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.

Randy Caparoso
February 6, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

Guide to Lodi’s Wine & Chocolate weekend


Oh, Lodi wine… oh, decadent chocolates… oh, sublime seductions!

The Lodi Wine & Chocolate weekend is well nigh upon us, and the big challenge will be planning your day of vinous and culinary debauchery because, well, there’s only so much stimulation a body can take.

And so to help you out the following is a rundown on what many of the participating wineries will be offering on both days.  Gotta luv it!  Here you go…


Abundance VineyardsBig Booty Bob and Bacio Dolce

Manager Stefanie Shaw and her tasting room staff will offer an assortment of chocolates to go with the strawberry fresh and plummy Abundance Bacio Dolce Carignane Dessert Wine, and on both days Big Booty Bob & the Backside Kickers will be playing from 12:30 to 4:30 PM.

d’Art Wines Lodi style Port and a chocolate chili throwdown

Proprietors Dave and Helen Rommel-d’Art will welcome you with a barrel tasting of their outrageously delicious Ports; and as they talk about them, they’ll add different Ports to your glass to give you an instant lesson on the art of blending!

d’Art is also collaborating with of two neighboring wineries, Harney Lane and Heritage Oak, in a friendly contest called the Wine & Chocolate Chili Throwdown.  They’ll ask you to vote for your favorite chili (scrumptious stuff); which of course, will necessitate your planning to visit all three wineries:  a fantastic idea, since they all make fantabulous wines (ask for the voting cards and ballot box, and no hanging chads)!  Results will follow in an email (be sure to sign up for their email newsletters before you leave).


The d'Art express...

Fields Family Wineryaward winning wines, chocolate dipped Oreos and painting from the heart

Co-proprietor Ryan Sherman tells us that Wine & Chocolate Weekend coincides with the release of their 2009 bottlings, all of which placed amazingly high at this past January’s prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Be the first Lodi wine lover in the neighborhood to taste the Fields Family:

2009 Estate Syrah ($18) – Silver Medal winner, and vinified from certified organic grapes.

2009 Old Vine Zinfandel ($24) – an intense and finely polished Bronze Medal winner

2009 Big Red ($22) – meaty, bouncy Gold Medal winning ultra-premium varietal blend

2009 Il Ladro ($25) – Silver Medal winning Super Tuscan styled wine with a Lodi twist

Fields Family Winery will also be serving up tastes of Teresa’s Cakes, prepared by Teresa Parish (decadent chocolate brownies; chocolate dipped Oreos, Nutter Butters and Pretzels; plus other chocolate goodies).  If you come on Saturday, you will also be able to meet the wine country book author, Debra Ristau, who will be there to sign copies of her beautifully photographed, and informative, Lodi On The Label.

But wait, there’s more… Fields Family is also presenting a Paint Your Heart Out workshop.  For $20, you will be able to paint an “intention on a heart” prepared by Santa Barbara artist, Andrea Beloff of Andrea Beloff Fine Art.  Too much fun!


Grands Amis Winery exquisite reds and chocolate braised pulled short ribs

Winemaker/Manager Roger Nicholas invites everyone to come by and enjoy bites of chocolate braised pulled short ribs with black truffle salt (!), provided by Crush Kitchen+Bar’s chef/owner Michael Warren.  There will also be locally baked breads with a basis sun dried tomato bread dipper, plus cookies and other sweet treats baked with (what else?) decadent chocolates:  all the better experienced with Grands Amis’ elegantly fashioned table wines – including their explosive Barbera, elegant Petit Verdot, luscious Merlot, and their extraordinary Bordeaux style blend called Premier Passion.  Then there is the rare, chocolicious Grands Amis Syrah Port:  all the wines offered at special 10-15% Wine & Chocolate weekend discounts.  In addition, Nicholas tells us, new club members signed up during the weekend will receive a 30% special discount.


Good ol' Mother Lode country hospitality

Harney Lane Wineryphotographic memories and chocolate barbecues

If you haven’t yet visited the acclaimed wine country oasis of Harney Lane, you’ve got some quality time to make up:  proprietors Jorja and Kyle Lerner are growing and producing some of the richest, finest Zinfandels, and their Tempranillo, Albariño and Chardonnay are absolutely first class, too.

For Lodi Wine & Chocolate weekend, Harney Lane is reprising their sausages in chocolate BBQ sauce, along with some sweet twists on the art of chocolate making, that were such a huge hit last year.  They are also “competing” with the Heritage Oak and d’Art wineries in their three-way Wine & Chocolate Chili Throwdown. Who’s making the best chocolate chili in Lodi?  Be sure to stop by all three wineries for a taste, and drop your vote into the ballot box – this is important stuff!

