Lodi: cranes wine - who knew?

Lodi go
Come for the wine, stay for the birds. Or come for the birds, stay for the wine. Either way, you're in for a treat in this yet-to-be-fully discovered, little bit of an insiders secret place. Lodi has long been California’s number one source of varietal grapes: Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc. Its old-vine Zinfandel has achieved cult status among connoisseurs, yet few wine labels mention Lodi. This is changing as the area promotes itself more aggressively, and as the number of charming, home-grown wineries increases. Come for the wine! While wine savor is taste and smell, the birds are all sight and sound. Every autumn thousands of Sandhill cranes fly in to make this their winter home, gliding down the great Pacific Flyway migratory path from Alaska. The majestic cranes (up to 5' tall, with 7' wingspan) are dramatic, prehistoric-looking, with both males and females having the red crest. They mate for life and their calls to each other are like the trill of a distant French horn. Seeing them fly-in and fly-out reduces you to awed silence. Come for the birds!

Lodi Wine Country
• located 100 miles east of San Francisco near San Joaquin River Delta, south of Sacramento, west of Sierra Nevada
• Mediterranean climate: warm dry summers; cool moist winters; 17" average annual rainfall; deep, sandy clay loam soils predominate
• major winegrape growing since 1850's; today, 100,000 acres of winegrapes, farmed by over 750 growers
• annual yield 600,000+ tons grapes, value $300+ million, 20% California's total winegrapes - more than Napa + Sonoma Counties combined
• best known for full-bodied Old Vine Zinfandel wines
• leads all other California wine districts in producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier
• "Lodi" appellation approved by federal government in 1986
• 70+ "boutique" wineries specialize in small lot, handmade wines that win major awards at domestic/international wine competitions
• 60+ leading California vintners buy Lodi grapes to blend into their wines
Wine map here

Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival go
Every year in early November, this free 3-day (Friday-Sunday) festival held at Hutchins Street Square celebrates the return of the Sandhill cranes to their winter home. This is family fun on a large scale with educational exhibits and displays, receptions, workshops, presentations, art show, live animals,
music, children's activities, featured speakers, BBQ and Wine Tasting, birding opportunities, nature tours, vendors, food and the Cranium. A very fine bird time is had by all!

Our visit
Here's what we saw/did in one fast-paced, interesting weekend. Enjoy along with us!

day 1 photos

drive to Lodi go
On a bright sunny morning we take Route 12, drive along country roads, past Western Railway Museum (we'll stop here on return, no time now), through dramatic wind farms (think Don Quixote), past Rio Vista Sacramento Delta, then into serious Lodi wine country. A very rural, beautiful, interesting, pleasant 2 hour drive.

11 am - arrive Lodi and tour the area, sightseeing and familiarizing ourselves with the territory.

Noon – lunch, wine tasting and tour Michael-David Winery go
The winery The Phillips family has farmed here since the 1860s Today, the 6th generation grows vegetables, fruit and 15 varieties of wine grapes. Their flagship wine, 7 Deadly Zins (a blend of 7 Zinfandels), put them on the wine map. Now their varietals include Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Viognier, Roussanne, Chardonnay. Michael David wines are sold internationally.
Our visit Michael-David's Tastlng room combines a gourmet farmstand and popular cafe in a 1970s building set among gardens, lawns, covered picnic areas, tree-shaded pond with ducks, and the vineyards. It is bustling with shoppers of gifts, fresh farmstead vegetables, homemade jams, pies and wine tasters. A waiting line is developing for the cafe and the din is increasing. We choose from the cafe's daily specials before our tasting. Co-owner, Michael Phillips, pours and describes each wine with parental modesty and pride.

