Just 85 miles from the city by the bay, Lodi offers an under-the-radar wine country experience on par with — but more accessible than — Napa. The region’s hot days and cool nights create conditions ideal for grape growing, which explains why the crop has been grown there for more than a century. Family businesses and entrepreneurs who’ve returned to the small town of their childhood both figure prominently. Today, Lodi produces 120 varieties of grapes; with its more than 100,000 acres of vineyards (that’s more than Napa and Sonoma combined) and a farm heritage that lends itself to some truly great restaurants, Lodi can entice even the most skeptical visitors.
So here’s how to plan an ideal food and wine weekend in Lodi. Note that while beer is a popular pastime with Lodi Beer Co., Highwater Brewing, and Five Window Beer Co., the focus here is to highlight the wine scene. Without further ado, a guide to a perfect food and wine-filled weekend in Lodi.
2 p.m. kick things off at this kid-friendly winery
Michael David Winery makes the perfect first stop in town with its prominent position right on Highway 12 just after you cross the Lodi border. Brothers and founders Michael and David Phillips are the fifth generation of the farming family that’s grown crops on the site since the 1860s, and their sense of humor is evident across the library of wine labels, all of which are like a Where’s-Waldo game for grownups. The Freakshow series is most famous, with depictions of classic circus icons and secret code tags that call back pop cultural references from the ‘80s. (For instance, the Freakshow chardonnay features a mermaid with a code on the back that deciphers on a phone keypad to spell Madison, a la Daryl Hannah in Splash.) The teensy on-site cafe serves a proper breakfast and lunch seven days a week, showcasing country classics like sweet potato hash with Brussels sprouts and Sriracha maple syrup. Be sure to snag a slice of pie.
Michael David Winery, 4580 West Highway 12, Lodi, 209-368-7384
4:30 p.m. hit the pub for happy hour
The culinary pedigree behind this British-style pub is proper: executive chef Srijith “Sri” Gopinathan helmed Michelin-starred Taj Campton Place in San Francisco before lending his expertise to the Oxford. Focused on the array of foods found in London street markets, the menu features a comforting chicken tikka masala bowl, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips with mushy peas, bangers and mash, and, reportedly, the only beef Wellington in Lodi. But it’s the small plates — Scotch eggs, crispy cauliflower with romesco, and a variety of stuffed flatbreads with tzatziki — the batched cocktails, soccer on the big screens, and Fuller’s and Old Speckled Hen on tap that make the place a go-to for the work wind-down crowds.
The Oxford, 110 W. Oak Street, Lodi, 209-263-7234
7:30 p.m. have a proper farm-to-table pizza night
Naturally leavened dough, close relationships with farmers and winemakers, seasonal specials that center local produce, and a staff made up almost entirely of family members are the winning ingredients behind Guantonio’s pizzeria. Nick and Marissa Guantone are the husband-and-wife team that lead back and front of the house respectively, with Nick’s parents and business partners — Nick Sr. and Shelly — mixing dough and frying delicate cannoli shells in the open kitchen. There’s a personal quality to the entire dining experience from the mini bottle shop featuring favorite local wines to the handwritten sign at the host stand plugging “Noni’s cannoli.” With blistered, chewy crusts and toppings like pepperoni with ricotta and hot honey, the pizzas sustain all palate proclivities.
Guantonio’s, 600 West Lockeford Street, Lodi, 209-263-7152
8 a.m. caffeinate in carb heaven
At Ruby’s, Tartine alums Fausto and Lynn Echeverria have created a pastry mecca in their hometown. Gorgeous sourdough bread, flaky croissants, iced ginger cookies, scones, coffee cakes, sugary morning buns, turnovers, and danishes with seasonal fillings gleam from the wrap-around glass case as you walk inside the six-day-a-week cafe named after their daughter. Daily brunch includes loaded toast, tender slices of quiche with super flaky crusts, and a traditional breakfast plate of bacon and eggs. Lunchtime brings a cafe menu that includes soups, sandwiches, salads, and pizza, with certain offerings available on devoted days of the week.
Ruby’s Bakery & Cafe, 11 S. Church Street, Suite B, Lodi, 209-400-7972
10 a.m. educate yourself about the local wine scene
An ideal stop for an overall orientation to the Lodi wine world, the Lodi Wine Visitor Center offers to learn about and taste what Lodi wine is all about. Established by the Lodi Winegrape Commission, the center carries wine from the majority of the winemakers operating in the region, whether they have public tasting rooms or are hyper-small operators. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, super ambassadors for the rich history of the region. There are three set tasting flights to choose from and bottles are available to purchase. The team can tailor your tasting or your upcoming winery lineup to your preference — zins, rare varietals, whites, you name it. You may even consider a membership: the visitor center offers a wine club.
Lodi Wine Visitor Center, 2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, 209-365-0621
11:30 a.m. get a taste of France
Winemaker and businesswoman Sue Tipton is an invaluable part of the Lodi wine scene. Winemaking is her later life career after her husband’s job took them all over the United States and Sweden. When they ultimately settled on a ranch in Lodi, they named it Acquiesce, inspired by an old KD Lang song about surrendering to where life took them. It was a taste of a white Chateauneuf du pape that set her on a path of award-winning winemaking with white Rhone varietals. Her picpoul blanc, roussanne, grenache blanc, and “belle blanc” blend top the lists of instant obsessions. Importantly, hers is one of the only wine tastings in the region that includes a genuine food pairing, kept current and seasonal through a rigorous monthly tasting session where she, her husband Rodney Tipton, assistant winemaker Christina Lopez, and culinary director Rebecca Forrest assess all possible pairings with a new lineup of Forrest’s dishes.
