Your Guide to the Lodi Appellation: Diversity, Discovery, and Sustainability in the Heart of California

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Your Guide to the Lodi Appellation: Diversity, Discovery, and Sustainability in the Heart of California

When it comes to California wine regions, those in the know likely have Lodi at the top of their lists.

Located 40 miles south of Sacramento and 90 miles east of San Francisco, Lodi was officially established as a viticultural area in 1986 and, with 125 varieties in production, is the most diverse wine-growing appellation in the United States. (For that, you can thank the region’s diverse soils and Mediterranean climate. Warm days, cool nights, and delta breezes make for fragrant, fruit-focused wines and a setting that isn’t just ideal for growing grapes but also for enjoying the fruits of winemakers’ labors al fresco.)

Beyond its diversity, Lodi is responsible for 20 percent of California’s wine as a leading producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and other popular varieties, meaning you’ve likely enjoyed a glass of Lodi-sourced wine — even without knowing it.

Accessible by four international airports, getting to Lodi is simple no matter your starting point. And once you’re there, you’ll find an area rich in old vines – the highest concentration in the country – and an enthusiastic and esteemed community of proud, innovative winemakers who are equally dedicated to the classic and the creative, crafting top takes on old favorites and exploring new ways to make the most of Mother Nature’s gifts. And for added convenience, most of Lodi’s winery tasting rooms are nestled in the region’s historic Mokelumne River appellation, within close proximity to one another, making it easy to get around, drink around, and make the most of your time there.

Of course, given the amount of worthwhile and award-winning wineries in Lodi, it would take more than one article to outline them all, so consider the following guide — rounded out with must-try restaurants and a few family-friendly activities — to serve as a starting point for your first (or next) visit to California’s not-so-hidden gem.

We have a pretty good feeling it won’t be your last.

Where to Sip

With a wine list that rotates weekly, the Lodi Wine Visitor Center offers continuous learning and discovery opportunities.

Let’s start with the Lodi Wine Visitor Center, the region’s official tourism site where local experts roll out the welcome mat with, of course, wine. Established in 2000, the center isn’t just a spot to swing by and pick up pamphlets but a destination in and of itself, one with daily tastings, an on-site demonstration vineyard, rotating wine lists, and a wine club so you can extend the Lodi experience long after your vacation is over. Swing by on your way in to score tips from the pros and prep your palate for what’s to come; stop by on your way out to grab gifts and sippable souvenirs in the form of Lodi-grown wines and merchandise. (You might want to bring an extra suitcase.)

Sustainability is a key feature and point of pride for the Lodi region, and this dedication is exemplified by LODI RULES, America’s original sustainable winegrowing program. It was created by California farmers, accredited by world-renowned scientists, and “seeks to ensure the longevity of an entire agricultural community.” One must-visit and environmentally friendly destination is Harney Lane Winery, a family-run winery with a history that spans five generations, where you’ll find a selection of sustainably grown estate wines (including more than one Old Vine Zinfandel). Relax in the lush gardens while enjoying a few of the four things that make up Harney Lane’s official motto: Love, Laughter, Family, Wine.

LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards is another sustainability-focused and family-owned-and-operated winery named for fourth-generation winegrowers (and actual twins) Brad and Randall Lange. Make a reservation at the tasting room for a classic or seasonably themed experience, and while you’re there, be sure to try (and buy!) their Single Vineyard line, which features a selection of whites, reds, and rosés that you won’t find in stores.

m2 Wine’s state-of-the-art facility features massive 20-foot walls which can be rolled aside for an open-air experience.

For a more experimental experience, visit PRIE Winery, where the team claims to “let [their] geek shine,” and owner and winemaker John Gash prides himself on challenging perceptions, exploring new territory, and opting for “a road less traveled.” Since moving in and taking over the 8.5-acre vineyard, Gash has spent the last decade tearing out the original Cabernet Sauvignon vines in order to plant and work with more unique and underappreciated grapes — particularly Rhône varieties well suited to the Lodi climate — while striving to be ecologically balanced through endeavors that include organic farming and solar power. Try the Dornfelder, Counoise, and Nebbiolo, or keep it classic with a more well-known varietal, such as the PRIE Zinfandel, Carignane, or Barbera.

At Peltier Winery, “taste for yourself” gets a whole new meaning. Innovative WineStations allow visitors to try as many or as few of the 24 wines available as they’d like with just a swipe of a key card. Beyond allowing you to discover new favorites and enjoy them at your leisure, with or without guidance (never fear — there are experts on hand to answer any questions), this method also reduces waste, making Peltier yet another local winery operating with a more sustainable mindset.

And while you’re in Lodi, head for the hills! The Lockeford location of Jeremy Wine Co. is one of just a few wineries located in the rolling Clements Hills appellation. In this charming and inviting atmosphere, husband-and-wife team Jeremy and Choral craft an eclectic mix of single- varietal and blend wines including a noteworthy Barbera and Sangiovese, as well as Zinfandel sourced from the nearly 100-year-old Old Vine Zinfandel vineyard surrounding the property.