2 pm – winetasting and tour Van Ruiten Family Winery go
The winery 50 years ago a young Dutch immigrant settled in Lodi and developed his first vineyard. Today, 3 generations of Van Ruitens tend 800 acres of vines and produce estate grown handcrafted wines in a state-of-the-art facility. They make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, and their special red and rose blends.
Our visit A beautifully landscaped arbor-covered patio leads into a newly built stylish tasting room with high ceiling, chandelier, cool tile floors, with tasting bar to the right. Beyond a set of heavy double doors is a barrel room: past that the production area where sorting, pressing and tanks are visible. Barrels are festooned with flags, tables of auction items are set out for tonight's fundraiser to "Support our Troops". The winemaker takes us through a tasting of his small production and old vine wines. We are treated to a barrel tasting of a new treasure, a late harvest Viognier, which will continue to develop in the barrel for several years before being bottled.

3:30 pm – check into Wine & Roses Hotel go
Set on 7 acres of botanic gardens, this rustically elegant full service resort takes us to a comfortable level of luxury. With only 86 rooms, some suites with fireplace + patio, we experience quality in design, furnishings, space and amenities. An on site exercise room, outdoor pool, jacuzzi, spa, gift shop, gourmet restaurant, lounge/ wine bar with live music enhance our stay.

4 pm - Sandhill Crane Fly-In Tour go
Center stage Festival highlight! Sandhill Cranes who have been feeding and lounging in surrounding fields during the day return at dusk to the wetlands to roost in the safety of numbers. With naked eye, binoculars and scopes we watch them fly in and hear their vocalization. They put on quite a show - calling to each other as they come flying in and landing in waves of several to dozens - until eventually several thousands are in view. On the other side of the viewing hut, a volcano-like sunset behind Mt. Diablo creates its own spectacle. To top it off, Fish and Game docents provide home made cookies! A very special experience, and one of the main reasons we came to Lodi.

7 pm - Sandhill Crane reception Hutchins Street Square go
Participants in the days events come together over food and wine to share their adventures, hear from birding experts in attendance and witness an award ceremony. A buffet features local olives, local olive oil and bread from a local bakery, cheese from Modesto, veggies grown locally. Vintners pour Lodi wines.

8:30 pm - dinner Wine and Roses Restaurant go
The restaurant, one of the finest in the area, receives rave reviews and having it on-site makes our visit extra special. Small rooms and seating arranged to make you feel as if you are in a private room. We've not much appetite but taste a few luscious preparations and talk with the chef about his food and his escorted tours of favorite Lodi vineyards. Dessert, served to us in the lounge/wine bar, is paired with a local late harvest dessert wine. We sit, socialize, enjoy the fire and live piano music, our dessert and our wine. What could be better!

stay - Wine & Roses Hotel go
While checking e-mail we enjoy the fireplace. Big comfy bed, luxe linens, choice of pillows and coverings.

day 2 photos

8 am - breakfast Wine & Roses Hotel
We walk across the courtyard under an old oak canopy to the dining room. Small, light or full breakfast is available. Good coffee, fresh juices, morning paper, served on white linen, beautifully plated, quiet dining room. Nice way to start our day.

9 am – Beginning Birding Workshop go Lodi Lake go
A clear sunny day - best viewing weather.
David Yee, well known local expert, guides our group of 10 beginning birders through the Lake Lodi wilderness area teaching us how to see, hear and "fish" for birds. David observes the local resident birds, expected seasonal visitors, and "shouldn't be here" birds. He demonstrates "fishing" - calling birds in - to where we are. We witness a predator bird takes down its prey. Good walk, great views of lake and many birds.

11 am – view exhibits and lunch Crane Festival
Children and adults enjoy educational science exhibits, art show, craft demonstrations and bird related merchandise for sale. We buy a Sandhill Crane shirt to remind of this day - order sandwich/salad lunch and share a communal table with fellow attendees. F
iddle music plays in a room down the hall.

