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
November 1, 2011 | Randy Caparoso

The winery action during Lodi’s First Sip weekend

First Sip

Celebrate the 2011 Lodi harvest with wine tastings straight from the barrel!

The First Sip, Lodi Wine Country’s annual end-of-harvest celebration, is exactly that:  over 40 wineries will be opening their doors or tasting rooms and inviting you to enjoy the very first sips from the 2011 harvest — newly born wines, still in their raw, pristine, most rambunctious (and in many ways, most exciting!) splendor.  How many wine regions offer you that kind of opportunity?

Many of these wineries will also be offering tastes of unbottled 2010s and 2009s, as well as their latest bottlings, just being released.  If you are a Lodi wine lover, this is your chance to chat up your favorite winemakers, and to make your picks while the pickings are the best!

Lodi’s First Sip takes place on a Saturday and Sunday:  November 12 & 13, 2011, from 11 AM to 4 PM. Tickets are $35 in advance or $45 the day of the event.  One ticket is valid for both Saturday and Sunday (wristbands must be kept on both days).  Advance tickets may be purchased online, or by calling the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center at 209.365.0621.  You may purchase tickets the day of the event (either day) at any participating winery.  Admission includes a commemorative wine glass, an event map & guide and entry into all the participating wineries.  Tickets are non-refundable, and you must be 21 to attend.


Abundance Vineyards grower/proprietor Dino Mencarini


Abundance Vineyards
1150 W. Turner Road, Lodi
Enjoy outstanding food, live music and the vividly flavorful wines grown by the Mencarinis, one of Lodi’s oldest, most respected grape growing families.

Benson Ferry Vineyards (pouring at Lodi Wine Cellars)
112 W. Pine Street, Lodi
Visit Benson Ferry’s tasting room located just off Downtown Lodi’s main drag (School St.), along with BBQ and live music.  Special case purchase prices offered throughout the weekend.

Berghold Estate Winery
17343 N. Cherry Road, Lodi
Enjoy the Berghold family’s full lineup at their winery estate along Victor Rd. (Hwy. 12), while browsing their astounding collection of American antiques.  Also enjoy live music and get a start on your holiday shopping in their beautifully appointed tasting room.

Boitano Family Wines (pouring at Vino Piazza)
12470 Locke Road, Lockeford
Visit Boitano at Vino Piazza in the little Lodi town of Lockeford, where they’ll be offering “mom’s cheese balls” along with with live music and special First Sip weekend pricing.

Bokisch Vineyards (pouring at Lodi Cellar Door)
21 N. School Street, Lodi
Have you ever tried the M&M’s of Spain (Manchego, Membrillo and Marcona)?  The Bokisch family — California’s premier Spanish grape growers — invite you to taste authentic Spanish style tapas at their tasting room in the Lodi Cellar Door in Downtown Lodi.  They will also offer a phenomenal 4-year vertical tasting of their famous Graciano — one of the rarest, and most coveted, varietal reds in both Spain and California.


Barrel tasting at Harmony Wynelands

Borra Vineyards
1301 E. Armstrong Road, Lodi
“Glasses, Grapes and Wine” will be the theme at Borra, the oldest of Lodi’s modern day winery estates.  Grab your glass, check out the grapes, and enjoy the natural style wines (wild yeasts, unfiltered, puristic) produced from the ancient vines on their estate, while sampling Italian inspired treats and checking out their Holiday Gift Shop, featuring unique, one of a kind “wine” ornaments (make it a Borra wine style Christmas in 2011!).

The Cellar Door
21 N. School Street, Lodi
In the heart of Downtown Lodi, you can experience the the latest wines by no less than four of Lodi’s most prestigious producers:  Bokisch Vineyards, Jessie’s Grove, Van Ruiten Family, and Michael~David.  Pair the wines with delicious tapas, listen to live music, and sit inside or outside, along the handsomely cobbled street of this historic agricultural town.

Clements Ridge
23225 E. Highway 88, Clements
Venture out into the rolling hillsides east of the City of Lodi to experience this winery’s first releases under the CRV (Clements Ridge Vineyards) label.  With the purchase of 3 or more bottles of wine, you can also enjoy an early Thanksgiving feast, courtesy of Clements Ridge.  Also taste the wines of neighboring wineries, Martin Lane and Mokelumne Glen.

