With more than 80 wineries, Lodi is a serious wine lover’s destination.
By Kimberly Horg
Getting stuck in Lodi is a blessing in disguise. With more than 80 wineries, shopping in downtown, admiring animals in an oak forested park or ending the day at a spacious hotel sprawled across seven acres of botanical gardens, this destination is fully intentional.
Start With a Top-Notch Resort Hotel, Wine & Roses
Wine & Roses Hotel, offers 79 guest rooms ranging from historic, rustic, spa infused or natural elements depending on the mood. The individually styled guest rooms are equipped with Italian linens and all the amenities of home. It even has signature suites with custom details and furnishings if the getaway last longer than a weekend. The hotel offers spa services and a top-notch restaurant, Towne House, serving fresh locally sourced cuisine.
“We partner with local farmers and purveyors to give our guests a fresh, sustainable experience,” Heather Reagan, Wine & Roses Director of Sales and Marketing, said. “We are passionate about the offerings we have on all of our menus and we have a team dedicated to customer service.”
The restaurant is open every day with different menu options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To start any day off in the right direction, guests can try their smoked salmon scrambled with Rösti, cream cheese scrambled eggs, or caviar and crème fraiche. Not a morning person? Then try spicy ahi tuna tartare with cucumbers, wasabi vinaigrette and micro wasabi for brunch, or start the day with crab cakes on top of Asian slaw and mango aioli. The rainbow of flavors burst in your mouth with its crisp outer shell filled with soft, fresh crabmeat.
Towne House readily presents a variety of salads for lunch including a pear and endive salad with thinly sliced Belgium endive, candied pecans, blue cheese and topped with pear vinagarette. For dinner one can dine on Pacific Sea Bass with a hint of mustard vermouth, salsify (a unique root vegetable), potato batonnet and topped with crispy salsify chips. The rich creamy sauce enhances the flavor of the fish without drowning it. The Asian braised short ribs with sake braised shitake mushrooms and wasabi mashed potato comes highly recommended because the tender yet sweet meat melts with the faint sauce that highlights the dish.
The restaurant’s lounge is open daily with live music every evening. It also shares space with the Lodi Wine & Visitors Center where guests can taste a variety of Lodi wines without leaving the premises.
“People have a hard time envisioning that a place like Wine & Roses exists in Lodi,” she said.
Reagan says its goal is to create lifelong memories for guests in distinctive surroundings. The hotel wants to continue to promote Lodi as a destination city in the San Joaquin Valley.
The hotel is a couple of miles from downtown Lodi as well as close to numerous wineries in every direction.
Ripken Vineyards and Winery: Known for Unique Varietals
One of the many wineries to try is Ripken Vineyards & Winery. It appeals to non-traditional wine drinkers. Opening in February of 2005 as Lodi’s 60th winery, it crushed its first vintage in 2003 but it is no stranger to grape growing. The family winery is the third generation of growers.
“Being growers we have always made some wine on the side,” owner Susan Ripken said. “It’s something my dad (Rip Ripken) really enjoyed.”
They also grow their own rootstock and have collected different wine varietal clones as well as selections for 40 years.
Ripken says she considers the winery an artisan “barnista” that is uniquely different, electric, eclectic, quirky, esoteric, even wacky, but never boring or weird. “We are known for our unique varietals,” she said. “These wines were made one bucket, one barrel, one bottle at a time.”
Ripken’s grape growing focuses on maximizing flavors, reduced but adequate irrigation or non-irrigation, sunlight to the cluster, full ripeness for flavor, moderate size crops, adequate soil fertility and organic matter in soils. “All this attention to detail leads to full flavored wines of good mineral content which are balanced and enjoyable when released,” Ripken said.
They aren’t making the typical Cab, Merlot, and Chardonnay, but more Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Tempranillo and Lodi-grown Pinot Noir. They have become known for their Tempranillo which, according to Ripken, they are one of the first wineries in Lodi to produce, and it has continued to grow in popularity.
Ripken just released their 2011 Primitivo, 2011 Graciano and 2012 WineBarn Red (which has Trincadeira Preta, Tinta Roiz, Touriga Nacional and Souzao).
The Winery produces small lots of different wines mostly under 100 cases, using classic techniques including gentle crushing, barrel fermenting white wines, selecting yeasts, hand punch down, lee stirring, long barrel aging, gently crushing and bottle aging.
Ripken Vineyards is located at 2472 W. Sargent Road in Lodi. To schedule a tasting call (209) 367-9463.
Cycles Gladiator Wineworks: Affordable Wines in a Fun Atmosphere
A short distance away, wine enthusiasts can rotate to Cycles Gladiator. The 1895 French artwork consisting of a mythological female riding her winged bicycle is labeled on the bottles to capture the uninhibited beauty of its hillside vineyards.
