When one says (or searches) for "California Wine Country," the first place that comes up is Napa Valley, followed closely by Sonoma, and then maybe Santa Barbara, Temecula... What does not generally surface? A wine getaway to Lodi.
But grape growing in this rural Delta region is older than the state itself, and more grapes are grown here annually than in Napa and Sonoma combined. And while the fog rolls hovers over the coast, the sun shines brightly over the San Joaquin Valley's abundance of wine, entertainment, agriculture, and, well... wine.
Plus, there is a key perk that comes with not being one of the more popular wine regions in the state--instead of crowds, you'll find a relaxed, homey atmosphere, where it's not surprising that the person pouring your wine is also the one who made it.
Where to taste
Every town visitor center should be like the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (2545 W. Turner Road). The informed folks here will give you a taste of the region , providing maps, fun facts, and a guided tasting of featured local wines, which rotate each week ($5 for a flight of four wines).
After five generations, the good folks at Harney Lane Winery (9010 East Harney Lane) are acting as stewards of the land, and since 2006 they have been using their land and wine knowledge to produce hand-crafted wines and sharing them in a friendly, stunning setting. Whether you're tasting at the bar ($5) or picnicking in the "forest" garden, you'll likely run into owners Kyle and Jorja, the kids Kristen and Ian, dog Ranger, or any combination.
Oak Farm Vineyards (23627 Devries Road) is an amalgam of young and hip with homage to old valley heritage. Operated by a youthful staff, the winery is set on one of the oldest properties in the area, the 1964 estate of William DeVries. Guests can wander among Mr. DeVries' beloved oak trees (it is reported that he never allowed a tree to be cut unless it was "a menace"), relax by the private lake, and, of course, taste wine (from $5).
Where to eat
For a guaranteed good time, head to the ever charming Dancing Fox Winery (203 School Street), with its vibrant menu of leafy salads and tasty sandwiches made on homemade bread. Even among pretty antique décor and an amiable staff, the restaurant's bakery remains the main highlight. A chewy cookie accompanies all of the sandwiches on the lunch menu, while the rest of the entrees leave you with a great excuse to wander over to the pastry case to choose a dessert of your own.
Another local favorite, Pietro's Italian Bistro (317 E Kettleman Lane), offers up the some of the cheesiest, sauciest, and heartiest dishes in the region--all in a romantic garden setting. Not simply for atmosphere, the surrounding garden stocks the kitchen with fresh veggies for menu items like the produce packed minestrone soup. The Chicken Scaloppine will make your taste buds sing, and I advise ordering the Ciabatta Garlic Bread to hold you over until it arrives at your table.
Explore the 7 Deadly Zins at Michael David Winery (4580 West Highway 12), where the on-site Farm Café & Bakery presents the perfect finish to a zinful afternoon.Gluttony comes to life here, with yummy daily specials from the café and an irresistible selection of farm-fresh pies. Even if you're not in the mood for lunch, a generous spread of samples ensures you won't leave hungry.
And if you're craving a little QT with Mother Nature, there's always the option of stealing away to Lodi Lake for a country picnic (or maybe just a well deserved post-wine tasting nap under the trees). You can load up on artisanal cheeses, cured meat, local honeycomb, and other dleicacies at Crush Kitchen + Bar (115 S School Street #13).
Where to sleep
Indulge in a little romantic luxury at the exceedingly comfortable Wine & Roses Hotel and Spa (2505 W Turner Road), where the rooms (from $179) are large and rustic and the grounds lush. But it's the relaxing spa, with its waterfall hot tub, that will guarantee that you'll leave feeling sprightly and refreshed.
The cozy Armstrong Cottages (3921 East Armstrong Road) offer a private retreat and are great for families or groups. Each two-bedroom cottage (from $200) has a fully equipped kitchen and picturesque outdoor sitting area, plus all array of amenities, including a welcoming gift basket and bottle of Lodi wine.
A more economical choice, the Lodi Holiday Inn Express (1337 East Kettleman Lane) is close to downtown and offers comfortable rooms (from $100), plus an indoor pool and a pretty patio overlooking the vineyards.
To move through town, look for the Lodi Grape Line, the city's wittily named public transit line, or ring up Mr. Pedicab, a bicycle taxi service that will run you run all around town without leaving a footprint. Also, take advantage of the Lodi Wine App to maneuver through the area's wineries.
Directions: Take Caltrain to Emeryville, where you can pick up Amtrak to Lodi (transfer in Sacramento from the Capitol Corridor to the San Joaquin train).
By Rebecca Podesta