Letters from Lodi
An insightful and objective look at viticulture and winemaking from the Lodi
Appellation and the growers and vintners behind these crafts. Told from the
perspective of multi-award winning wine journalist, Randy Caparoso.
For last-minute shopping and wine education, visit Certified Sommelier Paul Marsh at the Lodi Wine Visitor Center
The Lodi Wine Visitor Center retail store and tasting bar. Stephanie Russo Photography.
There may be just three more shopping days until Christmas, but no reason to panic. Especially for the Lodi wine connoisseurs in your life.
Because there is still a one-stop place to find absolutely the finest Lodi-grown wines there are to buy: the Lodi Wine Visitor Center located in Lodi at 2545 W. Turner Road.
If you've visited Lodi's Visitor Center—operated by the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the association of over 700 regional wine grape growers—you know that it is not just a retail shop but also a tasting bar.
But if you haven't been to the Lodi Visitor Center since 2021, what you may not know is that the selections of wines themselves are more discerning than ever—virtually every bottle on the shelf is a shining example of what distinguishes Lodi as an appellation, appealing to the most discriminating wine lover.
That's because since March 2021 management of the Visitor Center was taken over by Paul Marsh, a Certified Sommelier bringing a boatload of prior experience as a retailer, restaurateur, farmer, and vineyard owner. Better believe it: When Mr. Marsh selects a wine for the store, there is a lot of thought and practical reasoning behind each selection.
In fact, rather than tell you about it, we thought it best to allow Mr. Marsh to explain his approach to selecting wines and organizing the daily tastings in his own erudite way. Without passing go, our recent conversation...
RC.: First, talk about your professional background and how you came to work in Lodi.
PM: It started when I bought a farm in Chico while doing UC Davis Distance Learning courses under Carole Meredith. We planted 7 acres and resurrected a defunct fish farm. After leaving the 155-acre farm and vineyard I joined Kendall-Jackson and did off-premise [i.e., retail] sales and slowly started to love the way we were learning about wines from sommeliers.
My first guru was Margot Peirog, who encouraged my knack for putting wine and food together. I attended Viticulture and Enology courses at Las Positas College taught by sommelier David Everett. His taste and sensory classes were a huge influence. After getting my Level 1 (i.e., Court of Master Sommeliers courses), I was recruited by The Firehouse and Mario Ortiz in Sacramento as the restaurant wine buyer. It opened me up to the entirety of all the brokers and wines of the world.
Working with Master Sommeliers on wine dinners sharpened my acumen and food and wine marriages. Within a matter of months, I took my Certified (i.e., CSW title accorded by the Society of Wine Educators), became dining room manager, and garnered a California Restaurant Association’s Best Wine List. My wife and I started a family and thought it best to open our wine bar gastropub Mile Wine Company in Stockton, which we sold just before the pandemic.
RC: What are your specific major objectives when selecting wines for the retail store?
PM: Within the diversity of the appellations here, so many varietals show differently from vintage to vintage. We try to capture the Old Vines across Lodi and show the distinct vineyards so we can teach guests some of the history of those spots, and the vintners that work on these plots as well. Zinfandel is always going to be our leader, but varietals that originated in France's Rhône or Loire, Spain, Italy, Greece, South Africa, and many other wine types from other regions that have adapted to Lodi and show great here are represented on our shelves.
RC: Can you name a few wines you are selling right now that are particularly exciting and interesting to the most discerning Lodi wine lovers?
PM: Some of the wines crafted by smaller producers that are showing extremely well right now include...
2019 PRIE Winery Grenache—One of the best Old World style bottlings of this grape in all of California, in my humble opinion... light, spicy, a little risqué with dancing fruit and a super finish.
2021 Burlington Chandler Old Vine Zinfandel—Wonderful Zinfandel spice, structured fruit, and impeccably balanced, with a great story [well-known Lodi personalities, Mark and Jan Chandler] behind the wine and the maker.
2019 Precedent Wine Co. Kirschenmann Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel—a Victor Triangle [east side Mokelumne River-Lodi growth] gem... great depth exhibited in the fruit, a touch of earthiness, light spice, and great promise for bottle aging..
RC: Please describe how you are currently conducting the Lodi Visitor Center's tasting program.
PM: We try to showcase multiple Lodi appellations within each tasting menu so that visitors can get a better sense of place, and the nuances the different areas can bring to each wine. We often have a mix of three whites, a rosé, and a sparkling (when available) to start the menu. Then we have three reds and two Wine Club Exclusives which are limited in availability but still can be tried with the full tasting of all eight wines. Tastings are $12 for 4 wines, and the full tasting is $20 for the 8 offerings. We rotate wine in and out of the menu around every 8 to 10 days.
RC: Talk about one or two things about the Lodi region that make it special, or as interesting as any other wine region in the world.
PM: I think it is the diversity of the grapes made into wine that is most astounding. For a sommelier and wine geek like me, there is always something new to try. From Grenache Blanc to Old Vine wines to the latest Syrahs, it is like a candy shop for adults, as if Willy Wonka left his keys with me.
I have to add one more thing: I am very proud of the crew we have at the Visitor Center. Everyone on staff has either been accredited by WSET [Wine & Spirit Education Trust certifications], Court of Master Sommeliers or are in the San Joaquin Delta College [Stockton] Wine Programs. Some of them, more than one.
We will soon be launching the taste and sensory evaluation classes early next year as twice-monthly evening offerings available to guests. I will have a panel of myself and two experts (be it a winemaker/grower or another kind of wine professional) to help guide people into understanding wine, and more importantly... Lodi wines.