The festivities started at Mohr-Fry Ranch; hundreds of acres of 12 different grape varieties, 2 varieties of cherries and 25 different types of heirloom beans. We tasted wines from 12 or so different wineries, all who source grapes from the Ranch while munching on brick oven pizza and faro salad and listening to Bluegrass music. The next day was full of tastings and seminars at Hutchins Street Square, the high school Robert Mondavi attended that has since been turned into a conference center. Dinner that night was a myriad of events from vineyard tours, blending sessions and downtown divertissement at one of the 100 or so wineries in the region, up from only five just 15 years ago. One of the country's largest winegrowing regions, that produces grapes for some of the country's best and biggest wineries is starting to make a name for itself.
Being from New Jersey, where there's a city of the same name, it almost always follows that I need to clarify that no, this is not Lodi, NJ (thank goodness) but instead a little town in California about an hour southeast of Sacramento. Lodi has a long history of winemaking, going back to the mid-19th century. It's located just outside gold-mining country, and at the northern tip of the Central Valley, famous for its agreeable climate and fertile soils suitable for agriculture. In fact, it is one of the most productive agricultural centers in the world with more than half of the fruit, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States coming from here. This gave it the perfect environment and audience for winemaking. The thirsty miners (many of whom were European immigrants) missed the wine culture of their home countries and so many of those who weren't mining got into the grape business. This is what the Mondavi family did a little over half a century later, before moving to Napa. Since that time, Lodi has long been known as a bulk wine region. Some of the country's biggest wine companies buy a large proportion of the grapes out of Lodi. Companies like Constellation (the company that bought the Mondavi operation), E & J Gallo, The Wine Group, and Bronco Wines (responsible for Two Buck Chuck). Chances are you've had wine made from grapes grown in Lodi, even if it doesn't say so on the label, which is why most people have never heard of it (and think I'm talking about New Jersey).
But in the past couple decades, some of these growers, and a number of new players, have begun making their own wine, and I've got to say, the results so far are stunning. Stay tuned for more detailed reviews but some of my standouts from the trip were:
- m2 Wines -- started by Layne Montgomery and his wife. I got the chance to spend some time with Layne who is not only a killer winemaker, but a standup, witty and authentic guy.
- St. Amant Wines -- I met Stuart Spencer who runs the winery with his mom (his dad has passed away) and also had the pleasure of eating with Nate the assistant winemaker. Great guy, really interesting chemist/biologist who got into winemaking just recently
- Harney Lane -- this is where I learned that Spanish varietals, like Albarino and Tempranillo, have a pretty interesting future in Lodi
- PRIE -- I didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time with this wine, but wow, what I did taste was off the charts
What experience do you have with Lodi wine? I'd love to hear about it (even if it's Lodi, NJ, which, for both our sakes, I hope it's not).