The LoCA Life & Times

In Lodi, wine comes first. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Meet the passionate people behind our handcrafted wines and gnarly old vines.

Bob Highfill
March 13, 2018 | Bob Highfill

Kolber, Gutierrez grateful to Lodi community for helping their company grow

Kris Gutierrez, left, and Ben Kolber started KG Vineyard Management in 2003.

Ben Kolber and Kris Gutierrez were working in the middle of the night when a grape harvester broke down, bringing things to a screeching halt.

As they fixed the machine, the pair of Tokay High graduates looked at each other and said, “What are we doing fixing someone else’s machine?”

Fast forward 15 years: Kolber and Gutierrez own KG Vineyard Management on Terminous Tract in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta – a multi-faceted farming operation with 60 to 80 full-time employees tending some 2,000 acres in the Lodi American Viticultural Area, as well as Stanislaus, Yolo and Sacramento counties.

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Time Posted: Mar 13, 2018 at 10:00 AM
Bob Highfill
February 27, 2018 | Bob Highfill

It's all in the family for Lodi grower Kelly Brakel

Lodi winegrower Kelly Brakel has worked for the Lange Family since 1973.

Like a lot of teenagers in his day, Kelly Brakel worked in the fields to make extra money.

He and his brother and their Lodi High buddies pruned vineyards, mowed lawns, drove tractors and did just about any odd job that paid on weekends and school breaks.

Little did Brakel know his odd jobs would turn into a career.

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Time Posted: Feb 27, 2018 at 8:13 AM
Bob Highfill
February 15, 2018 | Bob Highfill

Verdegaal served Lodi's growers with knowledge, commitment and straight talk

Paul Verdegaal, left, and Lloyd Martell share a laugh during a reception to honor Verdegaal, who is retiring from the University of California Cooperative Extension of San Joaquin County. (Photos by Marcy Sousa)

Paul Verdegaal had big shoes to fill.

His predecessor at the University of California Cooperative Extension of San Joaquin County, Jim Kissler, walked on water, according to several winegrowers and colleagues who spoke at a recent reception to celebrate Verdegaal’s retirement during the 66th annual Grape Day at Hutchins Street Square.

Verdegaal not only filled those big shoes, he created his own indelible footprint on the winegrowing community in Lodi and beyond. Jim Kissler’s son, Brad, said Verdegaal earned the nickname “Jim Jr.,” the ultimate compliment.

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Time Posted: Feb 15, 2018 at 8:00 AM
Bob Highfill
February 6, 2018 | Bob Highfill

It's never too soon to think LODI RULES

Michael Spinetta and his 11-year old daughter Amber attended a recent LODI RULES meeting in Woodbridge. Amber has adopted the spirit of LODI RULES at her school, Plymouth Elementary.


Amber Spinetta sat next to her father and listened attentively during a recent LODI RULES meeting.

Amber is only 11 years old, so she isn’t yet a winegrape grower or scientist, like many in attendance.

But she understands and appreciates what sustainability means.

Amber is intimately involved in her community and school, Plymouth Elementary in Amador County. She has followed her passion for the environment, wildlife and the welfare of other people, the same tenets as LODI RULES, California’s first third-party sustainable winegrowing program.

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Time Posted: Feb 6, 2018 at 8:00 AM
Bob Highfill
January 11, 2018 | Bob Highfill

Wine & Chocolate Weekend offers fun-filled passport to sensory overload


The holiday rush has passed, but the party hasn’t ended.

Lodi is gearing up for the 21st annual Wine & Chocolate Weekend, easily the most anticipated passport winery event on the calendar.

Save the time and dates: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, February 10 and Sunday, February 11.

Whether new to Wine & Chocolate Weekend or a seasoned W&C veteran, prepare yourself for two days of fun-filled, sensory overload.

More than 50 wineries, many family-owned, will open their doors and offer samples of their handcrafted wines paired with inventive sweet and savory chocolate bites.

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Time Posted: Jan 11, 2018 at 12:00 PM
Bob Highfill
December 19, 2017 | Bob Highfill

Here Are Five Gift Ideas For Wine Lovers

The Lodi Wine & Visitor Center has lots of gift ideas for the holiday season.

It happens to most.

Life gets hectic and the Christmas season sneaks up. Suddenly, it’s late December and you still have gifts to buy.

Need some suggestions? These ideas are sure to be a big hit.

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Time Posted: Dec 19, 2017 at 8:00 AM
Bob Highfill
December 12, 2017 | Bob Highfill

Kautz Family Golden When it Comes to Wine … and Much More

The 44-pound Crown Jewel at Ironstone Family Vineyards is the largest piece of crystallized gold in existence today.

Hundreds gathered recently to wish happy birthday to the largest piece of bling anywhere.

The Crown Jewel, some 44 pounds of rare crystalized gold, celebrated its 25th year with a party at Ironstone Family Vineyards, which is owned by Lodi residents, growers and winemaking pioneers Gail and John Kautz. The staff at Ironstone pulled out all the stops with music, food and, of course, samples of delicious wine inside the magnificent tasting room.

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Time Posted: Dec 12, 2017 at 5:56 PM
Bob Highfill
November 14, 2017 | Bob Highfill

Bare Ranch is a quiet, peaceful step back in time

Lori Phillips runs Bare Ranch, a historic property more than 100 years old in Lodi.


Behind a cluster of towering pines, past a botanical garden and along a gravel path stands a beautiful link to Lodi’s past.

The Bare Ranch mansion exudes opulence from a foregone era.

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Time Posted: Nov 14, 2017 at 4:00 PM
Bob Highfill
October 31, 2017 | Bob Highfill

Scary vineyard inspires Klinker Brick's Old Ghost

Klinker Brick's Old Ghost is born from a tale worthy of Halloween.


On a dark, foggy morning long ago

In a place few would dare to go

There stood a grower in the eerie light

Gazing at a frightful sight

Gnarled vines cast shadows in the mist

Causing the grower to wonder, what is this?

As the sun rose, it became all too clear

The grower had nothing to fear

The shadows cast were old and true

Zinfandel clusters showing flecks of blue

The gnarled vines would soon bring cheer

For their fruit went into bottles loved far and near

No one could have known on that dark, foggy morn

A beautiful wine would be born

So, what to name this wine crafted from its spooky host?

But simply and aptly ... the Old Ghost

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Time Posted: Oct 31, 2017 at 10:00 AM
Bob Highfill
October 17, 2017 | Bob Highfill

Lodi winemaker enjoys bringing people together through his craft

Todd Ziemann has made wine in Lodi since 1988, first with Sebastiani Family Vineyards and for the last 12 years as Senior Director, North Valley Winemaking at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi and Turner Road Vintners.

Behind an iconic wine brand, such as Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, are everyday people like Todd Ziemann: Talented, committed and above all, passionate.

“The way I like to make wines is fruit with layers of complexity,” Ziemann said. “Fruit is the focus.”

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Time Posted: Oct 17, 2017 at 10:00 AM