In addition, Thomas Photography will be at Harney Lane on both days to take professional portraits of couples attending the event.  Each couple will receive a free (can you beat that?) digital image of themselves to use on Facebook or other social media (presuming you’ve gone public with that main squeeze of yours), on top of the option to purchase photos online after the event.  Oh, sweet mystery and memories of wines, chocolates, and Lodi love!


Harmony's Shaun MacKay

Harmony Wynelandsunbelievable Zinsations and the 1,500 pipes of Mighty Morton

Drop in and feel the love and vinous and musical harmony of proprietors Bob and Linda Harzell and their personable winemaker/son Shaun MacKay.  Meeting them is half the fun, and the other half is their taste of their outrageously rich, decadent, sweet, mini-Port style Harmony Wynelands Zinsation:  a fantastic match with chocolate truffles infused with Zinsation.  Seriously:  once you’ve tried it, you might as well die because then you’ve finally lived!

Mr. MacKay will also be happy to lead you through a barrel tasting (mighty good stuff!); and soloist Jessica Combs will sooth your soul with her guitar, piano and vocals (love songs, of course).  Finally, Mr. Hartzell himself is bound get warm up the keys of his Mighty Morton Pipe Organ – a huge (Harmony Wynelands’ tasting room was designed to house this 1,500 pipe instrument), historical, fantastical sound, once heard in San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.

Heritage Oak Wineryadulterous wines and music beneath the 200 year old blue oak

Winemaker/proprietor Tom Hoffman’s 2010 sweet, Port style red – made from the authentic grapes of Portugal’s Port region – is enough reason to visit during Wine & Chocolate weekend.  The Hoffman family is also participating in the three-way battle, with the d’Art and Harney Lane wineries, in the Wine & Chocolate Chili Throwdown:  try out Tom and Carmela’s stupendous version of this dish, and then cast your ballot for your favorite of the three!

To enjoy with the chocolate chili, Mr. Hoffman call his 2007 Zinfidelity an “adulterous blend of zin and cabernet” – and that it is, and more!  The air around the winery’s towering 200 year old blue oak will also be filled with music:  on Saturday, from noon to 3 PM, Chicken and Dumpling will perform their “home-style back-country” blues, followed by a piano/bass jazz duo up until 5 PM.  On Sunday, from 2 to 5 PM, the jazz duo will morph into a quartet, with the addition of a vocalist and a guitar.

Housley’s Century Oak Wineryaward winning wines and classic Lodi taco truck

Housley’s Old Vine Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay all won medals at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and they’ll all be available for tasting, with one of Lodi’s classic taco trucks parked outside the door.


The Lucas Winery

The Lucas Winerysculpted wines and the ultimate wine pairing chocolates

David Lucas and Heather Pyle will be pouring their finely sculpted wines at three different stations throughout their winery on Davis Rd. just off Turner, which slices through the heart of ancient vine zin country west of Lodi.  Truffle Gateau, the Belgian chocolate producer that produces the “ultimate wine pairing chocolates,” will be sampling and selling their decadent wares on both days; and Lucas will also be be sampling guests on artisanal cheeses and breads, plus hot apple cider for designated drivers.


m2's Layne Montgomery

m2 Wineschocolate rubs and the culinary art of fine chocolate and handcrafted wine

In heartfelt support of the Art Institute of California in Sacramento, m2 will be featuring the work of student chefs, sharing their special chocolate creations matched with various m2 wines.  You will be asked to vote for your favorite chocolate dish – the winning chef receives a $200 scholarship! – and sent  home with a full set of recipe cards.

There will also be grilled meats with a variety of chocolate rubs available for your tasting pleasure, and contemporary acrylic works of Reds Regan Fine Art will be on display and available for sale.

Winemaker/proprietor Layne Montgomery also tells us that they will be pouring at least five of their multi-award winning wines:  including their 2008 Soucie Vineyard and Artist Series (i.e. reserve level) Zinfandels, their 2007 Trio (Foothills grown Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Petite Sirah blend), their 2007 Row 23 Petite Sirah, their 2007 Ridgetop Syrah, and a sweet white wine made from the Viognier grape.  Special discounts for weekend visitors, and even more for m2 Wine Club members, will also be offered.

McCay Cellarsin Michael we trust

It’s been an exhilarating past two months for winemaker/owner Michael McCay, whose 2007 Truluck’s Zinfandel took a Double Gold at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition; this, after his 2007 Jupiter Zinfandel was named among the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 10 Wines of the Year.  You’ll be able to visit with Mr. McCay at his tasting bar in Lodi Wine Cellars on W. Pine St. in Downtown Lodi, where he will prepare some additional surprises:  barrel samples of his soon to be released 2008 Zinfandels along with his acclaimed 2007s, offered with tastes of “chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.”  “Trust us,” says Mr. McCay, “we’ll make it more than worth your while if you stop by.”


