Zin City

Posted on November 3, 2011 – 9:08 PM | by Admin
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By Niki Kangas

Lodi, world-renowned for its old vine Zinfandels, is the perfect home to a dizzying variety of grapes.That’s because its growing region is rooted in the alluvial, clay soils of the delta – great for Chardonnay and other cooler weather grapes. And it extends to the hot, dry expanses of the Great Central Valley – great for Cabernet and other sun-worshiping grapes. Geographic diversity and ideal grape growing conditions make Lodi one of California’s best wine regions.

 Certainly a visit to the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center would have been an appropriate first stop, as it has extensive area information available (as well as over 200 of Lodi’s best wines ripe for the tasting), but instead I consulted their website to get debriefed on what to expect from Lodi wineries. After a pinch of online research, I had tailored myself a day trip that encompassed a smattering of winery types: big business, small family-owned, and a collective of wineries that ran a downtown wine bar conjointly. The trip ended in a trip to a brewery, which was not part of the original game plan, but always a good call.

November is the perfect time to enjoy a wine tasting daytrip – the grapes have just been plucked from the vine, and harvest celebrations are on the horizon. Lodi is off the beaten Napa/Sonoma county paths, and also happens to be only about a half hour away from Midtown.

 Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi is a household name, so I thought a visit to Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi’s Tasting Room would prove a quintessential stopping point in Lodi. Additionally, they pour wines that they only offer on site in spite of their brand’s wide distribution. The Reserve Tasting List carries a $5 price tag. The Complimentary Tasting List showcases a sampling of the wines that Woodbridge distributes the world over, by tens of thousands of cases. In Lodi, this is one of the biggest, most successful wineries.

My sweetheart, Andy, and I met his parents at this predetermined jump-off, and the daytrip commenced. An exceedingly experienced, professional, knowledgeable sommelier  poured the wine, and almost seemed to be waiting for a real, challenging inquiry from a tourist. Our onslaught of twenty questions neither flummoxed nor inspired him; he’d heard it all before, but was happy to help.

The atmosphere at the tasting room was rather uninspired.  One could venture a guess that the décor was intended to be as palatable and mundane as the complimentary wines seemed to taste. However, the Reserve Tasting List boasted some robust, special wines that were remarkable and delicious to imbibe.

Among them, the Section 29 Chardonnay proved to me that I do, in fact, like white wine given the right circumstances. It had an oaky, smoky, pineapple, apple, citrus complexity that delighted the palate. The Section 29 Zinfandel was my favorite – it had a shoe polish, tobacco, cedar-y sort of darkness to it, while also bearing flavors of juniper and berries to sweeten and balance the finish. Also notable was the Winemaker’s Selection Tempranillo. This cozy red wine cast a spell with its amalgamation of cedar, allspice, leather, berry and orange.  The Reserve Tasting List redeemed an informative, though otherwise unimpressive trip.

Dancing Fox Winery and Bakery

I’d selected this spot because it seemed, on the web, to be a quaint, family-run, small operation that focused on quality – my kind of place. I was also looking for a good place for the lot of us to have lunch. My hunch proved correct; this winery/bakery was the highlight of everyone’s day in our party. Dancing Fox managed to exude an Old Worldly quaintness even before we entered the building from the downtown parking lot. With ivy, moss and mushrooms blanketing the property, it hearkened one back to Middle Earth’s Shire. Upon entering the facility, my attention was drawn to golden inscriptions flanking opposing sides of the room on large hutches: “Bread is the staff of life,” and “Wine makes the heart glad.”

 With our hearts already warming, we took a seat on the patio and ordered some lunch. A southwest melt, pesto chicken, garden salad and beef chili were begged of the waiter. Complimentary wine tasting was offered at the wine bar with the ordering of food, so we all pushed in our chairs and headed for some more viticultural fun.

 We were greeted by a smiling, gracious middle-aged woman to whom the years had been kind. She apologized for not being the usual person to pour. It turned out she was the co-owner of the Dancing Fox, Colleen Lewis, who heads the bakery. Her husband, Greg Lewis, grows grapes and is the winemaker. Their three children, now grown up, also man the family ship, and were pictured on the wine bottle labels as mythical creatures, painted by a local artist, Rowland Cheney.

Greg Lewis has been growing grapes and learning about making wine for 30 years, while his wife worked as a speech pathologist in the school system as well as a hobbyist baker. The years of paperwork and red tape wore her down around the time that Greg was beginning to perfect his craft… so about three years ago, they opened the Dancing Fox as a partnership effort. The smile never once left Colleen’s face as she disclosed this summarized history.

As we gleaned the back story, Colleen poured the ’07 Zin, the ’08 Cabernet Franc, and the ’08 Petite Sirah. All three wines were exquisite, and very different. It was explained to us that some of the grapes used were not estate grown, but traded with local farmers in exchange for carte blanche at their restaurant.

When we returned to our table, our food beckoned, and it was fantastic. Seasonal, local ingredients breathed life into each dish;the nutty bread and brownie served on the side were among the best baked goods I’d ever indulged in.

 Lodi Wine Cellars

Following a brief perusal of a clock shop and consignment warehouse across the street, we parted with Andy’s dad and mom and tracked down our next wine tasting destination on foot: Lodi Wine Cellars, which is a downtown wine bar that pours wines from four Lodi wineries.

The sommelier was nice enough to allow us to try one wine from each of the four wineries, though technically a flight was three wine picks. We went for different choices from each winery so we could swap sips and thereby taste eight different offerings.

The Benson Ferry 95240 Old Vine Zinfandel had notes of plum, blueberry and cedar. Their ’08 Old Vine Zinfandel similarly hinted at plum, blackberry and spice. The Heritage Oak Tempranillo was tangy and balanced, with a whisper of shoe polish. Their Vino Tinto was a mix of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah grapes, and had a smoky, dark fruit quality about it.

By now we were hitting our alcohol quota for the day, and our palates were tiring of wine, so we agreed to pass on the sommelier’s offer for two more pours each and just tried McCay Cellars’ Paisley and Vicarmont’s ’07 Merlot. The Paisley was a blend of Petite Sirah grapes that produced a complex blackberry, plum and chocolatey wine. The Merlot was rich, smooth and fruity, but we were already thinking about a frothy, hoppy pint. The sommelier informed us that there was a brewery right around the corner, and off we went.


Lodi Beer Company

There’s not much that’s relevant to recount about this brewery in a wine-lovers daytrip. But, beer lovers should know that if they are dragged by their wino counterpart down to Lodi for some wine tasting and must escape and find a cold one, stat, this place does exist in the center of town. It might not have been the most amazing beer I’d ever downed, but damn it, it was beer, and that was enough.

If you find yourself stuck in Lodi on November 12th and/or 13th, check out First Sip: Lodi Wine Weekend. It’s a collaborative event of Lodi Wine Country Wineries celebrating harvest season. There will be plenty of educational seminars, tours, and barrel tastings to enjoy.

LodiWine and Visitor Center
2545 W. Turner Rd.
Lodi, CA 95242

(209) 365-0621


Woodbridgeby Robert Mondavi
5950 E. Woodbridge Rd.
Acampo, CA 95220

(209) 365-8139


Dancing Fox Winery and Bakery
203 S. School St.
Lodi, CA 95240

(209) 366-2634


LodiWine Cellars
112 W. Pine St.
Lodi, CA 95240

(209) 365-6622


Lodi Beer Company
105 S. School St.
Lodi, CA 95240

(209) 368-9931


First Sip: Lodi Wine Weekend 2011
(209) 365-0621


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