For a brilliant alternative to the Napa Valley, try wine tasting in Lodi California.
Updated May 2020- A note on Lodi wineries during Covid-19 – right now it’s still not possible to go wine tasting in Lodi. However the majority of Lodi’s wineries are offering discounts (and ship to all kinds of areas) to anyone who would like to sample from the comfort of their own homes! If not sample- then generously swig. Details of these discounts can be found on each wineries website.
You know that moment when you think you’re going on a wine tasting tour, but in hindsight it was a classier-than-average bar crawl? Well, that’s what hit me the morning after my pal and her mum took me on a tour of Lodi’s wineries. Especially at approximately 10.30am when her mum declared ‘We gotta get you girls to a McDonalds STAT.’
THAT IS WHEN YOUR CONFUSINGLY HUNGOVER SELF SHOULD REALLY KNOW.
Lodi is a little town just South of Sacramento in California, surrounded by luscious green fields overflowing with all manner of crops. The city of Sacramento has modelled itself as the ‘Farm to Fork Capital’; fresh produce is in abundance around here, ripe for the picking and just waiting to be cooked up into something downright delicious.
It’s also the perfect place for producing wine.
The Mediterranean climate and rich, fertile soil, are a great combo to grow a variety of grapes from all over the world. In fact, Lodi is the most diverse wine region in the USA. Although the area is known primarily for Zinfandels, it successfully produces over 100 different wine varieties. So basically- an awful lot of wine!
Related: What to do in Sacramento
And the really great thing about this vineyard-filled area is that compared to the more well known ‘California wine countries’ of the Sonoma and Napa valleys, Lodi is relatively unknown to the tourists who flock to NoCal to sample all the wines it has to offer. Wine tasting in Lodi costs a fraction of what you’d pay in Napa, although the quality is just as awesome. And, if you head out in the middle of the week like we did, chances are you’ll be part of only a handful of people doing the same thing; as opposed to hundreds. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
As an alternative to Napa, wine tasting in Lodi pretty much ticks all the boxes- it’s beautiful, there are TONNES of wineries to visit, and it’s also more affordable.
The Dancing Fox and a Craft Beer
After lunch at the Dancing Fox, a beautiful family-run Lodi restaurant decorated with tapestries and paintings of dancing animals (all playing medieval instruments like the good old fashioned lute), we were already mildly merry thanks to the craft beers we had to wash our lunch down with. I’m not a massive beer drinker, but I feel like this place really has something for everyone. Add to that the fact that my veggie burger with extra bacon was mouth-wateringly delicious, and I was one very satisfied customer.
What do I know about wine? Absolutely nothing.
Now pals, I have sampled a fair few wines of the world. I visited the volcanic vineyards of Lanzarote, where grapes grow close to the ground sheltered by brick semi-circles. I went to Ontario and sampled all the ice wines- syrupy sweet liquid made from grapes picked when they’re frozen in wintertime. I’ve been to medieval villages in France, where networks of cellars run underneath the buildings storing barrels of aging wines. And I even checked out a gigantic wine museum in Bordeaux.
You’d maybe think that means that I’m something of a wine connoisseur. But no. I know nothing. Except, upon tasting a wine, whether I like it or hate it.
And in my personal opinion, this goes for most of the people who claim to know a thing or two about wine, as well. Soz.
Got more time in Northern California? Spend a weekend in Carmel by the Sea
The Klinker Brick Winery
So. On to our first of our four winery pit stops that day- Klinker Brick Winery.
Named after the red bricks the winery is built from, a cozy little building at the entrance houses their selection of wines for sale, including their award winning Old Vine Zinfandels. Behind that are Klinker Brick’s vineyards; plus a posse of ponies hanging out for luck. Unlike Napa, the land around Lodi is rather on the flat side, so if you’re visiting purely for the rolling hilly landscapes then think again my friends.
At the bar inside we quickly learnt the basics of wine tasting. Firstly, that you don’t have to drink the whole pour. That’s what the bucket is there for- to throw away what you don’t want. I tend to be so worried about potentially offending people that I just gulp everything down whether I like it or not, whether that’s wine or a full on meal. Probs a habit I should get out of, you know? Oops.
Secondly that you should always swirl the wine around the glass and give it a sniff before you sup from the glass. Mainly because this makes you look coooool. Jokes, but also- not jokes. At the very least it makes it seem as if you know what you’re doing.
Thirdly, that they give you water to rinse the glass out between pours. And that water should also go in the aforementioned bucket. And if they really know what they’re doing they should rinse the glass for you.
So folks, Klinker Brick was a great introduction to wine tasting in Lodi. A very relaxed affair, complete with a very relaxed outdoor stroll to see the rows upon rows of vines stretching away to the horizon. And an equally relaxed petting of the ponies in the neighbouring field.