Cycles Gladiator Winery
3750 E. Woodbridge Road, Acampo
This producer of some of Lodi’s friendliest, yet varietally focused, wines will be offering tastes of tri-tip sliders along with new releases.  Enjoy the irresitable live music of Group Therapy from 1 to 4 PM on Saturday, and the contemporary jazz guitar of Travis Vega from 1 to 4 PM on Sunday.

d’Art Wines
13299 N. Curry Avenue, Lodi
Dave and Helen Dart always pull out all the stops at their winery off Harney Lane, east of 99!  Enjoy a bowl of their famous rustic Tuscan soup, while barrel tasting single vineyard varietals in multiple vintages.  There will be a display of winemaking equipment, and Dave (look for the tall guy with the big smile) will be on hand to chat about the art of making wine.


2011 harvest grapes left behind

Dancing Fox Winery
203 S. School Street, Lodi
Behind the Dancing Fox Restaurant & Bakery (the Delta’s finest artisanal breads and pastries!) in Downtown Lodi is the winery of this widely respected Clements Hills AVA grower; where proprietor Gregg Lewis will do his barrel tastings, which you can enjoy with great food (Dancing Fox’s wood oven pizza and foccacia sandwiches are to die for) and music.  Lots of tables and chairs where you can relax and enjoy the wine and life in general.

Fields Family Wines
3803 E. Woodbridge Road, Acampo
Winemaking partners Russ Fields and Ryan Sherman will do barrel tastings of their 2011s as well as special futures tasting sof their upcoming 2010 vintage.  Relax by the winery’s fire pit with some food, play bocce ball, enjoy the music and peruse the creations of local artists also on display.  They will be offering 15% off of all purchases, and a 20% discount for wine club members.  Also, if you’re in Downtown Lodi, do drop in on Fields Family’s sleek, cushy tasting room at 20 N. School St.

Harmony Wynelands
9291 E. Harney Lane, Lodi
The Hartzell family will be offering live music, wine country food and wine pairings to go along with barrel tastings of their latest, including the 2011 Harmony Wynelands OVZ!  Look for winemaker Shaun MacKay leading educational tours of the 2011 winemaking process at this outstanding eastside Lodi estate.

H-G Vineyards
13731 N. Highway 88, Lodi
Live music and food to match with the wines of H-G, with a 15% discount on purchases of 6 bottles or more.

Harney Lane Winery
9010 E. Harney Lane, Lodi
Come celebrate the 2011 vintage with Harney Lane, a beautiful oasis of a vineyard and winery estate, anchoring Harney Lane.  Sip the family’s latest and greatest, including their long awaited 2009 Tempranillo and 2010 Chardonnay.  The weekend will feature barrel tastings, soup to warm the heart, and holiday shopping at a first rate winery gift shop — all sure to put you in the spirit!


Wine lovers have seriously good time at Harney Lane

Heritage Oak Winery
10112 E. Woodbridge Road, Acampo
Heritage Oak is always the spot for some of Lodi’s most refined, regionally expressive wines; and during this weekend they will offering live music from 1 to 4 PM — Marty Cohen and the Sidekicks on Saturday and Group Therapy on Sunday.  Rustic Pizza will prepare hand-made pizzas, cooked on site; and at one point, no doubt, winemaker/proprietor Tom Hoffman will sit down at his piano to show off some of his own classic musical repertoire.

Housley’s Century Oak Winery
22211 N. Lower Sacramento Road, Acampo
Stop by Century Oak for some wine tasting, barrel tasting, food and winemaker talk.

Jeremy Wine Co.
6 W. Pine Street, Lodi
Take a stroll on Pine towards Downtown Lodi’s landmark arch to celebrate the harvest with Jeremy and Choral Trettevik,, who are offering a barrel tasting of their 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, paired with caramel apple pops and a gourmet popcorn bar.

Jessie’s Grove Winery
1973 W. Turner Road, Lodi
The family at Jessie’s Grove — farming in Lodi since the 1880s (5 of their 320 acres still planted with vines dating back to that time) — invite you to come out in your Zoot Suit 40’s attire and swing to the stylings of Ib the DJ.  Have fun with this Big Band theme as you sample their classic Lodi wines, along with tummy warming soup.  Gates opening at 12 noon.

