Another Trip to Lodi, Day three

After spending a full day in the California ShenandoahValley, our Sunday was open to check out wineries in the Lodi Area. There are somewhere on the order of 90 wineries in this sprawling farming region in the central valley of California and foothills of the Sierras.

Spenker Goat Creamery and Winery
We had taken our wine group up for a tasting day on Saturday, and since our hotel was in Lodi, it only made sense to check out the local wineries. After all, some of the oldest vines in California are located in this area. See my past blog on the area.

Lodi is known for Zinfandel, but as we found out, there is so much more to this area. I have created a “wish list” of wineries to check out. There were more on my list than we could possibly get to in a day, so what do you do? In our case, we headed to the first tasting room to open in the area. Most open at 11:00, but the Oak Ridge Winery tasting room opens at 10:00am.

Oak Ridge Tasting Room
The tasting room is situated in an authentic 50,000 gallon redwood wine tank. The Oak Ridge Winery is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Lodi area, originally opened after prohibition in the 1930’s. They current produce at least nine brands (all available at the tasting room). Some might be familiar with Moxx Roxx Zinfandel, which is readily available at Total Wine and More. This is Zinfandel country, and you will find all types of different styles of Zin. The first two zins we tried, were completely different. One was jammy and fruity, and the next was spicy and sharp. We asked if there was something in between, and sure enough, we were offered a taste of the Silk Oak Old Vine Zinfandel, and it hit the spot. A good start to the day! The women in our group were intrigued by the wine slushy machine, did a tasting. Nice and refreshing on a hot day.

Relaxing at Macchia
Based on recommendations from other wineries in the area (I always ask for up and coming wineries, or someone doing something different), we head to the north east corner of Lodi to visit Bokisch Vineyards. They are the only winery in the area that is experimenting with Spanish grape varieties. When we arrived, I was a bit concerned about the condition of their vineyard. They were very brown. Upon questioning of the tasting room staff, they said they had recently harvested the grapes, and were no longer irrigating that section of vines. They seemed a bit defensive and put off by the question, so I don’t think we started off on good grounds. They offered Albariño, Verdejo, Grenacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, and Graciano. We tasted a few of the wines that were open, but many were not available for tasting, or only for club members. So, purchase were a bit limited here. The winemaker, Elyse Perry was there on a Sunday, showing others the wine making process, so we didn’t have a chance to speak with her. 

Klinker Brick Tasting Room
The next stop was at one of the better known wineries in the area. Along with Michael David, Klinker Brick winery helped put Lodi on the map. When we arrived, the tasting room was already busy. There was no room at the tasting bar, so we established ourselves at one of the barrel tasting tables. They offer two different tasting options: 1) the regular tasting flight for $5, and 2) the premium tasting flight for $10 (both refundable with a purchase of wine). My wife and I each did different tastings, so we could share, and try all the wines. Klinker Brick is a Zinfandel house. While this is the focus, they do offer, a sparkling wine, some whites, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Syrah. But…you come here for Zinfandel, and they don’t disappoint. Prices range from $15 to $37 for their Old Ghost Zinfandel, and top off at $65 for their grand reserve Syrah.

Lunch at Spenker, speaking with Bettyann
We had been hearing about a goat creamery that was located in Lodi, offering fresh goat cheeses, along with wine from their vineyard. We drove across town to the Spenker Winery. The first thing you see is the big red barn, where the tasting room is located, and the goat pens to the left of that. We met Sarah (daughter of the owners) in the tasting room and proceeded to taste their wines, and later the cheeses. They had large tables in the tasting room covered with red and white checked table clothes, so we asked if it was okay to buy some cheese and wine, to add to our lunch snacks. We enjoyed a nice, cool spot to relax, and meet Chuck and Bettyann Spenker.  They had just finished picking and crushing Muscat grapes that morning. We had a long conversation with Bettyann about both the winemaking and cheesemaking process. These are down-to-earth, friendly people. Very inviting. Needless to say, we stocked up on fresh goat cheese (five different types available this day) and wine.

Macchia Tasting Room
Our last stop of the day was Macchia Winery. This family owned winery sources grapes from throughout the region, including some old vine zinfandel from the 140 year old vines in the Shenandoah Valley. These guys are a zinfandel house. Out of the approximately 20 wines available, I’d venture to say that half were either Zinfandel or Primitivo. A tasting allowed you to try all the different wines, and revisit them again. This was critical to my purchases, as there were so many Zins, I was going back and forth to find the right ones. In addition to Zinfandel, they offer some Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Petit Sirah. The tasting room is in an old farm house, surrounded by gardens with chairs and tables strategically placed. The tasting room is small, and has plenty of gifts and food items available, but it can get crowded.

By the end of the day, the damage had been done, I purchased 20 bottles (mostly a variety of different zinfandels) along with some wonderful goat cheese, and met some very friendly people. 

Our group regathered for dinner at the Woodbridge CrossingRestaurant, located in a historic brick building. Our group was seated in what used to be an old railroad ice car. The restaurant had a varied menu, but the focus was on steaks. The old west décor, and live music made for a nice end of the day.

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Wine Tasting in California's Shenandoah Valley

It has been almost 20 years since I lived in the East Bay of San Francisco. We used to drive through the little farming town of Lodi on the way to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountain. I never really thought much of the area, and never explored it.

Now it is home to somewhere around 90 wineries. Restaurants and hotels are abundant, and the tasting rooms are crowded with wine enthusiasts that don’t want to deal with the high prices, and “upturned noses” in Napa Valley.