In 2006, the Alcohol Control Board of Alabama declared their label too risqué for wine shops, so the winery decided to celebrate the controversy of its sixth anniversary of being banned in the State of Alabama. It created a sinful blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet and Petite Sirah, naming it what else than, “Banned in Bama 2012.” The rich and flavorful blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet is full bodied with a peppery finish, popular with their local following.
Another top pick is the 2012 Boneshaker Zinfandel. It has the same richness in flavor but is full of berry and dark plum tastes with a hint of cherry, vanilla and chocolate.
“This is the third vintage of the Boneshaker; it is one of the most popular. All the wines are affordable, easy drinking wines served in a fun atmosphere,” Brooke Boitano, Gladiator Wine Club Coordinator, said.
Cycles Gladiator Visitor’s Center is located at 3750 East Woodbridge Road in Lodi. It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Borra Vineyards, With an Emphasis on White German Varietals
A hop, skip and a jump, will take visitors to Borra Vineyards. The tasting room adjoins the winery where owner Steve Borra’s mother was born. It is surrounded by idyllic vines and the homes of three generations of the Borra family.
“At Borra we are passionate about wine, food and family and look forward to sharing our passion with you,” Mary Jo Ford, Borra Vineyards Sales/Marketing Manager, said. “We invite you to taste our unique and innovative wines, hand-crafted by our Swiss-born winemaker, Markus Niggli.”
Ford says people can enjoy luscious red wines, crisp whites and a few of Niggli’s favorite Swiss varietals.
Borra has been in existence for the past seven years. Although a lot has changed over the years, it still stands as the oldest boutique winery in Lodi, making 5,000 cases of wine a year.
Although Niggli makes 18 different wines, both red and white, he has an emphasis on white German varietals, which is much different than other wines in the area. Everything he makes is with native yeast.
Niggli says when making wine he looks at the uniqueness factor and thinks about what can be done differently.
“I try a lot of different ways of making wine,” he said. “Every year what I have in the barrels is different and I don’t cut corners.”
Borra’s Fusion White is their best selling white wine, with 90 percent Viognier and 10 percent Gewurtztraminer, this wine is fresh and fruity with a smooth finish. The 2011 Fusion Red – 60 percent Syrah, 20 percent Petite Sirah, 17 percent Zinfandel, and 3 percent Alicante Bouschet – is a delicious, complex fusion of Lodi’s best winegrape varietals. It has their biggest production, with 500 cases a year. The Fusion Red 2010 was named the 2010 Smart Buy in the Wall Street Journal.
According to Niggli, Syrah was getting pushed out of stores but now Spanish and Portuguese varietals are popular. Trends in winemaking are strong and winemakers can pick and choose what to be part of or sit out. “Regular varietals have to get the consumers attention and I focus on what the customer likes,” Niggli said.
Malbec will be picked this year, so next year will bring its first release. Borra also recently released their first dessert wine, Crealto that is not cloyingly sweet because of its acidic balance.
Borra is open Monday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. at the tasting room located at 1301 E. Armstrong Road in Lodi.
Take a Family Friendly Walk on the Wild Side at Micke Grove Park and Zoo
For a walk on the wild side, visitors can take a stroll through Micke Grove Park and Zoo. Named after San Joaquin County philanthropists William and Julia Micke, it opened in 1938 and the Zoo followed in 1957. “Millions of visitors have enjoyed the Micke’s wonderful gift,” Avanti Mallapur, PhD, Micke Grove Zoo Curator, said.
Micke Grove Zoo is now owned and operated by the San Joaquin County Parks and Recreation Department and receives support from the Micke Grove Zoological Society.
The zoo is five acres with 169 animals who call it home. The animals come from other zoos and wildlife rescue centers around the world, many of which are endangered in the wild. Some species (fossa, black parrots, yellow-knobbed curassow and Chilean pudu) are so unique that only a handful of zoos in the country have them.
“Micke Grove Zoo houses a fascinating number of species from around the world,” Mallapur said. He says there are 40 Chilean pudu (the smallest deer in the world) that exist in captivity in North America and Micke Grove has four of them.
It is currently raising funds for new fossa and snow leopard exhibits. To learn more visit mgzoo.com. The education department provides a variety of education programs for children, seniors, families and adults including a “Zoo After Dark” program that will be launched in March.
“While we continue to grow, Lodi maintains its close-knit, small-town feel with a community dedicating to preserving the passion of generations of farmers and wine grape growers,” Reagan said.
Featured image above: The wines of Ripken Vineyards. Photo courtesy of Ripken Vineyards.