The Lodi region has been growing grapes since the 1850s, but hasn't always been viewed as a wine country destination, like Napa Valley or Sonoma. However, Lodi is getting more attention, and good reviews for its robust Zinfandel and Lodi vineyards have gained increasing interest and respect, and many of the wineries welcome visitors. There are five major wineries in the area—Robert Mondavi Woodbridge, Sutter Home Winery, Bear Creek Winery, Oak Ridge Vineyards, and Turner Road Vintners—but there are also dozens of small boutique wineries like Michael–David Vineyards, Peirano Estate, and Century Oak Winery to name a few. These smaller wineries can offer an intimate and casual experience, where the winemaker might be the gentleman pouring your wine in the tasting room.
The Lodi Wine Country is situated between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Here you’ll enjoy a classic Mediterranean climate, featuring warm days and cool, pleasant evenings. Lodi’s location provides the perfect environment for vintners to make great wines and for you, the visitor to make new friends and create lasting memories. You’ll discover wineries large and small, brand new and decades old. In Lodi you have an excellent chance that you will step into a wine tasting room and sip wine with the winemaker of the wine in your glass. Some of Lodi’s winemakers are fifth generation Lodi grape growers.
The beautiful vineyard scenery of Lodi tells the tale of both young and old vines. The older vines, especially Lodi’s Zinfandel, spread their roots deep into our sandy soils. Younger vines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are easily recognized by their long trellised rows. Whether young or old, Lodi vines yield wines that are wonderful to experience. These wines are full of flavor yet soft and supple on the palate. They are delicious on their own or are the perfect companion to food. So get out your calendar, as it is time to plan your next trip to Lodi California. There are more that 70 wineries and vineyards in the greater Lodi area. So set the date for your next wine tasting adventure along the California wine trails.
The History of Lodi’s Wine Country
Early explorers to the area discovered a region teeming with wildlife and lush vegetation. The valley’s floor was covered with towering oaks, grasses, and wildflowers. The rivers were filled with salmon, the skies with migratory birds, and the lands rich with deer. Grizzly bears rumbled through the foothills, vast herds of antelope and elk roamed the valley floors, and Miwok Indians first inhabited the region, hunting and gathering along the rivers.
Grapes were always part of the local landscape, growing wild dangling from the trees along the riverbanks. Early trappers called one stream “Wine Creek,” due to the bounty of wild vines. That river was later renamed the Calaveras River, and flows through the southern part of the Lodi region.
The region has historically been home to grower-owned winery cooperatives. They were started primarily by German farmers in the 1880s to deal with the economic fall-out of the ending of the Gold Rush. Lodi weathered Prohibition much more effectively than the much of California. During Prohibition, heads of household were allowed to make 200 gallons of wine a year under the Volstead Act. The growers in the area capitalized on this law by shipping grapes all over the country to satisfy the market for home wine making. The fact that railroads and water routes were logistically accessible made the business quite lucrative.
Zinfandel and Flame Tokay varietals were resilient enough to survive the cross-country trek. Although no commercial wine was produced during this era, many vineyards were able to persevere during Prohibition. Cesare Mondavi and his family moved to Lodi in the 1920s and took part in this industry.
For decades, the United States loved the Flame Tokay as a table grape. It was also used for ports, Sherries, and other fortified wines during the 1930s and 1940s. The Throughout the 40’s and 50’s Lodi prospered with their Tokays, Zinfandels, and dessert wines, but then in the 1960’s consumer tastes began to change. They began to prefer table wines, and then later, quality varietal wines. The Tokay, no longer favored by wineries, was dealt another serious blow with the development of the seedless table grape that flourished in the warmer climates south of Lodi. The table grape market completely disappeared, and Lodi growers began focusing on producing quality varietal winegrapes for the blossoming table wine market.
The First Vineyards
Capt. Charles Weber, founder of Stockton, was the first to plant grapes in the region around his home in 1850. Two years later, a Massachusetts man named George West, who first came to California to mine gold, saw those flourishing vines. West got some cuttings from Weber and established the first major vineyard in the region just north of Stockton at the southern edge of the Lodi region. West being a good businessman could see that California had very few wineries yet a rapidly growing and thirsty population.
In 1858, he built the El Pinal Winery and became the region’s first commercial vintner. While West was expanding his vineyards and planting different varieties, growers in the heart of Lodi prospered farming grain and watermelons.
After the repeal of Prohibition, there was a large surplus of grapes that were once bought by home winemakers. This hastened the development of the co-ops to cope with these difficult times. By the 1950’s over 600 growers belong to 7 winery co-ops. The wine industry was rapidly changing during these years, and decision by committee was not a fast enough process to keep up with the times. Distributors were being rapidly consolidated and marketing decisions were hard to make by the slow moving co-ops. All but one of the co-ops were eventually bought by large producers (only East-Side Co-op remains). Robert Mondavi bought Cherokee Co-op. E & J Gallo bought Liberty Co-op. Canandaugua Industries bought guild Co-op, which is now Constellation Brands.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, there was a brief rivalry between Dino Barengo (independent) and Reg Gianelli (East-Side Co-op). They produced some great Zinfandels, but both retired, and the distinguished production ended. During the some years the focus primarily began to shift to producing bulk jug wines.
In the 1970s, Ridge Vineyards and David Bruce began to gain some recognition to the region for Zinfandel production. These wines were very alcoholic and had extremely forceful flavors. The Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission was formed in 1987. They have done a very good job promoting the region’s viticultural production. The region currently has a reputation for producing good, value-driven wines and not the jug wines of the 1950’s & 1060’s.
