Why Lodi Needs to Be Your Next Wine Country Destination

Have you ever gone wine tasting in California? Check out the wineries in Lodi. They're the Zinfandel Capital of the World!

Spring is nearly upon us, which means it’s wine tasting season! Granted, you can actually go wine tasting year round, but now is generally the time I start daydreaming about driving around wine country and checking out vineyards with unbeatable views and delicious pinots. In previous years, I’ve toured Sonoma, Long Island, the Finger Lakes, and Paso Robles — but this year, I headed somewhere new: Lodi.

And you know what? After spending time there, I’ve seen the light. (Or at least the sunlight filtering through rows and rows of old vine zinfandel grapes.) I’ve become an official lifelong #LodiWine fan. In fact, if I wasn’t headed abroad soon, I’d be back in town for their ZinFest in mid-May.

But what wine does Lodi specialize in? And how the heck do you even get there? Patience, Vino Jedi. Here’s everything you need to know about why Lodi needs to be your next wine country destination.

Where Exactly Is Lodi, Anyway?

Think you know your wine regions backwards and forwards? All right, then, I’m going to give you a 30-second pop quiz. (This isn’t school, so I’ll wait while you go and fill up your wine glass. Got it? Good.)

Which of these wine regions is NOT in California?

A) Napa
B) Sonoma
C) Paso Robles
D) Lodi
E) Temecula
F) Santa Barbara

Time’s up! So this is actually a TRICK question — they’re all located in California! It’s a state that’s spoiled rotten when it comes to great wine, isn’t it?

Most people have heard of Napa and Sonoma, and others have heard of Santa Barbara and its @#$!ing merlot thanks to Paul Giamatti and Sideways. While Paso Robles will always be in my heart — Mr. Five O’Clock and I got married there, after all — Lodi is a wine region that burst onto my radar because it’s California’s largest wine appellation: it produces more wine grapes than any other wine region in the state.

As you can see on the map below, Lodi (pronounced LOW-DIE) is 90 miles east of San Francisco and 35 miles south of Sacramento. I flew into Sacramento on JetBlue (airport code SMF) and used the city as a home base for a day trip out to Lodi wine country. It took us roughly 45 minutes to drive from our place in Sacramento to our first winery.

What You Need to Know About Lodi Wines

If I were a betting (wo)man, I’d throw down some money on Lodi as the next hip, happenin’ wine region in the U.S. For starters, it was named Wine Enthusiast’s 2015 “Wine Region of the Year.” Its wineries are racking up awards at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and American Fine Wine Competition. Plus, its winemakers aren’t afraid to explore new and daring wines.

Lodi is justifiably lauded for their zinfandels. Known as the “Zinfandel Capital of the World,” it accounts for over 32% of California’s premium zinfandel production.

In addition to old vine zinfandel, Lodi wineries are also known for their merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay. You’ll also find Spanish and Rhône varietals here as well.

One of my favorite things about the region, though, is that a lot of Lodi’s grape-growing families have been in the region for four or five generations. In fact, it’s not uncommon to visit a tasting room and be served by the owner or the grape grower. How often can the same be said about Napa nowadays?

What Lodi Wineries Should You Visit?

With 85 wineries and over 60 tasting rooms to choose from in Lodi, determining which ones to visit — especially if you only have one day — can be a tough call to make. I was fortunate enough to visit three wineries with Catwoman and Agent M when we were there at the end of February 2017. Try to work in at least one of these spots into your itinerary; you won’t be disappointed!

Klinker Brick Winery

15887 N. Alpine Road, Lodi, CA
Website, Facebook, Twitter
Tasting Room Hours: Open daily, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Like a dear, old friend, Klinker Brick and I go way, way back. Mr. Five O’Clock and I used to drink bottles of their Old Vine Zinfandel while he was a graduate student in Chicago in 2008. Visiting this tasting room, which opened in 2010, felt like a homecoming for me.

Family is the name of the game here: Klinker Brick’s Steve and Lori Felten are fifth generation grape growers in the Lodi region. They’re producing some phenomenal wines, one of which — the 2014 Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel — was a huge highlight for us. The wine was jammy, well balanced, and had notes of berries and spice.