Kidder Family Winery
17266 Hillside Drive, Lodi
Come visit Lodi’s newest tasting room and winery!  Aaron Kidder is one of Lodi’s most talented winemakers and growers, and he is offering side-by-side barrel tastings of his 2010 and 2011 vintages, while also enjoying some of Linda Kidder’s heart warming soup while sitting in their redwood grove or trying your hand at an aroma sensory challenge.


Kidder Family's owner/winemaker Aaron Kidder

Klinker Brick Winery
15887 N. Alpine Road, Lodi
One of Lodi’s higher profile producers, Klinker Brick has a fanatical following across the country.  First Sip adventurers will be able to experience what few others can:  a barrel tasting of their 2011 Zinfandels with proprietor/grower Steve Felten.  Enjoy music by Frankie and Annette as well as tri-tip sandwiches ($4) by Central Valley Catering throughout the weekend.

LangeTwins Winery
1525 Jahant Road, Acampo
LangeTwins, one of Lodi’s most respected grower/producers, opens its gates to the public only a few times a year; and so here is your chance to visit the inner sanctum and taste  futures of their 2008 Midnight Reserve — one of (if not the) most exquisite Bordeaux style blend grown in Lodi, composed of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec.  The Lange family will offer live music and tastes of the famous Fiscalini cheese panini sandwiches to match their wines.  There will also be a sneak peek of the cyclocross competition in December.

Lodi Wine Cellars
112 W. Pine Street, Lodi
If you’d rather not do the car and winery hopping routine, seriously consider sitting back and enjoying the elegant, relaxed tasting environment of Lodi Wine Cellars, located in the heart of the historic little city of Lodi, while chatting up the winemakers or principals behind the acclaimed wines of Benson Ferry Vineyards, Vicarmont Vineyards, McCay Cellars, and Heritage Oak Winery.

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center
2545 W. Turner Road, Lodi
This is where you’ll find the largest selection of Lodi grown wines to taste, poured by a staff of knowledgeable professionals who can provide instant expertise on this American Viticultural Area and point you in the directions that interest you most.  Bonus treat:  during First Sip weekend one of Lodi’s local (and most incredible!) olive oil purveyors, Coldani Olive Ranch, will be sharing samples of their Seal-Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

The Lucas Winery
18196 N. Davis Road, Lodi
For Lodi wine lovers in the know, The Lucas is the must-stop:  Zinfandels grown in the historic Zinstar Vineyard behind the winery, plus an unbelievably elegant, intense Chardonnay.  Expert glass painter Ester Torrens will be on hand to personalize your First Sip glass from noon to 4 PM on both days.  Taste their masterful wines — grown by Lodi icon David Lucas and made by Heather Pyle-Lucas (formerly of Robert Mondavi/Opus One) — and sniff their “aroma boxes” to broaden your sensory horizon.  Finally, enter a contest for a chance to win something special from this special Lodi estate.


Taste from a barrel at Borra Vineyards

m2 Wines
1376 E. Turner Road, Suite D, Lodi
How serious a Lodi wine lover are you?  Just east of 99 in a no-nonsense, workingman’s setting, you will be able to experience six of m2’s seriously killer wines at six different stations; including the acclaimed Soucie Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel, the “Artist Series” Old Vine Zinfandel, as well as a handcrafted Tempranillo, Syrah and “Trio” (proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah).  The sixth station will feature m2’s latest release “Ruby’s Muse” Red Dessert Wine.  There is also a Port style sweet red, to be paired with Wine Lovers Port Dark Chocolate by Bridge Brands (San Francisco Chocolate Factory).  All wines will be also be poured with delectable foods served courtesy of Scooters California Grill.  Of course, winemaker/proprietor Layne Montgomery will be standing by his barrels to give you a sneak preview of his Zinfandels to come, and light musical entertainment will make this visit to the “real” side of Lodi winemaking all the more memorable.

Macchia Wines
7099 E. Peltier Road, Acampo
Macchia means “the spot,” and this is definitely the spot for Zinfandel (plus Barbera and Petite Sirah) connoisseurs looking for single vineyard bottlings that have reaped more gold and double-gold medals than any other winery in Lodi:  proof that Lodi ranks among the state’s finest!  Enjoy live music and taste the Holdener family’s pre-release 2010 vintage, including their incredibly popular “Mischievous” (their multi-vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel blend).  Be the first to taste the 2011 Macchia Zinfandels directly from barrels and talk turkey with winemaker/proprietor Tim Holdener.  Appetizers will also be provided, and holiday shoppers will be delighted by the array of colorful collectibles found in their tasting room gift shop.

