Dascomb Cellars: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Deciding you’re done tasting is something of a challenge in Solvang. There’s always one more tasting room enticing you to taste a little more, one more place that comes highly recommended. It can be hard to resist. If tasting in Solvang teaches you anything, it’s that the folks here make incredible wine and it would be a shame to miss any of it.

That’s how we wound up ending our day at Dascomb Cellars. We had pretty much decided we were done, but we had received a strong recommendation while we were at Lucas and Lewellen. Dascomb was mere steps away, so we decided to tough it out (sigh) and pay them a visit.

We’re glad we did. Our pourer (whose name I shamefully failed to put in my notes) was charming and shared her deep knowledge of the area, its history as a winemaking region and the history of the Dascomb family.

The Dascomb family planted the area in 1974. The winemaker grew up on the vineyard, and crafting these wines has been a lifelong passion.

The valleys in the larger growing region are unusual in that they are traverse – that is, they run east-west instead of north-south. This channels cooler ocean air inland and results in a wide range of microclimates suitable for many different types of grapes.

Dascomb’s tasting room had a classic feel, with a dark wood bar placed at a slight angle along one side, with a couple of additional seating clusters where visitors can enjoy their tastings while giving their feet a break.

The Wines

2009 Pinot Gris: This mellow white had hints of saffron, citrus and a hint of oak. I also got a mild but definite hit of bleu cheese.

2008 Roussanne: The aroma of this wine was intriguing and complex. Nikki was reminded of incense. I found the scent to be bold, with toasty sugar elements and a hint of lipstick aroma. Nikki noted a kola flavor and I sensed an herbal overlay. I generally like Roussanne but usually find it not-terribly-complex. This one demonstrated that Roussanne can be more.

2005 Pinot Noir: I was delighted to get a strong scent of toasted marshmallow hovering over the fruit here. The flavor shows fruit in a lighter-bodied wine. Nice, gentle tannins finish the flavor.

2007 Sangiovese: Nikki’s notes say “Hint of port. Smells like the blood in The Vampire Lestat.” I have no idea what she means – I hope the blood in that novel smells like delicious wine. Says Nikki: If you’ve ever read the way Anne Rice describes blood from Louis or Lestat’s perspective in her Vampire Chronicles books, you know exactly what I mean. If not, smelling this Sangiovese to find out is probably faster than reading the books. There was an energetic ensemble of flavors evident here – blackberries and cream, a hint of tobacco and multiple fruits including cherries. It’s bright and acidic so it would be a great accompaniment to Italian food.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon: Tasting this immediately put me in mind of chocolate covered cherries. Nikki was reminded of port. It’s bright with good acidity and light tannins.

2005 Cabernet Port: 100% cab port, fortified with triple-distilled wine brandy. Nikki’s super-sniffer got caramel, plum and toffee while I sensed chocolate covered raspberries in the aroma and flavor. After enjoying an actual chocolate covered raspberry offered by our pourer, the chocolate notes in the port emerged to the point that I could think of nothing else but a rich, dark, fresh chocolate souffle with raspberry sauce.

It’s becoming a common refrain: This is an area that deserves a whole weekend from tasters. Solvang is a lovely town to stroll around and spend time in, the wine tasting is fabulous and abundant and the people are friendly. We’ll be back.

Lucas and Lewellen: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards
llwine.com
1645 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang, California 93463 (map)
805-686-9336

From Mandolina, we walked straight down the block to Lucas and Lewellen. The tasting room is beautiful and elegant, with an extremely long bar that can handle many people.

Tommy and Judy, the friendly, lively tasting staffers, are more than up to the task. They kept the conversation going and gently joked with everyone in the tasting room, creating a very enjoyable atmosphere. It was like being at your friendly, charming friends’ home, if your friend had a 30-foot dark wood tasting bar and an endless supply of amazing wine.

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2006 Sparkling Wine: I’m not normally a huge fan of sparkling wines, but this is one I would be glad to give a good home to. In my belly! The smell had notes of toffee and caramel and the taste was warm, a little tangy, with a hint of savory caramel at the end.

2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir: This smelled more like a white than a red, with a hint of honeyed tangerines. It tasted of lemons, underlined with caramel and blackberries.

2009 Riesling: Mmmmm. This smelled like strawberries and perfume. It tasted like strawberries and cream with a hint of cucumber on the finish.

2009 Viognier: This was surprisingly syrupy, with flavors of peaches and pears.

2005 Sommeil en Barrique: This Sauvignon Blanc smelled tart, but there was no tartness in the flavor; it tasted of caramel and pears.

Silver King port: They served this port in a dark chocolate tumbler, just a little smaller than a shot glass. It smelled yummy, savory and deep, like a really great flan. It tasted sweet and savory at the same time, and had notes of tobacco as well.

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Me, tasting room staffers Tommy and Judy and Mike, whose halo is showing.

Mandolina: 40th Birthday Road Trip

We told the folks at Presidio that we especially like trying wines from wineries that are offering wine in non-French styles. The folks at Presidio immediately told us to head down to Mandolina for our next tasting.

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While the interior decorating style of Mandolina may lean toward country French, the wines themselves are Italian through and through. The tasting room staff is friendly but not overbearing. They’re also very helpful; they recommended that we visit their sister winery Lucas and Lewellen and told us that if we dropped the Mandolina name, we’d get half-off our tasting. Awesome!