Agent M was partial to the 2016 Bricks and Roses — a dry rosé which was a blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, and carignane — and the 2014 Dolcetto, which had aromatics of blackberry and spice. Catwoman, on the other hand, was a big fan of the 2016 Albariño, which had aromas of pear, melon, and green apple. In a group like ours, which had a variety of palates, we were happy to see that there was something for everyone.

Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel (seen above) was also a hit. As Klinker Brick’s flagship wine, it accounts for roughly half of their annual total production (meaning 40,000-50,000 cases out of 100,000). It’s jammy, peppery, and — in the immortal words of Mike, Catwoman’s husband — will make you say, “Man, I need a steak.”

Marisa, the woman who poured wine for us (and is related to the grape growing family via marriage), was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and warm. This wasn’t unique to us; we saw excellent service delivered across the board.

Great service at Klinker Brick!

After our tasting session, we bought a glass of wine and strolled through the grounds, coming upon horses frolicking in the warm sunlight. With three animal lovers among us, it was the perfect ending to the perfect beginning in Lodi.

Borra Vineyards

1301 East Armstrong Road, Lodi, CA
Website, Facebook, Twitter
Tasting Room Hours: Open by appointment; open to the public the last weekend each month (Friday to Sunday of that weekend, 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM; check website)

Side by side tastings at Borra

When we asked wine bloggers for suggestions of where to taste wine in Lodi, one name came up repeatedly: Borra Vineyards. When you have several people recommending the same winery, your ears perk up. Thus, this winery — started by Steve Borra in 1975 — was a mandatory stop on our Lodi wine quest.

Though we arrived at Borra with less than an hour until closing, we didn’t feel rushed at all. In fact, by the end of our tasting, we practically felt like the tasting room staff (Mike and Nick) were family! We can’t stress how incredible the service was here. Conversation flowed as naturally as the next wine into our glasses.

Wines we particularly enjoyed included:

  • 2014 Borra 47.5° Red Wine — blend of 80% Petite Sirah, 10% syrah, and 10% mourvedre
  • 2013 Heritage — blend of 70% Barbera, 10% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Alicante Bouschet
  • 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel — notes of plum and black cherries; velvety smooth
  • 2013 FUSION Red — great table wine; easy drinking, crowd pleaser; very fruit forward
  • 2015 Markus Nativo — blend of 52% Kerner, 29% Riesling, 15% Bacchus, and 4% Gewürztraminer.

Swiss-born Markus Niggli is the winemaker here; he’s also winning critical acclaim for his wines under the Markus Wine Co. label (check out their Twitter account here). With Borra likely to retire this year, keep an eye out for some potential changes to their labels. Different wine, perhaps, but in the hands of Markus it’ll be the same great quality.

Michael David Winery

4580 West Highway 12, Lodi, CA
Website, Facebook, Twitter
Tasting Room Hours: Open daily, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Last pour at 4:30 PM)

7 Deadly Zins at Michael David Winery

Recognize the label in the picture above? You might, given that 7 Deadly Zins can be found across the country. I vividly recall seeing it at our local grocery store while growing up. No, I didn’t drink it under 21 — that would be zinful. (Sorry, had to. It’s the wine talking.)

The great thing about visiting a winery in person, however, is you get to try wines beyond what you’ll typically find on the shelves. Case in point: I fell pretty hard for their 2013 Lust Zinfandel, a full-bodied, voluptuous wine with aromas of brandied cherries, blackberries, and caramel.

You’ve got to love it when wine descriptors perfectly match the wine’s name, eh?

Though service here was hectic at first given the large crowd clamoring for attention, we were able to find our rhythm after we began conversing with the staff. I’d suggest visiting earlier in the day if you visit on a weekend and don’t want to compete.

Pro Tip ⇒ Michael David Winery has café on site serving tasty food. We enjoyed lunch here before our tasting, making it a perfect midday winery stop.

Honorable Mention

Looking to add some more Lodi wineries to your itinerary? People we spoke to at these wineries, plus other bloggers, suggested visiting Jeremy Wine Company, Harney Lane, and Fields Family Wines.

Essential Info:
Looking for lodging in Sacramento? Check here.
Want to learn more about California wine? This book can help!
And what should you do in Sacramento after visiting Lodi wine country? This book has several good ideas.

Agent M (left), Catwoman (middle), and me (right)

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Have you ever gone wine tasting in California? Check out the wineries in Lodi. They're the Zinfandel Capital of the World!