Of course, that’s just a handful of options. The Lodi Appellation is home to more than 80 boutique wineries, meaning there’s truly something for everyone. A few more we recommend: the no-frills, wine-focused m2 Wines for its champion Zins and colorful commentary of winemaker Layne Montgomery; Macchia (Italian for “the spot”), home to award-winning, adjectively named (Generous, Mischievous, Voluptuous) Old Vine Zinfandel wines and a multi-lane bocce court; and Oak Farm Vineyards, where family heritage — and hospitality — shines, and after a long day of sipping you can retire to the Annadan Suites, the on-site vacation rental located within walking distance of the tasting room.

Where to Snack

Find gourmet cheeses, cured meats, local olive oils, chutneys, honeys, and more at Cheese Central in historic downtown Lodi.

Admittedly, the word “snack” doesn’t do the Lodi dining scene justice. With plenty of restaurants, from quick options to satiate your appetite between sips to indulgent five-star feasts, Lodi offers bites for every moment of your trip. Think popular bakeries where you can grab a Danish to start the day or quickly carb up via croissant while en route to the next winery, plus seasonally sourced meals at eateries worth writing home (or at least posting on Instagram) about.

For the former, look no further than Ruby’s Bakery and Café, a new and bustling business downtown. The owners pride themselves on the integrity of their ingredients and implement a slow-and-steady approach to crafting sweet and savory standalone pastries and bread. Those homemade loaves of bread make for satisfying sandwiches like the fresh and crunchy Crowich BLT and hot and gooey Croque Monsuier — both of which are daily offerings.

For more of a sit-down experience, check out neighborhood joint Guantonio’s Wood Fired, where one can indulge in the classic and unpretentious pairing that is pizza and wine. Insider tip: Bring your own and pay a corkage fee or buy a bottle on site. As a seasonally inspired restaurant that prides itself on its relationships with local farmers, the menu is perpetually in flux, but pie toppings might include pork belly, potatoes, or perhaps fresh peaches. Be sure to try the double vanilla and salted caramel swirl cone or grab a half-pint to go.

A few other Lodi favorites to keep on your radar, whether you’re there for a few hours, staying a full weekend, or are persuaded to put down permanent roots: Pietro’s Trattoria, where chefs top pizzas, toss pasta, and assemble hearty salads with ingredients plucked from the on-site garden; and the café and bakery at Michael David Winery, an award-winning spot that offers a breakfast and lunch menu featuring ingredients sourced from the local 4H program, plus signature pies made with love using the original recipes from owners and brothers Michael and David Phillips’ mother.

Where to Stay

PRIE’s John Gash crafts sustainably grown wines from unique varieties like Mencía and Prieto Picudo.

For travelers these days, there are two main ways to stay: in a more traditional hotel setting complete with reception desks, room service, and tiny toiletries, or in the home sweet home of civilians who open their doors and rent out their own residences.

For those who prefer a more classic vacation situation where beds are made, shampoos are complimentary, and a helpful concierge is always on call, we suggest booking a room at Wine & Roses. A top choice for relaxation and recreation, the boutique resort is equipped with a full-service spa offering steams and soaks; a café and market that serves sandwiches, toasts, and tartines and is stocked with grab-and-go meals and artisanal treats; and Towne House Restaurant, the site of the region’s finest dining, where seasonal and sustainably sourced ingredients are spun into gourmet dishes served alongside live music, craft cocktails, and an expectedly extensive and impressive wine list boasting 80 local options. A bonus: The aforementioned Lodi Wine Visitor Center is located right on Wine & Roses’ grounds.

On the flip side, if space and privacy are priorities and you prefer homes to hotels, Airbnb and VRBO have a plethora of options that will allow you to truly live like a Lodi local (or at least, for a few days, on the property of one).

Plus: What (Else) to Do

Should you somehow check every winery off your list, there are plenty of other ways to make the most of your stay as you soak up the sun and the scenery and discover alternate ways to test and train your palate.

First up, trade wine for wheels, and hop on a bike to explore the region’s flat terrain with the wind in your hair. Lodi Cyclery offers bike rentals, while the city’s downtown visitor’s bureau offers online route maps plus printed maps of the 10 most popular routes so you can navigate the area with ease.

Meanwhile, for the more aquatically inclined, Headwaters Kayak offers rentals, lessons, and tours (try the Sunset or Full Moon excursions for a particularly special experience). Glide along the surface of Lodi Lake and break to enjoy a picnic on its sandy beaches or cruise down a tree-lined segment of the 95-mile Mokelumne River. Best of all, Headwaters offers a variety of boats and boards to choose from, ensuring you’re covered no matter your paddle preference.

Finally, try another type of tasting at Calivirgin, a winery and olive mill where you can sample imported, barrel-aged balsamic vinegar in a range of fruity flavors and a variety of oils made by crushing olives with basil, garlic, orange, lemon, truffles, jalapeño, habañero, and more.

Once again, this is just a taste of what Lodi has to offer. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of Chardonnay and Zinfandel or love wines made from lesser-known varieties like Albariño, Cinsaut, and Picpoul Blanc, this California region has you covered. And with unbeatable weather, small-town charm, and an unparalleled diversity that allows for endless discovery, there’s truly nowhere like Lodi.

Picnic with the family, walk along nature trails, or head out on the water at Lodi Lake.

This article is sponsored by Lodi Wine.