Lodi, California has a long history of grape growing and is the state’s largest grape growing region. Zinfandel and Tokay were the standards along with table grapes in this lush agricultural area. Even during Prohibition, the town flourished as it sent trainloads of grapes across the country for home winemaking.

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The historic entrance to the charming town of Lodi. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

History of Lodi Wines

Although it has long been a grape growing region with 100,000 planted acres, Lodi has been primarily considered a supplier to other wineries in Napa and Sonoma. That changed in 1986 with the establishment of the Lodi AVA and the area’s expansion into Southern Rhône, Italian, Spanish and German varietals.

Check out Zinfest May 19-21 to see the best of the self-proclaimed Zinfandel capital of the world!

While Napa Valley is a close neighbor, Lodi’s eighty wineries have come into their own with spectacular facilities, varietally correct wines and the charm found only where long-time growers and vintners thrive with newcomers dedicated to maximizing the quality of the region. Recently, Wine Enthusiast named the Lodi area the 2015 Wine Region of the Year.

Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi

Bokisch Vineyards is one of the wineries that sought out Lodi to make the wines they liked and thought would flourish in Lodi. Markus Bokisch was raised in California but spent his childhood summers in Spain with his family. Drinking wines diluted with water from an early age, Markus was weaned on Spanish wines. After meeting his now wife, Liz, they both went to work in the Spanish wine industry in Raimat and the Penedes.

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Liz Bokisch toasts her vineyards with a glass of the winery’s Albarino. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Upon returning to California, Liz and Markus bought the Terra Alta Vineyards property in Clements Hills. Using their Spanish connections, they began importing budwood from Spain and planted the Las Cerezas Vineyard. That vineyard became their “motherblock” of Tempranillo, Albarino and Graciano.

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Sitting around the fire drinking the Spanish wines of Bokisch as the sun sets. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

They produced their first Iberian varietals under the Bokisch label in 2001 and have added Garnacha, Garnacha Blanca, Monastrall, Verdejo and Verdelho. They added the Tizona label for their Old Vine Zinfandel, Malbec and Late Harvest wines.

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Signs around the wine region of Lodi point you in the right direction for more than eighty wineries. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Sitting with the relaxed and gorgeous Liz Bokisch as the sun set, watching dogs run, and drinking their Spanish varietals with winemaker Elyse Perry, you feel the ease with which they have approached winemaking in Lodi.  The wines are feminine and interesting. Looking out over the acres of vineyards, you know that the Bokisch commitment to wine begins firmly in the vineyard.  They still sell to many other wineries and are known as a premier grower of Spanish varietals.

Dining in Lodi

The historic downtown Lodi maintains its early charm while emerging as a modern destination.  Fine dining restaurants are found on every corner but so are taquerias, bars and brewpubs. Shops and businesses complete this lively downtown. Blocks of homes surrounding the downtown area are perfect examples of craftsman design, mid-century modern architecture and Georgian splendor.  Lodi is a perfect walking town, full of amenities, with everything in easy distance and far more affordable than similar wine country towns.

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Dine at Fenix in downtown Lodi. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Fenix is one of the newer popular dining destinations, with a menu full of creative dishes like crispy Brussels sprouts and chef snax, the addictive chicken skin cracklings that were an unexpected delight. The grilled octopus Nicoise was equally creative and the massive duck breast was perfectly prepared and big enough to be lunch the next day.

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Cassandra Durst welcomes guests to Durst Winery. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Durst Winery in Lodi

Cassandra Durst, owner and winemaker at her namesake Durst Winery, exudes genteel hospitality.  Although an industrial designer by trade, her husband, Dan, takes care of that day to day business. Cassandra immerses herself in the business of winemaking, wine drinking and entertaining…and she does so with warmth and gusto.  In fact, Durst is a destination for weddings because of Cassandra’s elegant style.

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Women of Lodi’s winemaking community gather at Durst Winery to celebrate wine excellence. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

It is the way that Cassandra and Dan approached purchasing the estate where the winery sits.  A historic farming and grape growing property with a mansion that was in such disrepair it was scheduled for demolition.  Ivy vines grew throughout the house and waist high weeds that took more than four months to remove.  They named their new estate Amada Mia and got to work renovating, improving and modernizing the forgotten property.

To visit Durst Winery today is to walk into the elegance of an Italianate-style mansion surrounded by lush gardens, orchards of fruit trees and welcoming dogs. This stunning property has a modern winery at the end of the long driveway and it glows at night with the yards of Italian lights strung through huge oaks. Durst has food, wine and music events almost every weekend and the place is alive with joy and fun.

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Italian wines from Durst Winery. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Cassandra makes an array of Italian wines including Albarino, Amada Mia White, Sangiovese, Charbono and Barbera, Old Vine Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and the Fairbanks red blend, a tribute to the original owner of the estate that the Dursts brought back to her original glory, ghosts and all.

Staying in Lodi

After a day of tasting and dining, the one place to head for elegant lodging is the Wine and Roses Hotel. The inn is the pinnacle of wine country destination lodging with modern, comfortable rooms and suites. The beautiful grounds host several weddings every weekend.  James Beard award-winning chef Bradley Ogden recently signed on as culinary director.

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Heading to Wine and Roses after a day of tasting Lodi wines. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Wine and Roses is committed to excellence and the spacious, well-appointed rooms are on par with five-star resort accommodations. The Lodi Wine and Visitor Center is part of the compound along with a pool, gym and series of exotic birds in habitats dotting the campus. Lie in bed, glass of wine in hand and listen to their native chatting. Absolutely enchanting.

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Heritage Oak Winery Winemaker Tom Hoffman. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Other Wineries in Lodi

Other wineries to visit while in Lodi include the quaint Heritage Oak Winery, the hip and trendy Oak Farm Vineyards, the downtown tasting room of Jeremy Wine Company and dozens of others.  You truly cannot go wrong.

Lodi, CA has a long history of grape growing. While Napa Valley is a close neighbor, Lodi’s 80 wineries have a unique charm.

The value and quality in Lodi wines is unmistakable and something rare in California wine regions. Tasting fees are reasonable, wines are well-made and well-priced and the charm is evident. Winemakers are warm and welcoming, cuisine is first rate and other specialties, like the Calivirgin Olive Oils and Vinegars, are worth a trip. And the scenery along the way, as you explore the Lodi region to sample great California wines, does not disappoint either.

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