A huge thanks to Visit Lodi for sponsoring this post and for helping me have such a wonderful time in Lodi. As always, all opinions are my own and I will never promote something I haven’t personally experienced and believe in, regardless of who foots the bill.

Also, some of the above are affiliate links. This means I will earn a tiny percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting It’s Five O’Clock Here!

54 thoughts on “Why Lodi Needs to Be Your Next Wine Country Destination

    1. Julianne

      I didn’t realize how close Lodi was to Sacramento, so it’s a great day trip for wine tasting! Next time I go to California, come with me and I can show you some Lodi wines 🙂

    1. Julianne

      Hi Jennifer, glad to expose you to the wonders of Lodi! Catwoman is actually one of my friends (see my “Cast of Characters” page), and she liked the albariño at Klinker Brick. But maybe Lodi wineries will make a wine called Catwoman one day 🙂

  1. Jen Morrow

    Oh yes, please! I prefer Temecula over Napa wines, but I have not experienced the Lodi wineries. I have enjoyed 7 Deadly Zins, and I would love to try more of the local varieties around the area. I am a huge fan of Albariño wines, so I would have to follow in Catwoman’s glasses for recommendations. Now I am thirsty.

    1. Julianne

      Hi Jen, I prefer Temecula over Napa too! Sounds like you’d definitely like the albariño at Klinker Brick. Hope to go wine tasting with you one day! 🙂

  2. Torgeir Lindland

    I do love some good wine and have tried a lot of good Californian wine, but have never heard of Lodi before. If we can get some wines from Lodi in Sweden I will try them out this weekend. They seem very good. Cheers.

  3. Lynn and Justin

    This post is leaving us craving both the wine and the weather! We particularly love the idea of intimate, family-owned spots. We’ll definitely be sharing this one with all our alcoh… we mean, wine-loving friends! 😉

    1. Julianne

      Haha please do! And yes, it’s really cool that a lot of these wineries are family-owned. Having the family’s daughter-in-law or father pouring for you, or the winemaker, gives you a lot of insight into not only their wine, but how much passion and care they put in!

  4. Shirley

    So Zinfandel is one of my favorite wines, and I had no idea that Lodi is the “Zinfandel Capital of the World”! I also really enjoy family-owned wineries, so Lodi is definitely on my list now for a great weekend trip from the South Bay Area. Thanks for all the great info!

    1. Julianne

      It’s funny how you can live somewhere for your whole life and then discover something new in your own backyard! That’s how I felt about Lodi too, since it was close to where I grew up and yet it took me over 30 years to get there 🙂

  5. Archana Singh

    WOW! What a timing of this article. Today only I booked a trip to Yolo Valley for a wine tour. Guess it’s going to be pretty similar to what you experienced in Lodi.

  6. Caroline @ The Travelling Sloth

    I didn’t realise how much of a wine country California was… I recently just started getting into my wines so I’ll be sure to check out Lodi if I’m ever in the area! I’ll be sure to look out for any wine that comes from this area in my local liquor shop.
    Also good mention on the pro tip! Always good to have a bite between wine touring 🙂

    1. Julianne

      Hi Caroline, yes — gotta make sure to have plenty of water and some food on hand to make it through these wine tasting trips 🙂 And yep, California has so many award-winning wine areas that you’ll have plenty of options to choose from if you come visit!

  7. Tracy Mitchell

    I was born and raised in Lodi! It’s wonderful and you are right! Some of these names you mention are my childhood friends along with a prom date or two! I’m now living in Chicago and going home is a ton of fun!

    1. Julianne

      Hi Tracy, it’s an honor to have a Lodi native read my post! That’s awesome that you recognize the folks I met. I was really struck by the kindness, generosity, and passion of the people I met in Lodi. Chicago is one of my favorite cities too, so sounds like you’ve got the best of both worlds! 🙂

  8. Agent M

    Lodi is the proverbial “diamond in the rough”. I would expect the heavily agricultural central valley to boast a wine region. I was educated by this trip, thanks Julianne for sharing it with me!

    1. Julianne

      Glad you liked their rosé, Agent M! I have a bottle over in my Brooklyn apartment with your name on it. 😉

  9. Rosie Benton

    You had me from the word go with wine tasting!! Would love to check out Lodi if we’re ever in town. Like the idea of being able to taste wines that aren’t on the shelves. Cool pictures too!

