved getting to know–I feel like it’s my own little slice of California wine country, one that even local people still don’t know enough about.

Lodi Wine Country

Photo credit: Randy Caparoso, courtesy the Lodi Wine Grape Commission

Fortunately for me, the rural wine region of Lodi, just 40 minutes south of my home, is constantly evolving, and I’ve been enjoying watching it happen. There’s so much going on here for people who like wine, want to learn about wine, or maybe don’t care about wine but want to enjoy the sophisticated yet down-to-earth atmosphere of this thriving agricultural region.

Lodi Wine Country

Old vine Zinfandel, what Lodi is best known for. Photo credit: Randy Caparoso, courtesy the Lodi Wine Grape Commission

If you’re in Northern California and want to visit Lodi, or even if you’ve been before but want to return, here are my reasons for loving Lodi wine country right now:

1) European varieties are serious business here

Lodi’s Mediterranean climate of sunny days and cool nights means that a huge variety of grapes can grow well here, and most Lodi winemakers use that variety to create wines that people may not expect from Zinfandel country.

Lodi Wine Country

Tempranillo in Lodi. Photo credit: Randy Caparoso, courtesy the Lodi Wine Grape Commission.

Tempranillo

This Spanish varietal thrives in Lodi, and several wineries are producing Tempranillos worth knowing.

McCay Cellars 2012 Tempranillo: this was my favorite Tempranillo: savory flavors with plum and strawberry and a distinct nose of spice, red fruits, and eucalyptus

Other Tempranillos worth noting are the m2 2012, Harney Lane 2010 (recent winner of best in class at the CA State Fair), Bokisch 2012 (pioneers in Spanish varietals in California), and Riaza Wines’ Clement Hills 2012–this winery specializes in Spanish varietals, and I find their wines to be pleasant and easy drinking.

Lodi Wine Country

Kerner grapes in Lodi. Photo credit: Randy Caparoso, courtesy the Lodi Wine Grape Commission.

Spain, Portugal, or Germany?

Lodi wines go way, way beyond the Zinfandel that the region is so famous for. Several wineries have been getting special notice lately for their other European varietals. Here are a few favorites I’ve tried over the past year, and I look forward to seeing what these wineries have in store for us in 2015:

Bokisch Vineyards: This winery keeps producing award-winning wines from Spanish varietals. The Garnacha, Tempranillo, and Albariño were recently awarded medals at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

McCay Cellars: I loved all their wines last year and am looking forward to tasting what winemaker Mike McCay gives us with the new Viognier, Cinsaut, and Grenache.

Borra Vineyards: This winery and its offshoot, Markus Wine Co., have been making news around Lodi for the innovative white wines made from German varietals (read all about that on Luxe Beat Mag).

Fields Family Wines: This winery is best known for its highly-regarded Old Vine Zinfandels, but I’m also excited about the Il Ladro–a Tuscan-inspired blend, and Vin du Sol–a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Granache.

Lodi Wine Country

Fields Family Wines winemaker in the vineyard at harvest. Photo credit: Randy Caparoso, courtesy the Lodi Wine Grape Commission.

2) California’s Vineyard of the Year

The small Bechthold Vineyard was named the 2014 California Vineyard of the Year (by the California State Fair, where a panel of wine professionals do wine judging every year). I was fortunate to have the opportunity to try four wines from this special vineyard, and I enjoyed learning about this interesting slice of local history.

Lodi Wine Country

The Bechthold Vineyard. Photo credit: Randy Caparoso courtesy Lodi Wine Grape Commission

Just 25 acres of Cinsault grapes are organically grown and dry farmed in this vineyard in Lodi, planted in 1886. It’s the oldest continually-farmed vineyard in Lodi! But, because this variety of grape was not in high demand, for most of the vineyard’s life, the grapes were sold for almost nothing as a grape to be added to blends. Recently, however, the innovative and evolving winemakers in Lodi realized the worth of this vineyard and started making 100% Cinsault.

Lodi Wine Country: Cinsault wines

Looking to try something different? Try the Cinsaults from Lodi.