Lodi is best known today for being a center of wine production and the "Zinfandel Capital of the World", although its vintages have traditionally been less prestigious than those of Sonoma and Napa counties. However, in recent years, the Lodi Appellation has become increasingly respected for its Zinfandel wine and other varietals. National recognition came from the Credence Clearwater Revival song "Lodi." Nearby Woodbridge is the home of the well-known winery, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi. Mondavi grew up in Lodi, and Mondavi Winery is considered to be one of the most influential in the American wine industry.
By the late 1880’s the market for grains and watermelons went flat. Farmers began focusing on other crops but none excelled like grapes. Several different varieties did well in Lodi, but Zinfandel and Tokay stood out above the rest. Farmers especially embraced the Tokay, a versatile table grape with an eye-catching flame color. It was only in Lodi, with its sandy soils and cool delta breezes, that the Tokay would develop its distinctive flame color laying the foundation for what would eventually become the Lodi Appellation, which was established in 1986.
The Tokay was a delicious table grape that held up well during the long rail trip across country to eastern markets. It could also be fermented into wine, distilled into brandy, or fortified into Ports and Sherries.
Just after the turn of the century, vineyard development thrived, shipping companies emerged, and wineries slowly began sprouting up in the Lodi area. The once struggling farmers prospered, and in 1901 the local newspaper declared that wine production was “the coming industry for this part of the state.”
Despite the prosperity, the West family maintained a strong monopoly on local wine production, providing few alternatives for growers to sell their grapes. Anger over the West’s control led to the formation of many co-operative wineries, where the growers actually owned the business and shared the profits.
The enactment of Prohibition in 1919 posed a real threat to Lodi winegrape growers. Although some wineries did close, and some farmers prematurely tore out their vines, it turned out that Prohibition became a very prosperous time for Lodi growers. The business just changed from making wine to shipping fresh grapes. Since home winemaking was allowed under the Volstead Act, the demand for winegrapes actually increased during Prohibition. Thousands of railcars left Lodi each harvest full of Zinfandels, Tokays, Alicante’s, and many other winegrapes.
The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 signaled the rebirth of the Lodi wine industry. Some new co-operatives were formed, many new wineries were built, and Lodi wines were once again finding their way across the country. Dessert style wines like sherry, port, and sparkling wines were the consumer’s preference at the time.
The transition, which began in the late 60’s, and climaxed in the mid 90’s, saw thousands of acres of grapes converted into premium varietal winegrapes. The reported health benefits of moderate wine consumption and a strong US economy, wineries throughout the state turned to Lodi to supply the growing demand for delicious affordable table wines. Today, Lodi is home to nearly 80 wineries, hundreds of “Lodi” labeled wines, and approximately 100,000 acres of premium winegrapes. It is a region where a new generation of growers is rediscovering its rich heritage, and setting out to produce world-class wines that rival the best that California has to offer.
Lodi’s Wines and Wineries
The beautiful vineyard scenery of Lodi tells the tale of both young and old vines. The older vines, especially Lodi’s Zinfandel, spread their roots deep into the sandy soil. Younger vines like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are easily recognized by their long trellised rows. Whether young or old, Lodi vines yield wines that are wonderful to experience. These wines are full of flavor yet soft and supple on the palate.
We have only selected a few wineries for a quick introduction to this wine tasters paradise be sure to view a good number more in the Central Valley Region of California Corks.
Address: 1150 W. Turner Road
Lodi, CA 95242
Open daily 11am-6pm
This boutique winery produces some spectacular wines. If you haven’t sampled their award winning wines, treat yourself to a tasting soon!
Address: 17343 N. Cherry Rd.
Lodi, CA 95242
Open Thurs.-Sun. 11 AM – 5 PM
Drive through the vineyard to the tasting room of this Lodi winery. You will find lovely gardens, lawn, and fountain that all welcome you. As you walk into the tasting room you are greeted with warmth and elegance. There’s a large wooden bar for tasting wine, baby grand piano playing, several fireplaces, and French doors leading to a lovely patio and garden area in the back. They have many varietals of wine, which are reasonably priced.
Address: 1301 E. Armstrong Rd.
Lodi, CA 95242
Open daily Noon – 5 PM
This is a family owned and operated Lodi winery. Borra is known for fine quality wines. Our favorites are their signature blend “Fusion” and Merlot. A new Chardonnay and Viognier blend.
Address: 3750 E. Woodbridge Rd.
Open Daily 10 AM – 5 PM
Wines are produced from grapes grown outside of Napa Valley. Wines of this Lodi winery include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. You can also taste Napa Valley wines from Cosentino Winery at this Lodi winery.
Address: 13299 Curry Ave.
Lodi, CA 95240
Open noon-5 on weekends
D’Art is a small Lodi winery opened in 2004 by David and Helen Dart. They produce hand-crafted wines including Syrah, Old Vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Port. Their wine labels are distinctive and made by the owners with photographs from their travels. The wines are delicious. We definitely recommend that you stop at this winery on your California Wine Tour.
Delicato Family Vineyards
Address: 2001 S. Hwy. 99
Manteca, CA 95336
Open daily 9 AM – 5:30 PM
Delicato is actually 30 minutes south of Lodi in the town of Manteca. From Highway 99 take the French Camp exit and go south on the frontage road that is just west of the highway. Delicato has a lovely tasting room as well as reasonably priced wines. Our favorite wine is their Shiraz, which has won numerous awards.
Address: 9291 E. Harney Ln.
Lodi, CA 95240
Open Fri.-Tues. 11 AM – 5:30 PM
Harmony Wynelands have won numerous awards for their wines including a Double Gold in 2005 at the San Francisco Chronicle for their 2002 Old Vine Zinfandel and Double Gold’s at the California State Fair in 2005 for their 2003 White Riesling and their 2002 Alicante Bouschet. The owners purchased the pipe organ from the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco and they have pipe organ concerts throughout the year.