  10. April

    I’m not much of a drinker, yet your description and photos have made me want to sample a few grapes! It sounds absolutely lovely; the perfect place for a first date, or a great day trip with your friends. I’ll def check out Lodi the next time I’m in California. Thanks so much for sharing your experience there!
    April @ Love Lust or Bust

  11. Janine Good

    You had me at Wine Country. I have yet to travel through California’s many regions, but I am loving the sound of Lodi’s Zinfandel selections at 32% of the State’s production. I agree that spring is the right time for exploring wine country as the vineyards begin to blossom preparing for the ripening grapes. Here in Canada, we don’t do much wine tasting until the summer since the vines are buried to avoid frostbite 🙂 Great post. I hope to head to Lodi someday!

    1. Julianne

      Hi Mike, thanks for the insider scoop from a Lodi native! Will add those three wineries to my list when I’m back in the summer. Lodi is definitely more than a one day experience!

  12. Katherine

    When I first read your heading I thought “Isn’t Lodi that metal band who played Eurovision that time”? Turns out that’s Lordi. Sorry. 😉
    Then I relaised that Lodi is actually within driving distance of my place and I got excited! Thanks for the round up, I’m going to have to visit.

  13. Candiss

    Great guide, I am definitely bookmarking it for the future!! I went to High School between Lodi and Sacramento and got my license at the DMV in Lodi and still forget about it! Thanks for the reminder to head back out that way now that I’m back in the state 🙂

  14. Kristof

    Great guide, thanks! California wines are sold here in Europe too, but had no idea about the different regions. Will definitely look into finding some Lodi wine next time!

  15. Gracie

    Wow, that’s a lot of wineries in Lodi! I bet it will be hard to choose from these places. And thank you for telling us whereabouts is Lodi, saved us from clicking the Google Map.

  16. danik

    Never tasted wine from Cali before but will try it when I get out there one day. I know I can buy it in supermarkets in the UK but rather taste it when I am in the area. French wines for now 😀

  17. Micki

    7 Deadly Zins is one of my fave wines! We’re going on a road trip from Houston to San Francisco (then down to LA and back), and we were planning on stopping in Napa for the day. We might need to stop here instead! Thanks for the great info – it has been pinned for future reference!

  18. woody world packer

    This sounds like a great day out! never been to the usa yet, but this would be definitely on our bucket list, for when we do as we like our wines 🙂 For now we stick with the Australian wines

  19. Stella the Travelerette

    I’d never heard of Lodi before I read this post but I’m glad I did. I’ve never actually been wine tasting in California, only–strangely enough–in New Mexico, Texas and Cape Town, South Africa. But I’d love to check out these great places.

    1. Julianne

      Hi Stella, California definitely has some excellent wine tasting, but I’ve been really curious about New Mexico, Texas, and Cape Town. Any wineries or wines there in particular that you liked? Would love to know if you have any recs or posts about them!

  20. Wanderlust Vegans

    I know a few people that are big wine drinkers and lover wine tours. They would probably be interesting in checking out Lodi since it’s not too far to get to from Vancouver on a flight. Flights to San Fran aren’t too much and it looks like you could rent a car and drive to Lodi.

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  22. Erin Leigh

    There is nothing better than wine tasting in California! I’ve been in Napa, but I’ve never heard of Lodi! Your post totally convinced me that Lodi is the next wine tasting destination I need to check out. Sounds like so much fun.

  23. Cliodhna Ryan

    I’ve never heard of Lodi but it seems like Californians are spoiled for choice!. I did my first wine tasting this year and it was really fun so I’d love to do it again sometime.

  24. Carola

    I|d never heard of Lodi before. But by the look and sound of it it’s the place to go for some fresh wine experiences.

    Happy continued travels!

  25. Archana Singh

    When I saw the headline I thought you are talking about Lodi in Delhi and I was bewildered about the wine tasting it. Thank god i read the post. Guess that’s why there’s a saying never judge a book by its cover 😛

  26. Harsh Gupta

    In India, we indeed have a colony called Lodi which is extremely beautiful. This looks so pretty that I really want to visit and indulge in wine tasting session here. I’ll definitely refer back whenever we plan our California trip.

  27. Karyna

    I would love to go wine tasting in California one day! I’ve done so quite a bit just outside of Melbourne and loved it, but not in Cali yet!

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