Cinsault is a French varietal that I knew nothing about, but I learned that a Cinsault is usually a delicate, feminine, light-bodied red with perfumy aromatics and flavors of strawberry, rhubarb, and spice. These wines were so interesting and delicious that I felt like I’d discovered a treasure. The Onesta 2011 Cinsault, Michael David 2013 Ancient Vine Cinsault, and Estate Crush 2012 Cinsault were all different but each elegant and smooth with flavors of strawberry.

But would you believe that the winemaker of the year makes wine from this vineyard of the year?! It seems like a combination too good to be true! Tegan Passalacqua of Napa Valley’s Turley Wine Cellars was just named California winemaker of the year (along with his colleague, Morgan Twain Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co.)–read about it here. Turley’s 2012 Cinsault was delicate and smooth yet perfumed–and a total bargain at only $18!

Lodi Wine Country

Tegan Passalacqua (L) and Emiliano Castanon (of Phillips Farms) in Lodi’s Bechthold Vineyard Photo credit: Randy Caparoso courtesy Lodi Wine Grape Commission

3) Barbera

Barbera is one of my favorite types of wines, and it seems that its popularity in California is growing. Though I’m sure there are many good ones here that I haven’t tried yet, Lodi has two that you should try: Old Farm Vineyards 2012 Barbera and Borra Vineyards 2012 Old Vine Barbera.

Lodi Wine Country

So, how can you get to know Lodi wine country?

Anytime: Visit for a day! Stop at the Lodi Visitors Center as you enter town and let them know what you’re particularly interested in. They’ll give you a map and help you decide where to go. Most wineries charge just $5 for a tasting, and don’t forget Lodi’s downtown, with welcoming tasting rooms, restaurants, and even a cheese shop.

Lodi’s wine festivals: Wine & Chocolate Weekend in February, Zinfest in May, and Sip & Savor in September.

What local discoveries have you made near your home?

14 Comments

  • Polly says:

    Ooo… I want to try a Cinsault after hearing your description! Now I need to track one down. 🙂
    Polly recently posted..The Truth About Affording Travel: Six Crucial StepsMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      You can order them from all the wineries listed (and they’re all affordable, from around $17 to $25). If you’re in the area, you can also probably buy them at the Lodi Visitors Center or at the wineries themselves. Because there’s not a lot of Cinsault planted there (25 acres is all), the wineries made fairly small amounts of this wine.

  • That Cinsault sounds delicious! Love your photos, and hope to visit this area soon. It would be a nice road trip from San Diego.
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted..san diego travel and adventure show giveaway!My Profile

  • Murissa says:

    I first heard of Lodi in 2013 when the Wine Bloggers Conference had announced their finalists where the conference was to be held the following year.
    I did a bit of research on each (can’t really remember the others) and my vote went to Lodi. The area looked gorgeous and had a lot to see and taste.

    I haven’t been back to California for a while but am returning in July – this would be the perfect day trip to take
    for a wino like me!
    Murissa recently posted..A Venetian Affair Book ReviewMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      So exciting that you’re coming to CA this summer! Lodi in July is like an oven, but if you can come this way, I’d love to meet you!

  • jen says:

    My husband grew up in Northern California. He misses it so much. He always wanted to own a vineyard. I’ve shared your beautiful post with him.
    jen recently posted..Morning Rain and MerciesMy Profile

  • Andi says:

    I am a big fan of Cinsault, I always order it if I see it on a menu. It had never had Barbera until last year when my hubby had to go up to El Dordo Hills every week for work. I got to discover the region and that wine in particular and love it!

    • Jenna says:

      You might be the first person I know who has said that they’re a big fan of Cinsault (it’s just not well known by most!), but I can relate. I really liked all the ones I tried!

  • rebecca says:

    some great pics! love a good winery
    rebecca recently posted..Once Upon a Time, in BrugesMy Profile

  • Lodi and wine? I had no idea. The only time I’ve even heard Lodi mentioned is when my son makes his way there to skydive. You’ve given me another reason to visit and learn more about this little area he loves so much.
    Daidri | Thee Getaway Gal recently posted..Taking Chances, Making FriendsMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      You should! You could come with him one day. They have some good restaurants in town, too, so it makes a perfect day trip.

  • Mike says:

    Absolutely love your website Jenna! Thank you for sharing this information with us. We are planning a trip for next year and have got some great ideas thanks to you.

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