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My wife Laura and I love to travel and one of our favorite things to do is to discover new places. We recently took a whirlwind tour, driving from San Francisco to Lodi on a Monday morning, then off to Calaveras and Amador Counties on Tuesday and Paso Robles on Wednesday. This wasn’t my first visit to Lodi, but it was my first time wine tasting there. A few months ago I drank and thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of Moss Roxx Ancient Vines Zinfandel. We began our day at Oak Ridge Winery where Moss Roxx is produced. DeAnna Morrison of Wine Country Outings introduced us to Chris Ashby who gave us a grand tour of their enormous facility.

Chris Ashby

Oak Ridge is Lodi’s oldest operating winery, founded in 1934 as a co-op of local growers. Over time Oak Ridge fell into disrepair, but over the last few years it has regained much of its former glory, thanks in no small part to Chris’ efforts. Chris is the head of sanitation and said when he arrived, things looked pretty grim. The winery shines now, and after exploring the lab and meeting Senior Winemaker Chue Her, visiting the bottling line and massive storage and fermentation tanks, we wound up in the tasting room.

Oak Ridge’s tasting room is a converted 50,000 gallon redwood tank. It lends itself perfectly to wine tasting and we went through their line up of wines under their five different labels. We enjoyed them all, but the ’05 Moss Roxx Ancient Vine Zinfandel remains my favorite. Champortini is unique. It’s a pink sparkling wine with a bit of port in it.

That's a BIG tank

Catwalk

Chue Her & Chris Ashby

Our next stop was right up the street at St. Amant Winery. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by more than one winery located in an industrial park and St. Amant was no exception. Open by appointmetly only, assistant winemaker Joel was gracious and led us through a tasting of their superb wines. I love finding unique varietals like Verdelho and St. Amant’s is lovely. Touriga is a grape primarily used to make port, but St. Amant produces a red wine from this Portuguese grape and it, too, is excellent. We also tasted Zins from two different vineyards, a Barbera, a Tempranillo and two different ports: Tawny and Bootleg Port, made from five Portuguese varietals.

We headed for Vino Piazza hoping to visit Pasos Vineyards, but they are closed on Mondays. Instead we visited the one winery that was open, Stama. Stama’s tasting room is filled with history of the Kampiniaris family and their exile from Greece. From their original thirty acre purchase in 1987, they have grown to 185 acres and produce Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel. A stop at Stama’s tasting room is well worthwhile.

Tasting Room at Stama

118 Year Old Zinfandel Vine at Jesse's Grove

Jessie’s Grove was our next stop. The weather was perfect, sunny and mid to upper 80s and it lit up the property spectacularly! The ranch dates back to the 1860s. The tasting room is a veritable museum and a tribute to the history of Lodi wine. Suzanne took wonderful care of us, tasting us from Jessence, aViognier/Roussanne blend, on to their amazing Zinfandels (there are five!) as well as their Cab and Petite Syrah. We finished with samples in the barrel room.

We wrapped up our Lodi visit with a stop at Abundance Vineyards. Dino Mencarini and his brother Ron made the switch from growing corn and wheat to farming Carignane and Old Vine Zin in the early ’60s. Both varietals are served today as well as a blend of the two called Abundantly Rich Red. Their Bountiful Blanc is a blend of Symphony and Sauvignon Blanc. We also tasted the Petite Syrah while visiting with Dino. Our first taste of Lodi won’t be our last. Next time I hope we can enjoy more than an afternoon here. This weekend they’re gearing up for ZinFest. Wish we could make it.

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