With vineyard plantings traced back to the 1850s, Lodi has a long history of growing high-quality grapes. The trademark grape variety of the region is Zinfandel, and today there are still old vine plantings dating back to the 1880s that produce fruit with low yields, concentrated flavors, and unique character.
Located between the San Francisco and the Sierra Foothills, the region is hot during the day, but cools down from the notorious “delta breezes” that blow in from the Bay Area in the late afternoon.
For many years, the grapes from the region were mainly used to craft the popular red and white table wines made in California. But today, the region is home to 100,000 acres of wine grapes, and more than 80 boutique wineries that have honed their skills in producing small lot, handcrafted wines. Many of these vineyards and wineries are now owned by 4th and 5th generations of families who are committed to using the best farming practices. For that reason, over 20,000 acres are Certified Green, according to The Lodi Rules program focused on 3rd party-certified sustainable farming standards established in 2005.
Whites: Although the region is much more known for producing flavorful red wines, there are vast plantings of Chardonnay on the cooler western edge of the region, and Sauvignon Blanc in the warmer inland area to the east. In the old days, most of the white grapes were used to make the classic “Chablis” and generic white table wines. Since then, a much more diverse concentration of white grape varieties have been planted in the region, including Semillon, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Verdehlo, Albarino, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Kerner, Sylvaner, Muller-Thurgau, Gruner Veltliner, and a kaleidoscope of species of Muscat.
Reds: There is no doubt that Lodi is a Zinfandel lover’s paradise. Many of the old gnarly vine plantings still remain in the sandy soils throughout the region. Overall, 32% of California’s premium Zinfandel is produced in the Lodi AVA. The other main red grapes planted in the region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petite Sirah. For adventurers, keep an eye out for emerging varieties: Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Touriga Nacional, Grenache, Carignane, and some marvelous old vine versions of Cinsault.
White Wines: The white wines from the region tend to be aromatic, perfumed, and expressive. Many of the flavors feature notes of ripe melon, citrus and tropical fruit. The best have a nice burst of acidity, and long rewarding finishes that delight the palate.
Red Wines: For starters, it is not hard to ripen red grapes in this region. For that reason, the wines tend to be more full-bodied with deep flavors of dark fruit and layers of spice. Zinfandels often have notes of ripe berries, black pepper and chocolate. Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be deep, rich, round, and expressive. Syrahs have meaty aromas and flavors of black and blue fruits. And from a consumer’s perspective, it’s a great region to find flavorful wines that won’t bust the pocketbook.
With a diverse mixture of Portuguese, German, French, Italian, and Hispanic cultures living in the region, Lodi wines are fun to pair with a wide range of cuisine. Try the white wines with cold soups, ceviche, gourmet salads, fish tacos, paella, and grilled poultry. For red wines, think complex cheeses; grilled vegetables; barbecued red meats; spicy sausages, including local specialties like salami, chorizo and linguica; and more complex dishes like roasted pork shoulder, Ossobuco, and rack of lamb.