McCay Cellars (pouring at Lodi Wine Cellars)
112 W. Pine Street, Lodi
Lodi insiders consider winemaker/proprietor Michael McCay to be one of the region’s most talented, keen and meticulous, winemaker/growers, and the resulting accolades have been pouring down like honey on our lady of the harbor.  You’ll be able to meet Mr. McCay at this Downtown Lodi tasting room, and taste his outstanding new 2009 vintage of Jupiter Zinfandel (unreleased) with special BBQ fare.  There will also be a few of his library wines for sale (quickly becoming collectables!), and of course, barrel tastings of McCay’s 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages.

McCormack Williamson Winery
3125 E. Orange Street, Acampo
Join the good people at this landmark winery for live entertainment and Lodi style eats matched with the cutting-edge wines of Dancing Coyote:  including — all you protest kids… — Albariño, Verdelho, Grüner Veltliner, Moscato, Gewürztraminer, Petite Sirah, and even a lovely new fashioned Chenin Blanc.


Lodi wine lover at Macchia Wines

Michael~David Winery
4580 W. Highway 12, Lodi
The Phillips family want you to wake up and smell the Guantonio’s pizza — which they’ll be offering straight from a wood oven, emanating aromas nearly equal to the heavenly bouquets of this modern day Lodi institution’s spectacular wines (Earthquake, Lust, Petit-Petite, 6th Sense, Incognito, 7 Heavenly Chards, 7 Deadly Zins… the hits just keep on comin’!).  Local artist Tony Segale will be on site displaying his own original artwork and creating some new pieces throughout the weekend; neither can you do wrong by stopping by first thing in the morning for a Lodi Wine Country breakfast at their Phillips Farms Café prior to your First Sip foray, or by stopping again on the way out on Hwy. 12 for some of their amazingly sky-high, deliciously crusty, homemade apple or grape pies.

Omega Cellars
13731 N. Highway 88, Lodi
Stop by Omega to enjoy light finger foods matched with their handcrafted wines (notably, a red Rhône as well as a Bordeaux style blend, a rare varietal Petit Verdot, and a fantastic rosé of Mourvèdre).  Attn Lodi Wine Country gift shoppers:  Chris of Ooglie Googlie Designs will also be there showing his custom wine barrel creations (tables, chairs, stools, even bathroom sinks and incense burners), and you can watch him carve out new new pieces throughout the weekend.
Pasos Vineyards (pouring at Vino Piazza
12470 Locke Road, Lockeford
The drive to the Lockeford area of the Lodi AVA is a trip back in time, when Lodi was an even smaller agricultural community than it is today.  Stop by Pasos to taste their artisanal wines (especially recommended:  a rich, sturdy Lodi grown Charbono!), and heighten your sensory awareness by using an aroma wheel to evaluate our wines as you savor tasty treats.  You’ll also be able to enjoy the latin style jazz of Travis Vega on Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30 PM, and the upbeat jazz sounds of Levi Huffman on Sunday from 2 to 5 PM.

Peirano Estate Vineyards
21831 N. Highway 99, Acampo
See and taste a major part of Lodi’s history at this venerable estate — first planted by current proprietor Lance Randolph’s great grandfather Giacomo Peirano from cuttings brought from Italy in 1896 (the original head trained vines still standing proud!) — and take advantage of special case offerings plus a 20% discount on gifts and accessories.  There will also be a terrific taco truck (another Lodi classic) parked at the door — fabulous matches with Peirano reds like Immortal Zin and “Red Shorts Red” (ask about the story behind the latter… you’ll love it).

Ripken Vineyards & Winery
2472 W. Sargent Road, Lodi
You must check and hang out in the Ripkens’ new, cool, outdoor tasting room — imagine a living room and bar open to the sky and landscaped with vines — built by local craftsmen working with the DIY Network, and slated to be featured in an Indoors Out episode in the spring 2012.  Enjoy the joyously catchy live bluegrass of Snap Jackson & The Knock On Wood Players; and needless to say, barrel tastings amidst the vines (awesome Petite Sirah, inspired Primitivo, and amazing Carmine).


