Randy Caparoso, wine journalist, wine country photographer and columnist for The SOMM Journal, led a program on the wines of Lodi during the recent annual SommCon® conference and exposition for sommelier-level education and training of wine professionals and enthusiasts. The three-day conference in San Diego last November featured some 50 sessions, workshops and educational programs led by recognized experts in their fields.

Caparoso said the Lodi AVA is located roughly 90 miles east of San Francisco, just beyond the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta, and 40 miles south of Sacramento. The region warms during the day and benefits from cooling Bay breezes across the Delta at night, creating big temperature swings that contribute to grape growth and quality.

Lodi wines can be considered the secret ingredient in a wide range of reasonably priced wines issued under the “California” and other county or AVA appellations. Lodi produces 23 percent of all wines produced in California. Its Mediterranean climate has similar temperature ranges to Northern Napa County and Sonoma and cooler than in regions further south in the Central Valley, Caparoso said.

Under U.S. law, winemakers and marketers have some flexibility in using an appellation on their label and blending with wines from other areas, which might be pursued to add character, color or reduce costs. For example, with an “American” (country), state or county appellation of origin, not less than 75 percent of the volume of the wine is derived from grapes grown in the labeled appellation of origin (e.g. America, California, Sonoma County), and the wine is fully finished (except for cellar treatment and/or blending which does not alter the class and type of the wine).

With a viticultural area appellation of origin, or AVA (e.g. Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills, Stags Leap, Anderson Valley), more than 85 percent of the volume of the wine is derived from grapes grown in the labeled viticultural area.

Recent statistics show 126 varieties planted on some 110,000 acres in the Lodi AVA, versus 45,000 acres for Napa and 60,000 for Sonoma. Although known for its Zinfandel (124,299 tons in 2017 and 34 percent of all Zinfandel produced in California), the No. 1 varietal in Lodi is Cabernet Sauvignon (163,762 tons, and 27 percent of California production). Next: Chardonnay, 110,851 tons and 18 percent; Merlot, 78,443 tons and 31 percent; Pinot Grigio/Gris, 48,035 tons and 23 percent; and Petite Sirah, 40,847 tons and 42 percent.

According to the Lodi Wine website, the region has been a reliable source of California varietal grapes for Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, Gallo, Sutter Home, and Sebastiani, among others. There are five major wineries in the area – Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge, Turner Road Vintners, Trinchero Family Estates, Bear Creek Winery and Oak Ridge Winery. The region has seen a steady growth in the number of boutique wineries specializing in smaller lots of wine, with a growing number of sustainable producers.

Old Vine Zinfandel

Stuart Spencer, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, estimated that between 7 and 10 percent of Lodi grapes end up in a Lodi designated wine. The rest are marketed with the California or other appellations. For added specificity, winemakers are increasing the use of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within the bigger Lodi AVA: Alta Mesa, Borden Ranch, Clement Hills, Cosumnes River, Jahant, Mokelumne River and Sloughhouse. State law requires that wines utilizing a sub AVA must have Lodi attached, such as Mokelumne River-Lodi. According to the Lodi website, the majority of the region’s century-old Zinfandel vineyards are in the Mokelumne River AVA.

Caparoso led a tasting to show off the different varieties flourishing in the Lodi AVA and its smaller AVAs. Here are notes from the tasting of wines, which all offered excellent quality for their prices. Distribution is limited with some wines. Check the wineries for availability.

Acquiesce Winery, 2017, Mokelumne River-Lodi, Picpoul Blanc, $28. Light green gold; citric, melon, lemon nose; ripe, round, good fruit and acids; long crisp finish (15.5-16 on UC Davis 20-point scale; 88 on 100-point ratings).

Klinker Brick Winery, 2017, Mokelumne River-Lodi, Grenache Blanc, $25. Light-mid gold; fruity, honeysuckle, floral, stone fruit nose; tight acids; peachy fruity finish (15.5-16 UC Davis scale; 88).

Harvey Lane Winery, 2017, Mokelumne River-Lodi, Albarino, $20. Light-mid straw gold; sweet floral, cinnamon, wet stone nose; crisp; Riesling-like body; balanced; long fruity semi-crisp finish; great value (16; 90).

Peltier Winery, 2017, Cosumnes River-Lodi, Vermentino, $18. Light-mid gold; apricot, yeast, and floral nose; tight acids; long hot citric finish (15.5; 87).

McCay Cellars, 2017, Bechthold Vineyard, Mokelumne River-Lodi, Cinsault, $39. Light mid-brick; aromatic, earthy, light wood nose; mid body; balanced; softening acids; slightly hot fruity finish (16; 90).

OakFarm Vineyards, 2016, Silvaspoons Vineyards Alta Mesa-Lodi, Grenache, $28. Light-mid brick; sweet, floral, minty, pyrazine nose; mid-body; fruity; easy-drinking; strawberry and wood on the finish (15.5-16; 88-89).

LangeTwins, 2015, Family Winery, Jahant-Lodi, Nero d’Avola, $25. Mid-garnet; minty, woody, black fruit nose; mid-big body; grapey; old world rustic style (16; 90).

St. Amant Winery, 2016, Leventini Vineyard, Johant-Lodi, Barbera, $18. Mid-garnet; Zinfandel-like nose; plum, boysenberry, blackberry; light wood; mid-body; balanced; good fruit and flavor; slightly hot, tannic finish; needs time (16-16.5; 91).