It’s an easy drive from the Bay Area to Lodi. Driving past lush fields and over bridges with water surging below, it’s hard to believe you’re in a state experiencing severe drought. As the miles slipped by, little by little we realized we were in wine country. The vineyards along the roads of Lodi seem so close you could reach out your window and touch them.
We arrived at the Wine and Roses hotel, our home for the night and settled into our cozy, well-appointed room. We stepped out on the balcony and took in the sights, smells and sounds. As I bird lover, I couldn’t wait to see what kind of birds were living in the aviaries I was seeing and hearing. We strolled downstairs and walked through the courtyard on our way to dinner at the Towne House restaurant. Rudy and Bestman, two brilliantly colored macaws entertained us with their antics and then we paid a quick visit to the cockatiels before being seated on the deck at the Towne House.
Our waiter, Kanoa, was charming, knew the menu well and was quick to offer recommendations. I started with a spicy white peach margarita that was dangerously tasty! I opted for the duck breast and duck lumpia while my companion chose the quail and polenta. We shared an Irish Cream brulée for dessert and headed back to the room sated and smiling.
Wine and Roses also is home to the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center as well as a demonstration vineyard. I walked through the vineyard before stopping into the visitor center and got ready to explore Lodi wine. The visitor center features a wealth of information about the wines of Lodi and serves as a tasting room and retail shop, too. It’s a great place to start for a visit to Lodi wine country.
Our first stop of the morning was at Borra Vineyards where we met the enthusiastic and energetic Markus Niggli. Born in Switzerland, Markus joined Borra in 2006 and is now their winemaker and head of marketing and operations. He prides himself on pushing the envelope, offering varieties like Kerner, not often seen out side of Germany. He tends to produce wines that are more European in nature with slightly higher acid levels. Visitors have so far embraced his style and seem more than willing to try the many unfamiliar varieties he produces. “We have something others don’t” he beams.
We moved on to Harney Lane where Kyle Lerner and his wife Jorja were there to greet us and take us outside under the shade of a tree for a tasting and a visit. “When you’re 111 years old you have some stories to tell.” Kyle is referring to how long grape vines have been planted on the Harney Lane property. Kyle stresses that they want their wines to be very varietal specific so you should know what you’re tasting. Their wines are 100% estate grown and they have 100% control over everything they produce. Chad Joseph is consulting winemaker. 90% of the wines they make are sold out of the tasting room. We tasted outside, underneath the shade of majestic trees.
If you’re looking for fancy, you won’t find it at McCay Cellars. Owner/winemaker Michael McCay would rather put the time and energy into producing quality wine. Michael has been growing grapes for 25 years and made wine for the first time in a barn in 1994. 2004 was the first vintage for McCay Cellars and came in at 400 cases. Today he produces 4,500 cases. “I’ve always had a passion for wine” he told me, adding he has a “decent palate.” He produces 14 wines, six of them Zinfandels. His Contention Zinfandel, commanding a hefty $64 price tag, comes from an 85-year-old vineyard he describes as “barely alive, dying and dead.” Regarding the price tag he adds “there’s not much fruit and it’s that good.”
Michael joined us for a very tasty lunch at the Lodi Airport Cafe before we stopped in at M2 Wines for a tasting and visit with the outspoken Layne Montgomery. Layne brewed beer until the turn of the century and then ran into another couple who asked him if he wanted to open a winery with them. He put that idea on the back burner until he lost his job in 2004 and thought to himself ‘what the hell?’ Starting with $78,000 and a naive stubbornness, M2 was born. His roots are in Missouri, but his intellectual curiosity led him to Napa, where he took classes and asked a lot of questions. Today he produces 4,000 cases annually, mostly Zinfandel, blends and Rhône varieties.
When you think of Lodi wine, it’s natural that reds, mostly Zinfandel come to mind. It’s unusual to come across a winery that produces only white wines, but that’s indeed the story at Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards. Susan Tipton is the owner and winemaker and she led us through a food-paired tasting of her wines. The winery sits on 18 acres and she and her husband live on the property. She began making wine with what was planted on their property which happened to be Zinfandel. After tasting a white Chateauneuf du Pape, out went the Zinfandel and in went Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, Viognier and Grenache. Her wines have been a hit, so much so that she sells out every year. That explains why Acquiesce is only open March through November.
With more than 200 wineries, clearly we just scratched Lodi’s surface. I enjoyed our visit immensely, the wines were exceptional and I’m ready for a return visit.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts. Accommodations, meals and tastings were provided.