It's not easy to be competitive today in the growing market that is the California wine business. But using imaginative marketing and grit, the growers and wineries of Lodi are not just keeping pace with the big boys but Lodi wine is rising in popularity.
The reasons for this boost are many, but foremost are the efforts of small wineries to change the image of Lodi as a producer of quality varietal wines of value, from making wine for other regions to use in their blends and jugs. By the 1990s, the region had turned the corner from mostly producing bulk wines to varietal wines.
Zinfandel is credited for leading the change. Once Zin took the lead, growers looked to other popular red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Interest also grew for Tempranillo and Grenache. Today, white varieties in Lodi include Chardonnay, Verdelho, Albarino and the trendy Vermentino.
"Oh, lord, stuck in Lodi again."
The words of that lament, from a 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival song, represented for some the image of Lodi as a backwater area, far from the "real" world.
The region and town of Lodi, in San Joaquin County, are at the north end of California's Central Valley, a vast area known more for row crops, orchards and table and raisin grapes. Because of the nearby delta, Lodi is in a unique climatic position, cooler than the more torrid southern parts of the valley, making Lodi an ideal spot for growing wine grapes.
Lodi AVA was awarded in 1986, and then in 2006 the region was officially divided into seven sub-AVAs: Alta Mesa, Borden Ranch, Clements Hills, Consumnes River, Jahant, Mokelumne River and Sloughhouse.
With a few exceptions, though, most wineries prefer to use the Lodi appellation on their labels. Complicating things further, a few of the sub-AVAs are in both San Joaquin and Sacramento counties.
The history of Lodi wine goes back to at least the 1850s. The area then was a prolific grower of Flame Tokay, a popular table grape that doubled as a base for brandy. By the 1950s, Lodi wine had mostly shifted to California Sherry and Port, earning the title of "America's Sherryland," that according to Leon Adams 1973 edition of "The Wines of America."
Forty years on and Lodi shifted again, expanding vineyards, but selling most of the grapes to other regions for use in local blends. Meanwhile a number of small wineries came on line sharing an interest in Lodi with big names like Robert Mondavi, Guild, E & J Gallo and Sebastiani. Mondavi grew up in Lodi and after his success in the Napa Valley, he established Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi.
Today, the focus is on small wineries led by names like Jessie's Grove, Klinker Brick Winery, Bokisch Vineyards, Lucas Vineyards, Michael-David, Borra, Mettler and Rosenblum.
Lodi On the Rise
Individually, wineries rise or fall on the quality of their wine and an understanding of the market. Through combined effort, wineries can raise the quality of a region's wine, while giving a boost to the region's reputation.
With that in mind, the Lodi Winegrape Commission has released "A Rising Tide," an eight-part video series that plays off the saying, "A rising tide lifts all boats." The video shows some of the area's sub-appellations and their wines. To view "A Rising Tide," go to lodiwine.com and click on Videos.
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