Food & Drink

California's Lodi wine region rustic, relaxed

Mention Napa or Sonoma and wine lovers can rattle off the names of sub-appellations and winemakers.

Ask about Lodi and what comes to mind is the Credence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi” (“Oh Lord, I'm stuck in Lodi again.”)

People are beginning to sing a different tune about this emerging wine region, long overlooked by wine aficionados. With a new visitors' center, a wine trail and quite a bit of good press, the region is attracting visitors who appreciate the relaxed and decidedly unfussy atmosphere, as well as very tasty wines.

Lodi (low-DIE) is part of California's huge Central Valley, one of the most prolific growing areas in the country. Healthy, fertile soils and warm weather make it an agricultural paradise. This is the part of California where grapes are grown in bulk and big wineries produce inexpensive jug wines.

The Lodi area is considered one of the finer areas in the Central Valley, because cooling evening breezes are terrific for grapes. Located 100 miles east of San Francisco, the appellation is tucked between the San Francisco Bay area and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Once you start looking, you'll be surprised how often you see Lodi popping up on labels. Several large wineries make their home there, such as Robert Mondavi's Woodbridge.

Many smaller boutique wineries have begun producing some very good wine. A friend brought back a Jessie's Grove 2004 Petite Syrah that was a powerhouse, complex and delicious enough that I ordered more from the very cool Web site.

Lodi has a reputation for red wine, particularly zinfandel, with century-old vines producing high-quality fruit. Lodi zinfandels are noted for intense fruit expression and smooth, almost silky mouth-feel.

I'm a fan of the Michael-David Winery, where brothers Michael and David Phillips are the fifth generation on the land. How can you not love a wine with the name “7 Deadly Zins” that sells for less than $20 and delivers massive flavor?

Many other varieties are quite successful as well, and there are some excellent chardonnays, merlots and syrahs.

If you are visiting, start at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center, with classes, events, maps and a very nice tasting room. It gives a great overview.

Don't expect Lodi to be at all like Napa. The area is much more rustic with a relaxed pace, different and delicious.

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