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Lodi: old vine zinfandel and more

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Lodi is an appellation in the Central Valley of California, with a long and storied history, and containing some of the state’s most massive vineyards and wineries. Around 15% of the total land area of the region is under vine, making it one of the most densely planted large appellations in the country. The region is primarily known for its old vine zinfandel, as well as its bulk production wines.

Lodi’s history is one of fortuitous circumstance. Like many of the state’s early regions, settlers saw a need for wine production, and began planting grapes alongside other crops. When these other crops saw a difficult market, Lodi moved even more of its production over to grapes, making it the state’s premiere wine producer near the end of the 19th century. Zinfandel and tokay made up the bulk of production, and the Lodi area became famed for its fire-red tokay wines.

Although Prohibition hurt many wine regions, in Lodi it helped further cement the ascendency of vineyards. Home wine production was still allowed, and so vineyards simply shifted their sales away from wineries (now illegal) towards consumers – a rapidly growing market. This allowed them to weather the storm of Prohibition, and come out the other side strong and ready for the future.

Today there are almost 80 wineries in the Lodi appellation, divided over seven sub-appellations: Alta Mesa, Borden Ranch, Clements Hills, Cosumnes River, Jahant, Mokelumne River, and Sloughouse. Zinfandel remains the primary grape of the region – Lodi accounts for roughly 40% of all zinfandel production in the state of California – and more than 2/3 of all grapes grown in Lodi are red wine grapes. Old vine zinfandel – picked from vines dating back to the 1880s in some cases – remains the region’s most popular export. In the past few years, however, Lodi has expanded beyond its staple varietals, experimenting with hot-climate grapes from Mediterranean Spain, Italy, and France, as well as Portuguese varietals. Today, these produce some of the most intriguing and rare wines in the appellation.

With around 40 tasting rooms, Lodi is an ideal destination for visitors looking to taste old vine zinfandel. Some of these premiere, low-production wines – such as the Van Ruiten Reserve Ancient Vine Zinfandel or the Century Oak Old Vine Zinfandel – offer incredible values, priced below US$50, while remaining some of the top zinfandels in the country.


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