1 pm - Video presentation by filmmaker/nature photographer Larry Arbanas Crane Festival go
Larry recently visited Alaska (on Cornell Lab of Ornithology assignment) to film feuding Red-necked Phalaropes, diving Peregrine Falcons, brick red Long-billed Dowitchers, Harrier-like Short-eared Owls, plus Horned Larks, American Pipits, and added a moose or two, just for fun! Very entertaining high-definition video show of some favorite California birds in their Alaskan nesting grounds where it all begins for them.

3 pm Harney Lane Winery go
The winery One of the newer Lodi wineries, but one of the oldest winegrowers. The Mettlers, owners of Harney Lane, are 5th generation Lodi farmers. First grapes planted on the property in 1907; for many decades local wineries produced award-winning wines using Harney Lane grapes. In 2007 they began producing their own wines and opened their tasting room in 2009. Only a select small portion of their grapes are retained for their own wines and they still supply grapes to many wineries in the area. 40 acres of vineyard are planted next to the winery with a total of 400 acres total estate properties. Their first vintages show that this is a winery that produces premium wines.
Our visit Festive mood as we enter - tasting room is jammed - beyond, in barrel room, a private party for wine club members is in progress introducing a new release. Serious tastings and wine discussion going on all around. There is food, music and a well behaved winery mascot. An old vine Zinfandel 2007 takes our fancy.

4 pm Berghold Estate Winery go
The winery Berghold focuses on limited-quantity estate wines made in a European style to be enjoyed with food. Miles, owner's son, a grape grower in the area since 1986 has planted the vineyard in Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Viognier. Limited yields produce flavor-concentrated grapes. Grapes sourced from nearby estates are used for the Berghold Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc wines. Also produced - a late-harvest Viognier and a traditional Northern-Rhone styled Cotie-Rotie (a blend of Syrah with a bit of Viognier).
Our visit This grand winery, tasting room, gift shop and event space greet with impressive formal gardens, statuary, lovely grounds planted with olive trees, French lavender and spacious lawns. A huge wooden door opens into a main hall accommodating a hundred or more visitors. This wood-floored spacious tasting room hosts a collection of art, gifts, antiques, including an enormous hand-carved bar and mirrored back bar where the wines can be tasted in Victorian elegance. The moving figures in a huge German-styled glockenspiel entertain on the hour. This is a unique richly decorated space worth a visit. Check out the back covered patio with its comfortable seating and vineyard views.

6 pm - Dinner Rosewood Restaurant go
Located in old downtown Lodi this bistro was very busy during our visit. The limited bistro menu and daily specials are prepared with locally sourced produce, cheeses and olive oil. Local wines are served. Portions large and could be shared. Very special dessert!

stay - Wine & Roses Hotel go

day 3 photos

8 am - breakfast Wine & Roses Hotel
Grey and rainy day starts over a leisurely breakfast. We enjoy a basket of fresh baked breads, fresh juice, good coffee and morning paper while waiting for our full American breakfast. Stroll the gardens one last time before departure.

10 am - experience Staten Island go
Drive to legendary birding area in search of Sandhill cranes in their feeding grounds. See some but much rain. With fields newly flooded more birds will be here next week.

noon - time to go home
Can't leave the area without picking up local produce, wine, oil. Stop at farm stand on the highway, drop more than a few on choice local products, and satisfied with selections, begin the drive home.

lunch - Rio Vista diner
Urban legend: "you can't get a bad meal in a diner." Not true here - disappointed in the quality of a not so great local diner. In the future we'll explore Rio Vista and find a nice restaurant on the water.

2 pm - view dramatic wind farms
Once more through this dramatic landscape, this time the windmills are silhouetted against storm clouds and clearing skies. Drive time goes by easily.

3 pm - Western Railway Museum go
We stop for an electric railroading fix on way home. Lots to do here but we only have time to browse. You can ride historic streetcars around a shaded picnic ground loop. Interurban electric trains that ran years ago all over California and other western states run over the restored main line of the old Sacramento Northern Railway. Over 50 historic cars on display, railway exhibits, Museum Store and Gift Shop. In season there are special wildflower train rides. Fascinating place - we'll come back.

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