Many consider Lodi, California, to be the unofficial, self-proclaimed “Zinfandel Capital of the World.” Each May, thousands of wine lovers and local wine makers join together in the area at Lodi’s hallmark event, Zinfest, for tasting and learning about this old-growth, highly acclaimed Old Vine Zinfandel varietal. Names such as Michael David, Barsetti, Twisted Toad, Oak Ridge, Acquiesce, Riaza, Berghold and Klinker Brick are just some of the more than 85 beloved wineries located here.
Just 40 miles south of Sacramento, 90 miles east of the San Francisco Bay Area and about 100 miles northeast of San Jose, California, Lodi is in San Joaquin County, California, in the northern portion of California's Central Valley. The small town of Lodi has a delightful historic downtown with several excellent bistros, while several of the wineries offer superb dining options as well.
Its Mediterranean-like climate features warm days and cool evenings, and delta breezes from the Sacramento River Delta lend natural air conditioning to the region during the growing season, providing sustenance to more than 80 wineries offering full-flavored varietal wines with a refreshing natural acidity. Lodi is known as a red-wine-growing region; however, whites such as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc account for one-third of all wines here. Indeed, some 100-plus wines are in the Lodi repertoire. Many of the old-growth zinfandel vines in Lodi date back to the 1880s and early 1900s. Some local families have wine-making roots that go back as far as five generations, and a few families have ties back to old-world winemakers in Europe. Lodi’s zinfandel grapes were able to survive throughout the 20th century, even during Prohibition. In 1986, the Lodi region was officially recognized and winemakers put the Lodi Appellation on their labels.
In Lodi, many of the old-growth zinfandel vineyards feature ungrafted, untrellised vines that grow free. The older vineyards are also close to the banks of the Mokelumne River, where the soil is fine, sandy loam. The unique growing style and soil composition results in the bold, intense red flavor and silky texture that old-growth Lodi zinfandel is noted for.
Sustainable viticulture practices are the norm here, where growers and vintners combine tried-and-true tradition with modern science and technology, practicing sustainable practices to preserve the land. These old vines, many of which are still planted on their own roots, are naturally low-yielding due to their age but consistently produce high-quality fruit. Styles range from medium to full-bodied, with a wide range of red and black fruit flavors of cherries, raspberries and blackberries. There is much to do here besides drink wine! Visitors can join in on bicycle tours; kayaking, canoeing and paddleboarding are popular on the Mokelumne River; skydiving is an option as well; and golfers thrill to the various golf courses, particularly the 18-hole Micke Grove Golf Links, tucked into the vineyards.
Wildlife lovers visit Lodi Lake Park, with 200-plus species of birds as well as other wildlife and myriad butterflies. The Isenberg Crane Reserve at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve affords excellent viewing of sandhill cranes along with barn owls, pelicans, hawks, shrikes, swans, stilts, ducks, herons and even vultures.
The closest major airport to Lodi is Sacramento International Airport (SMF), but travelers may also consider San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK) or Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).