A Renewed Perspective on Lodi Wine Post WBC16
As many times as I’ve made the arduous but worthwhile cross country trek to explore Sonoma and Napa, I had never been to Lodi – despite it being a relatively easy hour and a half drive from Napa.
I regularly stay in Sonoma and scale the switchbacks of the Mayacamas (this is how I wake myself up for those early morning visits) via Oakville Grade to visit producers in Napa, and vice versa. Depending on where they’re located, that in itself often consumes the better part of an hour. So why hadn’t I made it to nearby Lodi?
The answer is that I didn’t think I would enjoy the wines. Lodi primarily forged its reputation as more of a grower than a producer, and with over 700 growers in Lodi, much of its fruit is still sold to bulk producers. With grape growing serving as the lifeblood of the region, its understandable that Lodi has faced challenges cultivating its brand as a source of premium wine production.
But look beyond its reputation as the King of Grape Growing and you’ve probably noticed that Lodi is well-known for producing some of the best Zinfandels in California, and yet Zin isn’t usually what I find myself reaching for – especially when they’re really ripe and jammy. And let’s face it, being located in the Northern part of California’s Central Valley, Lodi is hot! I wondered how the region could produce anything other than big jammy Zins and peppery Petite Sirahs?
So when the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC16) announced that it would be taking place in Lodi, I was initially somewhat apprehensive. I was really hoping that my first conference would transport me to a region I was excited to finally be able to visit. I wanted to attend the conference last year, but was stuck prepping a house to be sold/moving and so I decided that I wasn’t going to miss this years conference, or Lodi for that matter.
As it turns out that there was more than my share of excitement awaiting me in Lodi, in the form of proving my preconceived notions about Lodi wine completely wrong! It all began after arriving quite late (don’t underestimate rush hour traffic from San Francisco to Lodi. What I expected to take around 1.5 hours took 3.5 hours!) to the Lodi opening reception being held at picturesque Mohr Fry Ranch.
Upon arriving to the reception, I was at a loss for words to describe the utter refreshment and versatility of the Turley Lodi Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsault that cost a mere $18 per bottle! Then there was the truly unique and experimental blend of Kerner, Riesling and Gewurztraminer by winemaker Markus Niggli that was as unexpected as it was delicious and incredibly interesting to taste.
Oh and let’s not forget the eye-opening varietal Albarinos, Barberas and even a Mourvedre by Fields Winery that were compelling not just for their distinctiveness and balance, but for their tremendous value. You could say thing were off to a good start, and this was just the beginning of wine after wine that demonstrated just what Lodi is truly capable of producing – for those willing to look for it.
Another observation I believe is worth mentioning is just how down to earth, approachable and passionate the winemakers and vintners of Lodi were. Their generosity in not only willing to share the fruit of their hard work but also their unique stories undeniably added my excellent experience in Lodi.
I would also like to send a big thank you to the passionate father/daughter winemaking team Jeff and Laura Werter of Toasted Toad Cellars for introducing us to their flavorful wines over a beautiful meal in their downtown tasting room. I have no doubt that should you make the effort to visit them that you would receive the same warm welcome and generous hospitality that me and my fellow bloggers experienced.
I only wish I had had more time to explore the region and its wineries during my visit. It was both unexpected and immensely enjoyable to discover that there’s far more to Lodi wine than jammy, overblown Zinfandel. The Lodi wine region is far from dull or one-dimensional, instead seeming innovative, even edgy at times.
Most of the wines I tasted demonstrated the often elusive quality of balance, with many of the wines exhibiting vibrant, refreshing acidity. And with that, I’ll raise a glass of Borra Vineyards Barbera to my renewed perspective on Lodi wine!
To learn more about the history of Lodi, check out this great post by my friend Lori. That’s us pictured below, checking out downtown Lodi! Please keep an eye out for my upcoming post highlighting some of the best Lodi wines I tasted during my visit!