Acquiesce Winery, 22353 North Tretheway Road, Acampo, 209-333-6102
1:30 p.m. stop in for a family lunch
If you’re craving a trip to old Europe and some of the best bread pudding you’ve ever had, the Dancing Fox is a must. Patriarch Gregg Lewis is a grape grower by trade and a winemaker by passion. Matriarch Colleen Lewis, a former speech pathologist turned professional baker, directs the food side of the business and makes a staggering variety of bread. Her pretzels, sourdough loaves, English muffins, focaccia, burger buns, brick oven pizza dough, and countless sandwich varieties are legendary — the tri-tip green chile melt on jalapeno sourdough is a family favorite. Their eldest son Dustin manages the restaurant and, with his brothers Jared and Gabriel, brews the house beer in the same location where their dad makes the wine. The boys also have a distillery in the works, set to open in the next year to produce their own brandies and whiskies.
The Dancing Fox, 203 S. School Street, Lodi, 209-366-2634
3:30 p.m. watch the sunset with a glass of old vine zinfandel
The way the sun sets over the vast farmlands and vineyards of Lodi is something to behold, and the perfect place to take in the light while sipping fruity old zinfandels is from the patio of Klinker Brick winery. The winery is the life’s work of fifth-generation grape growers Steve and Lori Felten. They are a daily presence on the farm and in the tasting room and maintain a ritual of retiring each afternoon to the facility for a glass of their favorite wines — a sparkling for her and a cab for him. Head winemaker Joseph Smith has been with the winery for nearly 15 years. His talent with old vines — those at least 50 years old, though many in the area are more than twice that — results in deeply fruity and smooth zinfandels. The Old Ghost zin, Klinker Brick’s most famous wine, represents what Smith deems to be the best of the old vines’ grapes each year.
Klinker Brick, 15887 North Alpine Road, Lodi, 209-333-1845
7 p.m. dine at a local favorite
“Everyone does their stint at Pietro’s,” one winery tasting room associate explained of a typical high school job in town. “It’s like a rite of passage here in Lodi.” And for good reason. Everyone seems to love Pietro’s. The Murdacas first started the family restaurant in the 1950s in Vacaville; a few decades later, in 1985, Pietro Murdaca and his son Jim opened the Lodi spot, and it’s been going strong ever since. The classic Italian restaurant features local wines, pasta, and hearty southern Italian dishes. A lovely demonstration garden welcomes guests out front and supplies herbs and vegetables for the dining room. In winter, start with tender housemade meatballs in a bed of chunky tomato sauce, and stay cozy with a primi of tagliatelle in pork sausage, veal, and porcini bolognese. Absolutely do not miss dessert, from the butterscotch budino to the salted caramel-mocha gelato pie. The latter, a layered ice cream presentation with a crunchy crust, is impossibly light for something so rich.
Pietro’s, 317 East Kettleman Lane, Lodi, 209-368-0613
9:30 a.m. Sunday brunch by the fire
Towne House at Wine & Roses, the house restaurant at the fancy hotel in town, is an equal culinary partner to the accommodations and popular spa. Many elegant dinners are served here, but the cozy fireplace in winter and selection of salads, sandwiches, and fizzy cocktails with fresh fruit purees and housemade muscovado syrups make it especially indulgent. And because the space is so lovely for a daytime meal, a brunch of superlative crunchy fried chicken with waffles or a burger with Kewpie mayo on a brioche bun could set the stage nicely for some midday, bon voyage wine tasting. Ask to sit near the fireplace.
Towne House at Wine & Roses, 2505 West Turner Road, Lodi, 209-334-6988
12 p.m. enjoy an urban flight
Jeremy Trettevik spent about 20 years in the wine industry before launching his own label Jeremy Wine Co. and his breadth of knowledge shows in his approach. His wines, mostly Italian red varietals and zins, are fun and delicious, and the Jeremiah’s Jug program is one of just a few like it in the region: Customers can buy a 1-liter jug and fill it at the downtown tasting room with Jeremy’s latest blend. (He’s currently on blend number 38 and has never made the same one twice.) Folks can experience Jeremy wines in two distinct environments — either the downtown tasting room with a spacious, dog-friendly patio or the barrel room in the country setting of Lockeford, just a few miles from central Lodi. The former is open daily from noon to 5 p.m., and the latter offers snacks like cheese and charcuterie. Relevant for sweet wine drinkers, the Sweetheart collection, marked with a heart, indicates sweeter blends like an indulgent chocolate port-style wine that drinks like a complete dessert.
Jeremy Wine Co. downtown tasting room, 6 West Pine Street, Lodi, 209-367-3773
2 p.m. wrap up your visit with a final glass
Most of Lodi is quite flat, but Bokisch has the incredible fortune of having stunning terrain at its foothills locale. This, combined with the focus on Spanish varietals, friendly service, and free breadsticks with estate olive oil, are all winning reasons to make the winery your final stop in town. Although the tasting room opened in 2016, the winemaking dream of Liz and Markus Bokisch started long before, with a post-college trip and eventual move to Spain, where they settled in the homeland of Markus’s Catalan mother. Eventually, after returning to California, the Bokisch duo released their first vintage in 2000 and over the years managed many acres of vineyards for other winemakers through their ranching business, which they’ve since sold. Now, they have the distinction of owning the oldest albariño vineyard in America and being the first to bring the Spanish red varietal graciano to the country.
Bokisch Vineyards, 18921 Atkins Road, Lodi, 209-642-8880