Lodi, the Real California Wine Country

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov

Wide open spaces, endless blue sky, and easy, uncrowded roads among the emerald vineyards immediately crate a feeling of “cool wind in your hair” when you venture out to explore Lodi and its environs for the first time.

In the heart of California’s Central Valley, Lodi is a well-established small urban city in San Joaquin County, and the state’s largest grape-growing region. While domestic and international tourists associate the world-renowned California Wine Country first and foremost with Napa and Sonoma Counties, the majority of the state’s grapes used for wine industry as well as for fruit consumption and raisin production are grown here, in the verdant San Joaquin Valley.

The half-million-acre Lodi AVA, growing and cultivating grapes since the 1850s, has been officially approved only in 1986, approximately the same time as other California wine regions. Yet somehow it remains less visible, less public-centered [less pretentious], and therefore less touristy, which makes this incredibly fruitful and variety-rich area so much more attractive to a mindful contemporary traveler.

With its Mediterranean climate, the abundance of sunshine countered by the cooling breezes from the Pacific, and mineral-rich soil, Lodi is famous for Old Vine Zinfandel, closely followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc—all in all 125 varieties of wine grapes, including rare, unusual, and previously endemic to European countries.

With various micro-climates, sub-appellations, and multi-generational families of wine growers, each developing their own best practices, and focusing on their own special varieties, Lodi offers a wine culture experiences like no other region in California, and perhaps, the world.  

To promote the region’s unique wines and its multi-generational farming community of 750 winegrowers, Lodi Winegrape Commission was created in 1991, and opened Lodi Wine Visitor Center in 2000. Located on the gorgeous grounds of Wine & Roses Hotel, the Center serves as an all-encompassing tasting room for hundreds of Lodi wines, and distributes Wine Trail maps and an official guide to the Lodi Appellation. (See more at: https://www.lodiwine.com/.)

The Lodi Winegrape Commission’s set of guidelines for sustainable winegrowing is called, “Lodi Rules.” Conceived by the environmentally responsible local farmers, and accredited by science, The Lodi Rules Sustainable Winegrowing Program grants a Certified Green seal to third party-audited vineyards that excel in sustainability.  (Learn more at: https://www.lodirules.org/).

It’s hard to pick a favorite among some 80 wineries in Lodi, but it’s easy to find a few that would please any palate, and charm any visitor with their relaxing ambiance and friendly demeanor.

Harney Lane Winery & Vineyards

Surrounded by the vineyards of Mokelumne River AVA, Harney Lane’s elegant, spacious, wood-and-stone tasting room opens up to the beautiful grounds—think a quaint garden fountain under the old deodar trees, Adirondack chairs around a fire pit, and picnic tables by the blossoming white rose bushes.

Coming from Certified Green vineyards (including Lizzy James, a Certified Historic Vineyard planted in 1904), Harney Lane award-winning wines are estate-grown, handpicked and hand-sorted, fermented in small lots and barrel-aged. With a diverse portfolio of Old Vine Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Albariño, Chardonnay, Dry Rosè, Primitivo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and others, the winery remains a family business for more than 100 years producing up to 8,000 cases of delectable wines with “intentionally luxurious mouthfeel.”

A recent tasting menu included a light, delicate 2020 Rosé of Primitivo; 2019 Chardonnay with warm apple pie aftertaste; Primitivo Lot 21—a rich blend from different years; and 2018 Petite Sirah with silky tannins—all from Home Ranch vineyard, plus an aromatic, spicy 2019 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lizzy James Vineyard; and the just released, enormously popular, and almost sold out 2018 Zinfandel from Scottsdale Vineyard. Find out more at: https://www.harneylane.com/.

Bokisch Vineyards

Driving to Bokisch Vineyards from Downtown Lodi takes about 15 minutes, but hey, what a ride! Everything’s an eye candy for a regular city dweller—emerald grass, cows and llamas (!) peacefully grazing under the old oaks, silvery olive trees, ripe with fruit, and bright red picnic tables, chairs, and umbrellas overlooking neatly combed vineyards up and down the rolling hills that surround this amazing property.

Located within the Clements Hills AVA, Bokisch specializes on Spanish wines, namely, Iberian varietals, like Tempranillo, Albariño, Graciano, and others. In fact, the proprietor family (first generation winegrowers) pioneered these grape varieties here by bringing the cuttings from Spain, and dedicating their 80+ acres to them.

“We wanted people to know how Albariño should taste,” says Liz Bokisch about the estate grown flagship white from Terra Alta Vineyard.

Named after a wine region in Catalonia, Spain, Terra Alta offers gorgeous views from its hilly terrain, and accepts reservations for the cutest picnic grounds suitable for family receptions and small weddings among the vineyards under old oak trees.

All Bokisch wines (about 6,000 cases a year) are sustainably produced and certified in accordance with Lodi Rules. The wine club members, whose number is constantly growing, and now reaches about a thousand, enjoy the majority of the production, with only 300 or so cases sold out of the tasting room.