Klinker Brick Winery, 15887 N. Alpine Road, Lodi. Tasting room open 11am-5pm daily. $5 per wine tasting.
We were the only people at the Woodbridge Winery, save for one man who was either a regular or the secret owner of the entire estate. (He isn’t; that’s a guy named Robert Mondavi.)
Way more industrial than Klinker Brick, the atmosphere inside is more like a storefront that just happens to have a bar in it. And outside, great silver vats store gallons and gallons of wine that’s obviously produced on a much grander scale than at our first baby winery down the road.
A lovely moustached man in a check shirt provided us with all the info on the wines we were tasting, and in order to fully be able to sample as much as possible, we each chose different wines- a pair each of white, red, sparkling and dessert- and split each pour between us. It’s worth noting at this stage that I’m 100% certain that we got extra generous pours on account of there being only two of us plus a regular in the whole building.
It was pretty cool to hang out and chat with those two old gents at the bar in Woodbridge, however our next location on the tour was further out of town, so onwards we went to two more scenic pitstops.
Woodbridge Winery, 5950 East Woodbridge Road, Acampo. Open daily for tastings from 10.30am-4.30pm. Tours daily at 9.30am and 1.30pm.
Oak Farm Vineyards
Oak Farm is rather a luxurious venue in comparison to our first two winery stops, and I can see why it’s a popular wedding venue in the Lodi area.
A cavernous hall with extravagant floral displays and leather chairs gathered around fireplaces was the location for our wine tasting, and outside in the seventy acres of vineyards, are the centuries old oak trees which give the winery its name. The colonial-style house of the DeVries family, who owned the land back in the 1870s and beyond, can be seen through the vineyard from the main building; and guys, I’ll be honest: that is my kind of house!!
Like everywhere else on our magical mystery wine tour, these people really know their stuff when it comes to wine, and although it was a bit busier here they were more than happy to explain each and every pour that we tried.
Oak Farm Winery, 23627 DeVries Road. Tasting room open daily from 11am-5pm. $10 per tasting.
Viaggio Estate and Winery
The Viaggio Estate is the prettiest of the wineries we visited, and like Oak Farm this is a brilliant wedding venue in California. It was also rather busy by the time we arrived, so it’s clearly a popular place for basically any and every occasion.
Should we have headed straight to the bar and ordered our fourth wine tasting of the day? No, we probably should not have done.
But the deed was done and we sampled to our heart’s content.
Outside, the gardens are elegantly landscaped; imagine the setting for any American Rom-Com wedding, and this place basically fits the bill. (I should totes be a location scout). A vintage red truck is parked outside on the sloping driveway, and that leads down to a sweeping green lawn complete with lake and rope swing. It is beautiful.
Viaggio Estate and Winery, 100 E. Taddei Road, Acampo. Tasting room open 11am-5pm Saturday-Thursday. 11am-8pm Friday.
And onwards to the band
Well pals. Lodi winery tour complete, it was approximately 6pm and we had probably had far too many ‘pours’ for one day. The pours may be small, but they are also tricksters in that it doesn’t hit you until the next morning that just a couple of tastings would probably have been enough.
Some friends of my pal’s dad were playing a gig back at a bar in Lodi, and so- it was onwards and upwards! To the bar!
When the band heard there was a singer all the way from England present, (that’s me by the way) they swiftly announced it to the packed-out room, and next thing you know there I was- giving the worst rendition of Proud Mary that I have ever graced this earth with.
The crowd went wild, so it’s highly likely that they too had been on extended wine tasting tours.
And I’m not even being modest.
I’ve seen the footage and it is not pretty.
Thank god the bar sells cheesy garlic bread, or else I’m not sure we would have survived.
Pals, I had an absolutely awesome time wine tasting in Lodi, and I’m extremely grateful to my pal and her lovely mum for taking the time to show me around. (Especially her mum for being designated driver) But also as this is an area that I wouldn’t have had a clue existed, had it not been for them. Lodi is a beautiful part of California, fresh green and luscious, with a load of great wines to boot.
As an alternative to Napa, this place is perfect.
Well done, lovely little Lodi!!
- There are currently 80 wineries in Lodi- I visited a mere fraction of them!
- For a detailed map of the wineries, head to the Visit Lodi website, or to the visitor centre in town.
- Shuttles and tours do run between the wineries, however I really appreciated being able to take it at our own pace.
- I’m sure that at different times of year, or at weekends, it can get a lot busier around here. We went on a Friday afternoon in Spring and it was fairly quiet.
- Most places charge between $5-$10 to sample 6 different wines, but if you buy a bottle they’ll waive the tasting fee. Good times.