Each month, we’ll bring you the latest news, issues and stories straight from the vineyard, so you can take a “behind the label” look at the California wines you love.
What started as a hunt for gold back in the mid 1800s was actually the start of a thriving wine industry that has been flourishing for more than 150 years in Lodi, Calif. Capt. Charles Webber and businessman George West were the first to plant vineyards in this area in the mid 1800s, and their efforts were just the start of the area’s rich wine-grape growing history.
Lodi, which is just 35 minutes south of Sacramento and 90 minutes from San Francisco, first earned its reputation with Tokay, a wine known for its flame-like color and sweet dessert-friendly flavor. Tokay was well suited to Lodi because of the sandy soils and the delta breezes, and the grape was versatile, as it could be made into wine, brandy and even port and sherry. However, Tokay’s popularity eventually died down as people’s tastes changed and preferences shifted to dry table wines. So, Lodi reinvented itself, planting new varieties of wine grapes to accommodate people’s changing palates.
In 1986, the Lodi region earned its status as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Lodi appellation has flourished ever since.
Lodi’s climate is what gives the region its ability to produce great wines. As temperatures rise in the Central Valley, maritime breezes from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay are pulled directly across Lodi keeping it relatively cool. The warm summer days are what give the grapes full ripe flavors, while the cool nights and breezes give the wine grapes natural acidity, which shows in the finished wines.
Lodi currently has more than 100,000 acres of wine grapes grown by more
than 750 growers. Local growers pride themselves on five premium varieties: cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, merlot, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc, and several are starting to experiment with interesting Italian and Iberian (Spanish) varietals as well. But for now, Lodi is probably best known for its fine zinfandels. Some zinfandel vineyards have been around for more than 100 years, having survived prohibition and the re-planting boom, and still produce distinctive grapes.
If you’ve always wanted to know more about wine, Lodi is the place to go. It has a relaxed, easygoing pace, and more often than not, it’s the winemaker or owner who’s pouring wine behind the tasting bar. Also, for the ultimate zinfandel experience, consider attending Zinfest that takes place annually on the third weekend in May.
Lodi’s warm summer days and cool breezy nights create a unique grape growing climate that produces great tasting, versatile wines.