When it comes to California wine country, Napa and Sonoma steal the show as “it” destinations for wine vacations, but just to the south, low-key Lodi wine country is quietly becoming an alternative destination for those looking for less. world, plus affordable experiences, and quality and surprising old-vine zinfandels and family wines.
In the early summer heat, charming downtown Lodi teemed with people sipping pinot grigio on wrought-iron-wrapped patios, and at Lake Lodi, kayakers navigated the smooth, calm waters of the Mokelumne River. .
Once thought of as just a flat agricultural area that lacked the panache of the more sophisticated areas of wine country, Lodi is becoming a destination for outdoor adventures, culinary delights and incredible, unique wines.
Best of all, it’s cheaper to visit, as I discovered on a recent organized excursion to this charming town about an hour from Sacramento.
The secret is out of the bag, however, as more and more wine lovers turn to the ‘big red country’, as Lodi is called. On Booking.com, Lodi came out on top over Napa, Burgundy and even Bordeaux as the most popular place for old vine wine as well as family wineries and wineries, thanks to the fact that this region has been growing grapes for over 100 years. and is located within California’s largest appellation (defined as an area in which a winemaker is licensed to identify and market wine).
So if you’re craving the warm sunshine of Wine Country, here are five reasons to skip Napa Valley and go to California’s lesser-known Lodi wine region.
1. Quality, not cost
Let’s be frank. Lodi is simply more affordable to visit, but still offers the same experiences as more upscale wine regions, including tasting rooms, heritage wineries, quality hotels, and pretty town centers within walking distance.
“In Napa and Sonoma, you’re easily going to pay over $300 a night for overnight stays, and it could be a lot more. The hotel prices on the properties we have here will be a significant difference,” said Nancy Beckman, CEO of the Lodi Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Even resorts, like the sprawling, woodsy Wine & Roses Hotel and Spa with its pool and large landscaped gardens and patios, are priced surprisingly lower than resorts in California’s best-known wine regions.
“In wine tasting, most of our tasting rooms charge $10 to $20 for tastings, and you normally get that back with [a] buying bottles,” Beckman said. “Lodi is just more accessible and less commercialized than other wine regions. Our wineries are multi-generational winemaking families, so you are likely to be welcomed and have a family member on hand when you visit.”
Pro tip: I stayed at Wine & Roses Hotel and fell in love. Not only does it have curated rooms with landscaped balconies and patios, but a lovely, chic spa that includes all services and a soothing waterfall. The front porch hosts evening events, and the on-site Towne House restaurant often has live musicians playing.
2. A wider range of tastes
The Lodi region is the largest wine region in the state, and thanks to the region’s variety of climates and soils, Lodi’s wineries and winemakers have a wider variety of tastes to cultivate. Located in the Mokelumne River Valley in an area known as the Bay-Delta Ecozone, Lodi has over 550,000 acres of total land with over 100,000 acres of vineyards, twice as much as Napa Valley . In addition to more than 750 winegrowers, Lodi boasts more than 85 family wineries specializing in wines from small vines and old vines.
This means a greater variety of wines for all tastes. I’m a sucker for Spanish wines and on my recent trip I discovered my new favorite white for the summer – a delicious, fragrant and slightly sweet varietal called albariño from the Bokisch vineyards. This husband and wife team of Markus and Liz Bokisch began growing and creating award-winning Spanish varietals in the early 2000s after moving to Spain in 1992 and falling in love with wine, culture and food. The Mettler family vineyards also had a delicious albariño that I couldn’t get enough of.
The Michael David winery in southwest Lodi leverages the Zinfandel varietals that Lodi is best known for with its award-winning Freakshow Zinfandel, as well as varietals from the Rhône and Bordeaux.
In Lodi, you’ll find reds including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cinsault, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Carignan, as well as blends. When it comes to whites, you’ll travel the world with Lodi vineyards producing chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot crigio, grenache blanc, and more.
In fact, Klinker Brick Winery’s 2019 Klinker Brick Winery Lodi Grenache Blanc ($15) was listed in the 2020 wine spectator Top 100.
Rosé and sparkling wine can also be found at nearly every winery in Lodi, though my favorites are Oak Farm Vineyards and its beautiful, sprawling estate filled with oak trees, and Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, which has won four Best of Class awards at the 2022 San Francisco ChronicleWine Competition. Acquiesce’s 2020 Viognier won the award for best white wine overall.
If German varietals are your favorite, Lodi also offers some, like Markus Niggli of Markus Wine Co., which produces German wines like Kerner, Bacchus, Traminette, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.
Other popular family wineries in the area include Harney Lane Winery with its “grape to glass” tours, Jeremy Wine Co., and The Van Ruiten Family Winery with its aged vine zinfandels and cabernets.
3. Outdoor Adventures
From my home base at the lush and verdant Wine & Roses, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors of this lesser-known region.
Kayaking is my thing, so doing a 2 hour guided kayaking adventure on Lake Lodi and the Mokelumne River with Headwaters Kayak was a relaxing morning excursion. Because the day was so beautiful and sunny, the public beach at Lake Lodi filled with screaming children and sunbathers, along with other kayakers and paddleboarders, by midday.
Kayaking isn’t the only outdoor adventure at Lake Lodi. Hit the wooded trails of the Lake Lodi Wilderness Area with 3.2 miles of trails that follow the river and delve deep into the natural wonders of the area.
Cycling is also a big deal in Lodi, and another option for outdoor fun includes a guided bike tour with Lodi Cyclery, through the town center and the quiet back roads of wine country.
4. Excursions and unique experiences
Nothing tastes as good as the food you make from scratch, but cooking isn’t a skill I haven’t perfected yet. Luckily, Lodi also offers fun culinary experiences like cooking classes, cheese events, and more.
One evening, I learned how to make pasta and pizza from scratch during an Italian-themed cooking class at the Bordeaux Inn bed and breakfast, followed by a wine tasting with Markus Wine Co. My pizza might not have been the prettiest of the bunch, but it sure was delicious.
Another unique excursion is an olive oil tasting session with Calivines Winery & Olive Mill, which makes award-winning olive oils and barrel-aged balsamic that is just “oh my god” outrageously good.
“[Calivines] just built a new tasting room last fall with an observation room in the building. At harvest time, visitors see how the olive oil is actually processed and produced,” Beckham said.
Lodi is also the birthplace of A&W Root Beer, and the Lodi Avenue location is home to the largest collection of A&W Root Beer memorabilia.
Lodi also has a soothing Japanese garden at Micke Grove Park, and the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum, which showcases San Joaquin County’s singular contributions to agriculture and wine.
5. Cool and Quirky Downtown
Downtown Lodi is also comparable to places like Healdsburg and downtown Napa Valley, but with a more approachable, down-to-earth vibe. In addition to the boutiques that line the tree-lined streets, the heart of Lodi is also home to many fine dining restaurants, countless wine tasting rooms with selected pairings, fun specialty shops and even a summer farmers market that attracts hundreds. of people every Thursday evening during the summer. .
One of Lodi’s most unique shops is Cheese Central, which offers hundreds of different types of cheese from around the world and also hosts wine tastings and food and wine pairings.
“We also have a slew of clothing stores, antique shops, children’s stores and restaurants,” Beckham said. “Some of our fabulous restaurants range from Italian to Asian fusion. We have a new restaurant called Oxford Kitchen, which serves European cuisine. Our Farmer’s Market has food vendors, a wine patio and live music. It’s just a really vibrant downtown.
So if you’re looking for the delights of California’s wine country without the sky-high prices and crowds, skip Napa and explore this lesser-known wine country south of Sacramento instead.