Ripken's outdoor tasting room

Sorelle Winery
9599 N. Hwy 88, Stockton
Since opening its doors in the fall of last year, this family winery has been wowing both wine judges and aficionados of Lodi grown wine with some of the finest, silkiest, juiciest Sangioveses and Barberas made in California.  Stop by during First Sip weekend for some live eclectic rock by Toucan Jam on both Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 4 PM.  There will also be delicious turkey/cranberry sliders to go with barrel tastings and a preview of Sorelle’s newly released 2010 Italian varietals.  25% off all case purchases!

Spenker Winery
17303 N. DeVries Rd., Lodi
Enjoy acoustic guitar music as you peruse our Spenker’s artisan craft faire:  many locally handcrafted items, including as jewelry, purses, Christmas ornaments, goat milk soaps, photos and artwork.

St. Jorge Winery
22769 N. Bender Rd., Acampo
The feel of this winery is renaissance in both looks and artistry:  patina finished walls filled by stunning oils by Jacquelyn Vierra, varietals and blends from cutting-edge Portuguese grapes like Verdelho and Touriga, as well as a rare, powerful Alicante Bouschet made from this Lodi heritage grape.  The Vierra family will be proudly proffering samples of Portuguese foods prepared in their winery kitchen.  In the St. Jorge courtyard, you’ll find a DJ throughout the weekend; and on Saturday, performances by the Luso Dancers (Portuguese folk style).  Needless to say, winemaker/proprietor Vern Vierra will be your gracious host, leading educational tours and treating visitors to barrel tastings of his incredible wines.

Stama Winery (pouring at Vino Piazza)
12470 Locke Road, Lockeford
The Kapiniaris family invites you to take your “first sip” at their Stama Winery; especially since they will be offering a pre-release tasting of the 2009 Stama Merlot.  They also plan to have an aroma wheel handy to help you evaluate their wines, as you enjoy Greek style meatballs in a special sauce.  Stama will also feature the the latin jazz of Travis Vega on Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30 PM, and the upbeat jazz sound of Levi Huffman on Sunday from 2 to 5 PM.

Toasted Toad Cellars
21 East Elm Street, Lodi
Toasted Toad proudly invites you to their brand new tasting room and winery in Downtown Lodi!  They will offer samples of wines throughout different stages, from fermentation to bottling, of the winemaking process throughout the weekend,along with special First Sip discounts.


St. Jorge Winery

Van Ruiten Family Winery
340 W. Highway 12, Lodi
Van Ruiten’s going “wild” during The First Sip weekend!  Safari your way through their amazing zins and cabs while swinging from vine to vine with pinot and chard.  Out on the open air patio, enjoy music by DJ Mullins, and even a cigar by Stogies of Lodi.  There will also samplings of their famous Shady Oaks Olive Oil, Fiscalini cheeses, DC’s Candies and Toby’s Cheesecake.

Vicarmont Vineyards & Winery
16475 N. Locust Tree Rd., Lodi
Tucked in amidst their multi-award winning Merlot vines, the Vicarmont tasting room is an intimate family affair and experience.  Proprietors Vic and Carrie Mettler will personally lead you through tastings direct from the barrel, while soothing you with casual entertainment and wood-fired pizzas.

Watts Winery
17036 N. Locust Tree Road, Lodi
Please join the Watts family for a winery tour, music, barrel tasting or tank tasting and great food pairings.  Can you say port and brownies?  You don’t want to miss this stop!

Woodbridge Uncorked
18911 N. Lower Sacramento Road, Woodbridge
At this tasting room located the charming, little Lodi hamlet of Woodbridge, you’ll be able to taste the handcrafted wines of Akin, Bixler, Grady Family, Lobo Loco, Maley Brothers and Weibel Family, along with some Woodbridge Pizza.  Special First Sip weekend prices also offered.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Winery
5950 E. Woodbridge Road, Acampo
It is never wise to overlook this winery, which offers rare, special release wines seen nowhere else in the U.S., made from adventurous ultra-premium grapes like Marsanne, Malbec, Tempranillo, Tannat, Verdelho, Vermentino, Malvasia, Barbera, Viognier and more, on top of the more familiar major varietals.  If you trust in the name “Robert Mondavi” (who doesn’t?), then you also know that these wines will also be of world class quality!  For The First Sip weekend, Woodbridge’s knowledgeable tasting room staff will also be making these experiences fun, with food and wine related carnival games!


Tasting under Michael~David Winery's weeping willow



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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