Even on a short visit to Lodi, try not to miss an opportunity to combine a tasting of Bokisch food-friendly wines with a picnic of your own.

Towne Corner Café at Wine & Roses Hotel makes delicious lunch sandwiches with locally sourced produce, like a seasonal turkey and Swiss with cranberry jam and micro greens.

The wines on the recent tasting menu included a refreshing, with long finish 2020 Albariño from Andrus Island Vineyard; smooth and bright 2020 Verdejo from Clay Station Vineyard; 2020 Rosado from Terra Alta—clean and lingering, with bright citrus notes; a flagship red 2018 Tempranillo from Liberty Oaks Vineyard, with cherry and raspberry notes; and 2018 Graciano from Terra Alta that pairs well with all kinds of food, especially on a sunny day, one of so many in Lodi. Find out more at: https://www.bokischvineyards.com/.

Klinker Brick Winery

This well-appointed, cozy, and very relaxing property calls for some care-free lounging in its tasting room and patio, surrounded by acacia trees and flowering bushes in view of sprawling vineyards. If you like warm quiet afternoons dedicated to thoughtful, unhurried wine tasting, this place is for you. Among its many interesting wines, from sparkling to reserve, there’s not one that wouldn’t be exciting, original, and highly satisfying.

With winegrowing experience that spans six generations, an energetic effort to save and preserve the precious Old Vine Zinfandel grapes planted here back in the 1900s, and a wine club that’s 3,500-members strong, Klinker Brick is set up for success.

Besides Zinfandel, the winery produces an array of European wines, highly praised in their countries of origin, like Hungarian Tokay and Spanish Carignan and Grenache, also very popular in France.

Some of the Klinker Brick wines, like 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel (60,000 cases), are available in retail and restaurants not only in Lodi, but also in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, who would want to miss an opportunity to indulge in their diverse and delicious wines right here, sitting by the sturdy wooden table, resting your eyes on a giant pumpkin grown on this generous soil!

Here you can taste smaller production wines that don’t go beyond the wine club and tasting room; quite a view vintages of the same varietal; and get educated on all the intricacies of the local climate, soil, and winemaking by the friendly staff formerly known as Klinker Brick wine club members.   

At a recent tasting, the following array of excellent wines was a mix and match from several tasting menus available at the winery: crisp and light Sparkling Albariño ultra brut produced by the traditional methode champenoise; 2020 Grenache Blanc with aromas of lemon and lychee and a hint of peach on the palate; 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel, a rich, dark and spicy blend from 16-18 different vineyard blocks in the 120-year-old category; an intense and full-bodied signature 2018 Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel, produced every year, always from a single vineyard, defined as the best of the crop; and 2019 Farrah Syrah with garnet color, soft aromas of raspberry and tobacco, and spicy pomegranate on the palate.

To learn more about Klinker Brick Winery, go to: https://www.klinkerbrickwinery.com/index.cfm.

Oak Farm Vineyards

What started as a small tasting room a dozen years back, grew up in a massive hospitality venue with a stunning 2014 glamorized barn-style building complemented by a few outdoor seating oases. With 60 acres planted with grapes, and mixing the estate grown and acquired from other areas fruit (like Pinot Noir from Russian River), Oak Farm Vineyards, a family owned and operated business, produces about 44,000 cases of distinct white and red wines, widely distributed in the Bay Area in retail outlets like Costco and Safeway.  

Beautiful grounds, lush vineyards, and a colonial style 1876 home on the historical farm property adds to the appeal of elegantly bottled wines with a signature oak etching on the glass.

A recent tasting of estate-grown or produced wines included an aromatic 2020 Sauvignon Blanc; a slightly oaky 2020 Chardonnay, crisp, yet with a hint of vanilla; 2018 Zinfandel from Mohr-Fry Vineyard, planted in 1944; and 2018 Genevieve, a Bordeaux style blend of 23% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 18% Malbec. (One bottle purchase waves one tasting fee of $20 pp). Find out more at: https://www.oakfarmvineyards.com/.

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards

Acquiesce premium white and rosé wines aren’t sold in stores, and aren’t intended to. You can get a taste of the heavenly nectars only at the winery’s artsy tasting room, converted from a century-old barn, and painted red with gold accents; or through their website’s online shop; or at some high-end restaurants. And of course the 1,500 wine club members enjoy the sophisticated Southern Rhone-style wines, too, while the rest of the contenders vie for placement on the club’s waiting list.     

The sophistication starts with the name, Acquiesce, which means to accept something quietly, without protest, and that’s how the owner family (first generation winemakers) decided “to submit to nature, to yield to the vineyard, to acquiesce to the grapes so they present their own true character.”

Their 18-acre property yields enough fruit for 11 award-winning wines, all certified by Lodi Rules, estate grown from the French clones, and produced in small batches in the amounts of 3,000-7,000 cases.

