As many of you know, my wife’s parents live in the East Bay area of the greater San Francisco region (associating their town, Antioch, with the city of San Francisco should be considered blasphemous in my opinion, but that is all I will say about it), and just about every time we go out to visit, I get a couple of days to myself.
I have provided a visual aid as to let you know what I do with that free time:
Once I get the OK, I never ask for clarification, I do not dilly, nor do I dally. I hop in the car and race West to Sonoma (and Napa every so often). It is a well-worn path for me and I am convinced that I have put the kids of the toll-takers on the Benecia Bridge through at least a couple of semesters at some high-falutant post-secondary institution.
But that may all change.
A few weeks ago, I was part of a media trip with Snooth.com to Lodi, California, sponsored by the Lodi Winegrape Commission. I had been to Lodi a few months prior on the latest trip out to visit with my wife’s family, but we only had the time to stop at a couple wineries. The first winery was, well, uninspiring, but the second, Fields Family Wines was stellar, and perhaps beyond that.
[I say “perhaps” since my notes of the tasting were lost when I switched from my ancient iPhone 4 to an iPhone 6.]
That trip to Fields was memorable on many fronts: there was Michael, the tasting room attendant who clearly knew his wine and was a bit of a curmudgeon, but he eventually warmed up (I like to think that he appreciated my own wine knowledge and interest, but it could have been the wine); there were a dozen or so fermenting bins neatly aligned in the winery filled with the recently harvested fruit; and there were thousands and thousands of fruit flies.
I was impressed with all the wines (particularly the Syrah), but I bought a couple of bottles of the ’09 Merlot. Perhaps even more notable is that my father-in-law bought six bottles (he rarely buys wine on our tasting room visits, but that is a story that I am not allowed to tell).
As we drove back from the tasting, I thought Lodi deserved more exploration, but I was not quite sure how it fit in with my well-rehearsed excursions to Sonoma and Napa.
(Although I do know that Lodi is quite a bit closer….)
But that was about to change.
Fast forward a few months and the clock read “3:25” (yes, a.m.) when I got up to start what would be a rather long day. [On a side note, why is it that I always wake up five minutes before the alarm goes off?]
My flight to Sacramento (via Dallas) was scheduled for 5:30 (yes, a.m.) and even though we are a scant twenty minutes from the airport, my wife suggested that I get up at 3:30, “just to be safe.” I guess there is a fine line between “safety” and “insanity.”
The rest of that very long day was a bit of a haze–I can’t sleep on planes and once we arrived in Sacramento, we basically hit the ground running and did not stop until close to midnight, West Coast time (I pondered for a moment staying up until 12:30 to make it a complete 24 hours awake, but the only “prize” I would receive would be one for stupidity and I already have plenty of those).
I took some notes that first night, many of them were even comprehensible. We had dinner at the wonderful Towne House Restaurant (part of the beautiful Wine & Roses Resort where we were staying), where I was sitting next to Camron King, the Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and across from Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like. It soon became obvious that I was going to have my hands full keeping up with the two of them in the snark and sarcasm arena (but I was up for the challenge).
Camron, in addition to being a funny and witty guy, is a great ambassador for Lodi and its growers–he has only been in the position for three years, but his breadth and depth of knowledge of the area and its denizens is truly impressive. Before coming to Lodi, he was a lobbyist and has a keen ability to persuade, which is perhaps why he said that first night:
We don’t need Robert Parker to come to Lodi, we need people like you to get the word out.
Naturally, I looked behind me to see who else had just walked into the room to warrant such a comment, but I guess he was talking to us: Amy Corron Power of Another Wine Blog, Gabe Sasso of Gabe’s View, the aforementioned Frank Morgan, Julia Crowley of Wine Julia, and Mark and Claudia Angelillo of Snooth.
Here are a few bullet points I was able to get into my phone that first night as an introduction to Lodi:
- There are over 100 different grape varieties grown in Lodi that are not called “Zinfandel.”
- Lodi is responsible for 24-25% of all wine produced in California.
- Lodi produces more wine grapes than the Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties combined.
- Lodi produces more grapes than the states of Oregon and Washington combined.
- 20 years ago there were 8 wineries in Lodi, today there are 85.
- Among the many old and renowned vineyards in the Lodi appellation, the Bechthold Vineyard is perhaps the most famous. it is the oldest Cinsault vineyard in the world at 130 years old.
- Lodi received its AVA status in 1985. Seven smaller appellations were created in 2005.
Over the next several days, we were to see numerous vineyards, meet a dozen or so growers, chat with many of the region’s top winemakers, and drink Lodi wine. Lots and lots of Lodi wine.
For the next few Fridays, I will recount some of the great stories and glorious wines that I encountered on my trip to Lodi and you will see why my next trip out to visit my in-laws will include a drive to the East instead of one to the West.