I have been a little quiet in the blogosphere for awhile. We are in Lodi, California, where we will be staying for the month of January. Some time ago I wrote about Lodi when we attended the California State Chili Cookoff Championship https://fromthefamilytable.com/2014/10/26/california-chili-cook-off-championship-2014/ . That’s not the reason we are here this time.
Why, you might legitimately wonder, does one choose to spend January in Lodi? For us, the answer is a bit complex. First, our children have been encouraging us to find a place that could be used as a family retreat. The Sierras are not far away, and that is where two of the families ski and escape the city. Second, we have always wanted to explore this part of California, as we don’t know much about it, and it has a rich history. Finally, we might be able to find a relocation home; we certainly can’t afford LA or the Bay Area.
Lodi is an interesting little town of about 70,000 a half hour away from Sacramento and two hours from San Francisco. It is really all about wine.
As you know, California is responsible for much of the USA’s wine production, and some of it will compete with the finest wines in the world. There are four large wine growing areas in the state: North Coast, Central Coast, South Coast, and Central Valley. These areas are divided into over 130 smaller regions, called AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) according to weather, temperatures, soil, and other growing characteristics. At the same time, some wine fanciers often count only eleven regions where they think high quality wines are produced. These include Los Carneros, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Livermore in the North Coast; the Sierra Foothills; Paso Robles and Monterey in the Central Coast; Santa Barbara and Santa Inez in the South Coast; and Lodi in the Central Valley. Lodi is the only Central Valley place to be included even though wine production in the Central Valley is enormous.
That’s where Gallo is located – headquartered in Modesto – along with Bronco Winery headquartered in Ceres. Gallo produces many labels including those old college favorites, Boone’s Farm and Carlos Rossi along with the label you can only read if you peel off the brown paper sack – Thunderbird. Bronco Winery is operated by a newer generation of the extended Gallo family. They, too, produce many brands, but probably their most famous is Charles Shaw, Trader Joe’s signature “Two Buck Chuck”. The grapes come from ever-expanding plantings throughout the Central Valley.
In all fairness, Lodi has a giant production facility, too. Constellation Brands, headquartered in New York and the largest wine producer in the world, several years ago paid over $1 billion in cash to buy out Robert Mondavi. Their Robert Mondavi Woodbridge winery sits at the edge of town. (That’s where the chili cookoff is held each year.) But the essence of the local wine-making mystique is set in the 80 or so family-owned wineries that produce only a few hundred or thousand cases of wine each year.
It is impressive how many different varietals are grown in the nearby area, but the main grape is Zinfandel, and Lodi seems determined to make it a competitor with the varietals popular in Sonoma and Napa. This is not the cloying white Zinfandel of a couple of decades ago. I haven’t seen a bottle of that since we’ve been here. These are stylish, well-made wines that can sometimes run over $100 a bottle.
Unfortunately, the food to go along with the wine is a little disappointing. Places we have enjoyed are the School Street Bistro, The Dancing Fox Winery and Bakery (The food not the wine.), and a small little bistro away from the downtown, Zin Bistro. The latter is a tiny store-front in a strip mall run by husband/wife chefs and owners; it is a great discovery. The night we were there, their rockfish was cooked perfectly – moist and flaky – and their braised lamb shank was delicious with a gremolata and mashed potatoes. So far we think they make the best food in town, although we have a couple of white-tablecloth places still to check out.
We’ve already visited Sacramento and been on one side trip to Yosemite to babysit while Sarah and Evan did a demonstration at the Ahwahnee Hotel’s annual Chefs’ Holiday. More travels and food to report later.