Winemaking star Michael McCay

Pasos Vineyardschocolate lollipops and loving Latin rhythms

On the Lockeford (eastern) side of Lodi, in the multi-winery complex called Vino Piazza, winemaker Antonio Paso will be pouring his ’06 Malbec, ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon, ’05 Late Harvest Zinfandel, and ’02 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot blend with chocolate lollipops and other types of chocolate.  Just outside Pasos’ doors, some Latin jazz and neo-classical sounds:  Levi Huffman performs live from 2 to 5 PM on Saturday, while Omar Naré and Patrick Contreras performs on Sunday from 2 to 5 PM.

Ripken Vineyards & Wineryprivate photo booth, s’mores and P.S. I love you!

No boring wines at Ripken!  Winemaker Susan Ripken tells us the theme at her winery this weekend is P.S. I love you! That is, tastings of no less than six different Petite Sirahs, including the just recently bottled, luscious, juicy, meaty, beaty, bouncy 2008 that took a Double Gold at this past January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (in other words, the best of the best!).  Ms. Ripkin also says there will be “huge case sales” of their Petite Sirahs that will not be duplicated any other time thereafter.


But of course, it’s all about chocolates this weekend, and Ripken will be offering tastes of scrumptious, Lodi baked chocolate covered caramels, also available for sale by the box.  Outside the tasting room, there will be fire pit and fixin’s for you to roast up s’mores, as well as a photo booth for you to cuddle and whisper your sweet nothings with your favorite Valentine (Ripken will also provide “dress up” accessories to spice up the fun).  Good times!

St. Jorge Wineryrare Portuguese varietals, rolling out the barrels and chocolate pigs in mud

On Saturday proprietor Vern Vierra will treat visitors to a barrel tasting of their upcoming Souzão (to be bottled in March and released in May), while co-proprietor Jenise Vierra will be offering a “perfect match” of chocolate bacon “pigs in mud,” prepared by their creative winery chef, Lucia, and dished out to the music of DJ David Allen Kraham (Saturday only).


Vicarmont Vineyards & WineryMy Chocolate Affair pretzels, Wood Fired Pizza, and Spectator jewelry for the romantically helpless

Owners Vic and Carrie Mettler invite you to their idyllic Lodi ranch, on N. Locust Tree Rd. east of Hwy. 99, to enjoy the chocolate-caramel covered pretzels made by Elizabeth Overton of My Chocolate Affair.  Elizabeth herself will be at Vicarmont during the weekend, and you will quickly discover why her chocolates have been called a “party in the mouth.”  But since man does not live by chocolate and wine alone, the Mettlers will also offer you slices of wood burning oven pizzas produced on-site by their friends, Pete and Romano, of 1252 Wood Fired Pizza.  Ladies, on the other hand, do require fits of romantic spontaneity; and so gentlemen will be able to purchase jewelry by Brighton and other designers for their sweeties (including irresistible heart shaped pieces), as Kay Mettler of Wine Country Plaza’s Spectator sets up shop at Vicarmont for the weekend.  Sound like a plan?


Woodbridge by Robert Mondavithe red carpet treatment and the very sexy “Denzel”

You don’t have to be a star, baby, according to Tasting Room manager Denise Gage.  Oscar will be the theme at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi.  When you step up to their tasting room – where you always find a good dozen-plus ultra-premium quality varietal wines, produced by Woodbridge’s crack team of winemakers, that you never find on store shelves outside of Lodi – your feet will alight upon a red carpet, past a popcorn machine, to a table where you can cast ballots based upon your own astute Academy Award predictions.  There will be five categories, and prizes will be awarded to the best forecasters, once the Oscars are aired on February 27!

Then there’s the wines:  beginning with Woodbridge’s Brut Sparkling Wine (what’s more romantic than bubbles?), and ending with a lusciously sweet, Port style red called the Woodbridge Portacinco, artfully blended from five of the classic Portuguese Port grapes grown in Woodbridge’s estate vineyard.  Ms. Gage tells us that this Portacinco is so dark and rich, so sexy and sassy, the tasting room staff actually refers to it by another name:  they call it Denzel!

So after you’ve walked the red carpet, just ask for the Denzel, or else the Meryl (as in Streep – Woodbridge’s fine and curvaceously sweet Moscato).  Also, if it’s bottled in time, Woodbridge might also have an experimental Muscat of Hamburg available for you sweet white wine lovers to try, along with classic movie fare like Junior Mints, Milk Duds and more.




Lodi Wine Visitor Center
2545 West Turner Road Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Daily 10:00am-5:00pm

Lodi Winegrape Commission
2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242
Open: Monday-Friday 8:00am-5:00pm

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