Livin’ La Vida LoCA in the Vineyards of Lodi

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center

LoCA, the wines of Lodi California and the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center

Just a short drive south of California’s State Capitol is a once-sleepy rural community that has spent the past several years re-inventing itself. Lodi, California is on the map … the California Wine Country map, to be specific. Once known specifically for Zinfandel grapes, this up-and-coming wine region boasts flavorful vintages for every palate. From crisp Sauvignon Blancs to deeply bold and complex Syrahs, over 60 winemakers and vineyards have staked a claim in this bountiful agricultural region of Central California. Cool, misty bay breezes and hot summer days combined with generations of farming families who are committed to working the rich soil have made Lodi, California a destination for wine-lovers. And they’re doing it utilizing sustainable standards and practices.

So with Sharon and her daughter Courtney (my two awesome cousins) in tow, the day’s wine tasting mission began. First stop: Lodi Wine & Visitor Center. Located on Turner Road adjacent to Wine & Roses Hotel & Spa, the hospitable folks at the Visitor Center offer wine tasting while providing details on local wineries and tasting rooms. They also have an essential Wine Map and Guide listing each of Lodi’s 60 wineries.

Michael David Winery's Petite Petit is a powerful blend of dark fruits, vanilla and spice

Michael David Winery’s Petite Petit is a powerful blend of dark fruits, vanilla and spice

After our tasty sampling at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, we scurried off to Michael David Winery where we started with a taste of Don’s Lodi Red, an easy-drinking blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel that would pair beautifully with anything from cheeseburgers to lamb chops to lasagne! Next on the list: the bold, earthy 2011 Earthquake Cabernet which scored 88 points by Robert Parker. Michael David’s inky dark Petite Petit combines 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot grapes with a masculinely rich flavor blend of dark fruit such as blueberries and blackberries with licorice, vanilla and spice. In one word: BOLD! The Winery’s award winning 6th Sense Syrah has a rich palate of juicy plums and a hint of pepper. This spicy vintage scored 90 points and took Best of Class at the 2013 California State Fair. Open daily for tasting (and shopping) from 10am to 5pm, Michael David Winery is located just off the 5 Freeway and Highway 12.

Sharing a taste with the boys of VanRuiten

Sharing a taste with Winemaker Matt Ridge (center) and the VanRuiten gents

VanRuiten Family Winery

Courtney and I with pearls of wisdom at VanRuiten Family Winery

From Savignon Blanc to Old Vine Zinfandel, the VanRuiten Family Winery is a master at crafting sensational wines! Their Pinot Grigio is well balanced and loaded with intense flavors of crisp fruit. It was also the perfect selection for sipping as the outside temps rose into the mid 90s! Moving on to the medium-bodied Double Barrel Chardonnay, my palate enjoyed light fruit, lemon, a touch of hazelnut and spicy oak … again, incredibly refreshing! I’ve not previously been a fan of Rosé wines, so I can’t believe I’m saying this … VanRuiten’s Reserve Rosé of Pinot Noir was downright delicious! Using Saignée (a method of bleeding off some of the red juices from the grapes and limiting contact with skin of the grapes), they incorporated white peaches, raspberries and watermelon to produce a beautifully flavored Rosé. Voila!! The ruby-colored Carignane was loaded with dark fruit and berries, spice and firm tannins, reminding me of a deeply rich Spanish Rioja, and VR’s highly acclaimed Old Vine Zin is packed with explosive and complex flavors including blackberry, currant, coffee and walnut. To enforce just how delicious it is, VanRuiten’s 2007 Old Vine Zin was voted by the Wall Street Journal as “The Best Zin in America”. In addition to countless other gold, silver and bronze medal award accumulations, VanRuiten Family Winery was voted by San Joaquin magazine as the “Best Tasting Room in San Joaquin County”. Based on my experiences (and believe me there are some fantastic tasting rooms in Lodi), I highly concur! They are also open daily from 11am to 5pm.

My first experience tasting wine produced from Lodi vines was a decade ago when I enjoyed a delicious pour of Onus Wines Cabernet Sauvignon while visiting my Lodi family. That immediately led to the purchase of several bottles of the same vintage to take home with me. Needless to say, those bottles of Onus are long gone but the memory of the richly bold and complex flavor found inside them remains. However, I discovered a more recent taste of Lodi’s leap into the California wine country scene while sampling vino at the 2nd Annual VinDiego Wine & Food Festival in San Diego this past March. I stopped in for a visit to the booth at Klinker Brick Winery and delighted in my taste of their Old Vine Zinfandel. Naturally, during my recent visit to Lodi, I paid them a second visit. While perusing a wall full of ribbons, medals and awards, Sharon and I began with a taste of Marisa Vineyard Rosé. (Two Lodi Rosé tastings and two big thumbs up!) We then compared Klinker Brick’s 2010 and 2011 Old Vine Zinfandels. Both are multi-award winning vintages with layers of complex flavors. The deeply rich 2010 vintage was smooth on my palate with essences of dark fruit, mint, oak vanilla and spice. It received 92 points by BevMo’s Wilfred Wong and captured a Gold Medal at the 2012 California State Fair with 95 points, and received Best in Class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Not to be outdone, the 2011 vintage, although it seemed slightly less smooth, was again rich in dark fruit and flavorful spices. It captured 89 Wine Spectator points and 90 points from BevMo’s Wilfred Wong. Need I say more???? Okay then, how about the 2011 Bricks & Mortar, with a 93 point rating from Mr. Wong and a Gold Medal Award from the American Wine Society’s International Wine Competition? Those are some impressive and deserving accolades, but Klinker Brick’s Farrah Syrah earned top honors in my journal! Explosive and jammy with bold flavors of black raspberries, espresso, cocoa, spice and oak, this quintessential Syrah is as decadent as it gets! I have no doubt that this vintage, paired with a perfectly seasoned leg of lamb or beef filet would be ultimate proof that the 2010 Farrah Syrah earned every bit of its 91 point Wine Spectator rating. It also received 98 points and a Double Gold Medal at the 2012 California State Fair and a Gold Medal at the 2012 American Society Wine Competition. Oh, and lest we forget Farrah’s “Best Syrah of California Award”! My only regret about Klinker Brick Winery is that it’s famed Old Ghost Zinfandel has apparently been righteously popular and was out of stock, so I didn’t get to taste this multi-award winner. Just a few words of advice about Lodi’s Klinker Brick Winery: “GET IN THERE … SOON!”

Klinker Brick Winery, Lodi CA

Tasting with owner Steve Felton at Lodi’s multi-award winning Klinker Brick Winery

So wine lovers, pack your bags and head to Lodi. To celebrate California Wine Month, the Lodi Road Trip is held during September. Throughout the month over 45 participating vintners offer exclusive tastings, discounts, tours, entertainment and winemaker dinners under the stars. Check in for a stay at Wine & Roses Hotel, Restaurant & Spa, a 2013 TripAdvisor Certificate Of Excellence award winner and a Designated Tour & Tasting Gold Medal Accommodation. Then hit the country roads for a weekend of sipping, savoring and celebrating the wines of Lodi. Be sure to visit Lodi’s quaint yet trendy downtown area for dozens of wonderful restaurants, eateries, more tasting rooms and boutique shopping.

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