Not cutting any corners, the winery creates two vintages of sparkling wine by the full French methode champenoise, and a number of unique wines, like Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc; white blends Belle Blanc and Ingénue, and Grenache Rosé.

The aromatic, mineral-driven, high acidity Acquiesce wines are bottled in Venetian glass, and “always introduced paired with small bites,” in accordance with a typical French approach to wine as a condiment to food.

At a recent tasting, a delicate, slightly citrusy 2019 Ingénue, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanc, Bourboulenc, and Picpoul Blanc was paired with a French Olive Boat; a floral, fruity, and zesty 2020 Grenache Blanc—with Rubbed Sage Stuffing; 2019 Bourboulenc, with mango and apricot notes on the nose and stone fruit on the palate, was paired with Shrimp De Jonghe; and 2020 Grenache Rosé, with a dry fruit aroma and rich texture, found a great match in Rosé Cranberry Chèvre on a mini toast, with cranberry sauce made with that same wine. For an extra tasting, golden-colored 2020 Roussanne seemed an epitome of good taste with the subtle scents of tea rose, ginger, lemongrass and jasmine, and a rich mouthfeel of ripe pair, apricot and custard, followed by the finishing notes of almond and honey. 

Despite some early predictions that it would be impossible to “make it” with just white and rosé wines, Acquiesce successfully converted some of the red wine drinkers into its dedicated followers. Find out more at: https://www.acquiescevineyards.com/.

Michael David Winery

A Disneyland of wine, as a staff member pointedly called it, Michael David Winery is huge, boisterous, exciting, and extremely popular with wine aficionados from near and far.

The fifth generation of the owner family that used to farm produce starting in the 1850s, then moved on to wine grape cultivation, pioneered Lodi as a wine travel destination by creating a dedicated winery in 1984. Now, with 800 acres of family vineyards, where 100% of harvested grapes are Lodi Rules certified; a vast production of 700,000 cases, and distributing some of their wines in all 50 states, Michael David Winery (MDW) remains a fun place to visit. 

With gorgeous grounds, surrounded by vineyards, the well-attended day in and day out winery has it all—picnic tables under garden umbrellas for multiple groups, big and small; rock formations, orchards, fountains; steel tanks for grape fermentation painted with Victorian era circus-themed murals; an indoor and outdoor large tasting rooms, The Farm Café at Michael David Winery that serves meats sourced from Lodi’s 4H program and locally grown produce, and a wedding venue with appropriate decor, where approximately six weddings a year are taking place.   

Michael David wines are produced in fun series with artful and mischievous labels, like Inkblot Series with Rorschach test images, Freakshow series with labels replicating antique sideshow posters, Seven Deadly Zins series, or Reserve Series with two intriguing Bordeaux blends—Politically Correct, and Misfits & Mavens.

For a recent tasting, there were quite a few wonderful examples of the MDW outstanding wines: Michael David Chardonnay, a traditional warm climate white, handcrafted from family vineyards; fully fermented Michael David Sparkling Brut, produced from 100% estate Chardonnay; light and bright Michael David A. V. Cinsaut from an ancient grape, sourced at Bechthold Vineyard, planted in 1886—one of the oldest such vineyards in the world; 2019 Merlot of limited 700-case production, intended for wine club members only; a limited production 2019 Carmenere from an experimental 2-acre vineyard on the property; 2018 Lust from the Seven Deadly Zins series; 2019 Rapture—a limited production reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2019 Freakshow Red Wine, a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah.

To learn more, visit and fun and exciting website of Michael David at: https://michaeldavidwinery.com/.

For the upcoming Valentine’s Day festivities, Lodi Wine & Chocolate returns to celebrate its 25th anniversary from Friday, February 4 through Sunday, February 6, with a diverse selection of Lodi wines paired with decadent chocolates. Lodi’s winemaking community has put together a specially curated, three-day celebration with Friday Evening Experiences—exclusive events hosted by winery proprietors and winemakers in the their cellars and residences; Saturday Winery Tours of passport-style experience traveling between 30+ wineries; and Sunday Winemaker’s Brunch at Wine & Roses, a showcase of Lodi’s white, rosé, and sparkling wines. Chefs at the hotel will be preparing carefully paired small bites from locally sourced ingredients.

Lodi Wine & Chocolate was founded in 1997 with the goal to promote and elevate the region and its wines. In addition to providing marketing value and a fun and welcoming atmosphere for wine enthusiasts, the event serves as an important fundraiser for programs in education, research, and sustainable viticulture which are operated by the Lodi Winegrape Commission to the benefit of Lodi’s winemaking community. To date, the event has welcomed more than 100,000 guests and generated over $2 million in support of these programs.

Tickets for all events are now on sale and can be purchased online at www.lodiwineandchocolate.com.  All attendees, including designated drivers, must be 21 years of age or older to attend weekend events.