Touring & Tasting Lodi

Quality, not quantity, is what draws savvy wine tasters here

Longing to spend a weekend in a land less traveled? A land covered with acres and acres of fertile vineyards, fruitful wineries, and interesting things to see and do? Spend a week in Lodi, California wine country.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s closer than you may think—just 30 minutes south of Sacramento and 90 minutes east of San Francisco—and it has all you need for an ideal wine country getaway.

Our day started with a stop at the AAA to pick up area and regional maps. Next we drove to the Sacramento Delta to observe the Sandhill cranes and snow geese on Staten Island (wintering grounds) and Historic Walnut Grove, one of the earliest settlements along the Sacramento River.

Michael David Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We concluded the day with a delightful wine-tasting experience at Michael David Winery. Named for brothers Michael and David Phillips who represent the fifth generation of the Lodi grape growing Phillips family, Michael David Winery has a knack for producing premium quality wines with eye-catching quirky labels. With more than 800 vineyard acres and more than 30 years experience making wine, the winery is considered one of the region’s finest.

Michael David Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dynamic winemaking team crafts an exciting portfolio of wines. Perhaps the most quickly recognizable in the lineup is the iconic 7 Deadly Zins, a sinful blend of Zinfandel from seven of Lodi’s best Old Vine Zinfandel vineyards. Other fruit-driven wines, like Petite Petit, a non-traditional blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, and Sixth Sense Syrah, produced from one of California’s oldest Syrah vineyards, have also developed quite a following.

Michael David Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the winery building itself pays homage to the Phillips legacy. It was built in 1972 around the family’s original roadside fruit stand. Today, it also features a café serving farm-style breakfasts and lunch, a bakery with famous pies and gourmet cookies, and a tasting room where Michael David wines are proudly poured. The Michael David label, available in all major U.S. markets and Canada, embraces the Phillips family’s long history in the Lodi area.

Lucas Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next morning we located Sweet Mel’s Bakery, tucked away behind a vacant used car dealership on Cherokee Lane and Oak Street. Sweet Mel’s specializing in pies, sweet breads, cookies, and other delicious sweets that owner Mel Haining, 79, has quietly run for the past four years.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet Mel’s got its start with Haining baking pies in his garage in his spare time. He could not find any pies in town to his liking, so he decided to open up his own bakery and share his homemade pies with others.

Haining’s best selling pies are his Marionberry, apple, apricot, and peach pies, but he also offers a German kuchen pie, creme pies, and cheesecake by request. Aside from the typical cookie varieties, Haining makes a popular ranger cookie, which is a mix of corn flake cereal, coconut, and walnuts.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We spent several enjoyable hours wandering historic downtown Lodi with century-old brick buildings, brick-cobbled streets lined with elm trees and turn-of-the-century light poles. We love this area and the way the city has maintained its history and heritage. Many unique shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen wine tasting boutiques and exciting restaurants.

We checked out the amazing selection of cheeses and charcuterie at Cheese Central. Pausing at The Dancing Fox Winery, Bakery, Eatery, and Brewery we sampled several unique wines and purchased a loaf of artisan bread.

Van Ruiten Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The following afternoon, we stopped by Van Ruiten Family Winery. Founded 15 years ago, its wine-growing history dates back more than 65 years. The Van Ruiten Family Winery tasting room was voted Best Winery and Tasting Room by The Record’s Best of San Joaquin in 2011, 2012, and 2013. It’s a wonderful place to sample from the winery’s superb portfolio of 12 varietals, including Carignane from 106-year-old vines and Zinfandel from the first vineyard John Sr. planted in the 1950s. Guests relax on the outdoor patio and enjoy tasting wines served by a knowledgeable staff that enhance their overall wine tasting experience.

Jessie’s Grove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We were met at Jessie’s Grove Vineyards & Winery by owner, Greg Burns, a 20-year commercial winemaker. Jessie’s Grove was founded by and named after Jessie Spenker, who was the daughter of Joseph and Anna Spenker who founded the Ranch and Estate in 1868. Throughout the years, the ranch and farm have survived the depression, prohibition, droughts, disease, and more.

The property is currently over 320 acres, with 265 acres of premium grape vines. Some of these vines were planted in the 1800s making them over 120 years old. Fabulous wines are still produced from these ancient vines.

Jessie’s Grove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jessie’s Grove is all about history. We enjoyed their ancient-vine wines in an ancient building. Built in the late 1800s, the Olde Ice House Cellar is home to their second tasting room in downtown Lodi, just blocks away from restaurants, shops, and other wineries.

Worth Pondering…

Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.

―Andre Simon