Michael David Tasting
I brought our wine club back to Lodi, since we had such a great experience three years ago (seethat blog here). Once again, we started our weekend off with a visit to Michael David Winery. Things have changed over three years. They have expanded their wine tasting and entertainment grounds, with a beautiful new tasting building. We were hosted by Joseph Phillips (his father is the "David", in Michael David - we met years ago at a wine pairing dinner). He poured a number of wines for our group, and based on the number of bottles and boxes leaving the property, there was no doubt the wines impressed. What is most impressive is that a winery of this size has been able to scale up, and maintain the consistent quality of their product. If you are in Lodi, this is a “don’t miss” tasting stop.

Outdoor seating at Pietro's
Since our drive from Southern California was about seven hours, it didn’t leave time for any other tastings on a Friday afternoon. We checked into the Hampton Suites Hotel. The rooms are well appointed, and priced very well. Why not spend your money on wine, rather than a hotel room?
We were able to get our entire group together for a family-style dinner at Pietro’s Ristorante. The homemade gnocchi and ravioli were a treat, and we left completely full.

Saturday, we gathered for the complimentary breakfast, at our hotel, then loaded into the limo bus I had chartered for the day. We used Nuemann Limo services, out of Sacramento. The 24 person bus would have been crowded if we used all the seats, but the 18 of us easily fit. I’d suggest 20 would have been the maximum.

The California Shenandoah Valley
Months before our outing, I had made arrangements to visit four wineries in the California Shenandoah Valley AVA. This tiny wine region is located in an oblong valley, just outside of Plymouth, CA. There are only about 27 wineries in the valley, but 42 in all of Amador County. It is rich with gold rush history, as are most areas along the Sierra Foothills. I had previously written about this area in a blog back. Check it out here. The area is known for their Zinfandel and numerous Italian grape varieties…and that is where our focus was for this trip.

The first stop was at the far northeast corner of the valley, at the oldest continuously operating winery in California, Sobon Estates. While Sobon has been around since 1989, the winery has been in operation since 1856, when D’Agostini Winery became bonded winery #2459, and is now an historical landmark. This corner of the valley is at the highest elevation, so cooler micro-climates. The tastings are free, unless you do the reserve tasting, which is $5, and you get to keep the glass. They have a very nice gift shop, friendly staff, and an old winemaking museum, that is free to tour. The wines are all well done, and priced very reasonably. The most expensive wine on the list is $28, with most less than that. We arrived at 10:00am, when they open. They are the first to open in the valley, so head here first to get things going. For many in our group, this was their favorite winery of the day. The quality and value of the wines made for many purchases. A few whites, but a lot of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Barbera, and even a pleasant Rose.

Alicante Bouschet grape tasting
The next stop was only five minutes away at Cooper Vineyard. I had visited Cooper a few years prior, and loved their Barbera wines, so wanted to bring the group for a tasting. Our host was the grand daughter of Dick Cooper. She ran us through a tasting of about six wines, then took us out to the vineyard to taste Barbera, Alicante Bouschet and table grapes on the vine.

As we drove down Shenandoah School Rd, and headed back to the main road, to get to our next stop, we noticed a large Gourd and Fine Arts Festival that was going on at the Amador Flower Farm. Something to keep in mind for another visit to the area.

Vino Noceto Tasting Pavilion
Our next stop was at Vino Noceto, where I had arranged to have our box lunches delivered by the Amador Vintage Market. Everything had been delivered, and kept refrigerated for our arrival, and we have tables set up for us in the Pavilion area. After an enjoyable lunch, surrounded by vineyards (with beware of snake signs), we were introduced to Rhys Tappero, who is the local sommelier and wine educator for Vino Noceto. He took us through the history of the area, and the specific vineyards of Vino Noceto. We did tastings of Sangiovese from multiple different vineyards. It was interesting to see the differences in Sangiovese clones and vineyards. The stories of how the vine clippings made it to the 40 acres of vineyard were also interceding.

Scott Harvey - tasting in the barrel room
Our last stop of the day was just next door at Scott HarveyWinery. Scott was one of the founders of ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers festival. So, as you can imagine, the winery offers a variety of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Syrah and Barbera. They also make a sparkling wine, in the typical Champagne method. Some of you may be familiar with Scott Harvey, but didn’t know it…he was the creator of “Menage a Trios” wines.

We boarded our wine limo, and headed back to the hotel in Lodi, arriving around 5:45. Our group purchase a lot of wine, and that took about 15 minutes to unload the limo and organize everyone’s purchases into individual piles along the side walk. My purchase for both Friday and Saturday included 26 bottles of wine, from 5 different wineries. The breakdown was: Zinfandel (5 btls); Sangiovese (6 btls); Barbera (4 btls); Rose (3 btls); Red Blends (2 btls); Port (2 btls); Alicante Bouschet (1 btl); Petit Verdot (1 btl); Sauvignon Blanc (1 btl); Moscato (4 cans)…..yes you read that last one correctly….four one-glass cans of sparkling Moscato.

The Shenandoah Valley is a great place to visit, and go wine tasting. Most places do not require appointments (unless you are in a large group) and tasting fees range from no fee, up to $10. The pours are generous, and the people are friendly. Most are farmers, and enjoy talking to you about what they do. This is was Napa Valley was like 25 years ago, or Paso Robles just 10 years ago. I encourage you to visit the area. It is much more that the typical Zinfandel that is grown in the Sierra Foothills.

Catch our follow up day in Lodi on my next blog entry.

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