2008 Pinot Grigio: Surprisingly, this smelled like jasmine and tea. On the palate it was very well-balanced, with hints of citrus and a slight acid bite that was never overwhelming.

2009 Malvasia Bianca: I tasted melon, honey and sweet overripe kiwi.

2009 Moscato: The smell of this reminded me of soda pop. It tasted like pears and nectarines.

2009 Muscat Canelli: As I smelled this, I detected hints of cola, pear and lychee. It had a thick, almost oily mouth feel, with a bright pear taste at the finish.

2005 Bianco di Bianco: When I smelled this, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite dishes back when I wasn’t a vegetarian — chicken picatta. The scent reminded me of the best possible rendition of picatta sauce. This wine was very dry, but had a savory note on the finish.

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Mandolina’s tasting room staffer was so warm, friendly and helpful…and I never took down her name! If you’re reading this, please let me know so I can remedy my error!

Presidio: 40th Birthday Road Trip

If you’ve only heard of Solvang but never visited, it would be easy to assume its Danish heritage and theme would produce a corny, cheesetastic experience. The reality is quite different. Yes, nearly every building in town is half-timbered and there are plenty of windmills to be seen, but it is a very real place populated by genuine people. There’s a lot to do and see in Solvang and the surrounding environs, and one could easily spend a long weekend in town and still have much left to discover.

Our first stop was Presidio, where a young man named Kyle, who was quite knowledgeable and enthusiastic about wine, poured for us. We enjoyed talking with several of the other folks at the bar there. That’s one of the great things about wine tasting as a social activity – there’s really not much ice to break, and you already have something in common with everyone else who’s tasting.

Presidio 

Nikki adds: Kyle was actually so knowledgeable that I was a little intimidated. He talked a lot about the “brix” of the wine. When I heard it, I immediately thought BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China, the four emerging large economies). This is probably because I spend more time reading The Economist than Wine Spectator (probably not a good thing if I want any wine nerd cred). Brix, as I know now from looking it up, is a measurement of the amount of sugar in a liquid.

Presidio is commited to organic and biodynamic methods and many of their wines are certified as such. Nikki adds: Biodynamic and organic methods are similar but not the same. Biodynamic agriculture involves seeing the entire vineyard as a holistic system, while organic viticulture more specifically refers to the use of natural methods to encourage growth and control pests.

The Wines

2009 Viognier “Artistic License”: Soft, mellow fruit, not very acidic. Even though this wine isn’t oaked, I kept expecting the flavor to eventually go that direction. Of course, it didn’t. A little alcohol on the finish. Nikki noted aromas of Meyer lemons and flowers, and said it has a flavor component that she associates with red wines.

2009 Syrah Rosé: The smell implied a sweeter rosé, but that impression didn’t carry through to the flavor. It had a mellow fruit flavor that was moderated by a richness. Nikki said she might have guessed it was a red if she had tasted it with her eyes closed. To me it had some characteristics of a brighter white wine at the beginning and end, with the middle having more dominant red characteristics.

2009 Gewurtztraminer: I detected peach, apricot, flowers and a hint of bubble gum. Nikki described it as a soda-pop aroma and found apricot and lychee flavors.

2004 Diego Red Cabernet Sauvignon: Sometimes you smell a wine that has notes of blackberry. This one smelled like someone muddled a big ripe blackberry in a glass. On a more attentive second whiff, the aroma promises tannins that would draw back to reveal blackberries, and that flavor delivers that and more. Cherries, licorice and sandalwood all emerge in turn. Nikki detected (in addition to blackberry) notes of beef and charcuterie. This wine had a lot going on, and while cabs often leave me indifferent, this one was quite engaging.

2007 Sangiovese: Everything about this is big – tannins, fruit and a hit of smoke. Nikki noted light fruit and tannins on the nose, with prominent tannins in the flavor.

2006 Syrah “Artistic License”: Big, fruity blackberry aroma. The flavor opens big with fruit, then tannins emerge along with spice. There’s a hint of anise, and a red licorice aftertaste. Nikki was reminded of pepper-encrusted steak in the aroma and detected raspberry, plum and pepper in the flavor.

Loring Wine Company: 40th Birthday Road Trip

We knew we only had time for one more winery. We dithered for a moment in the pouring rain, then dashed to Loring Wine Company for one reason: because their graphic design is darn cool. Little did we know that many of their grapes are sourced out of our very own Monterey County!

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Mike strikes a wine-tasting pose.

Loring focuses largely on pinot noir. I was feeling a little pinot-whelmed, but I bucked up, put on my big-girl palate and did my darndest to key into the fine distinctions between the various vinos on offer.

2009 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay: This had a caramelized oak scent and tasted of honeyed oak with a hint of kiwi.

2009 Keefer Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley): I was surprised by the smell, which was a mix of oak and burnt popcorn. After that smell, the fruity taste was unexpected. Lest you think this was a fruit bomb, know that there was enough oak to round out the flavors.

2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: The smell reminded me strongly of Dr. Pepper. Its texture was surprisingly thick, almost syrupy, with light tannins at the end to add complexity.

2009 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir: Clearly I was in a soda pop state of mind, because this wine’s scent reminded me of nothing more than grape soda. It tasted like blueberries with heavy spice at the finish.

2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir: It smelled like a leather shop located next to a winery. Its flavor echoed the smell, with a little licorice to round the taste out.

2009 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir: My notes consist of “Candied fruit tannins YUM!!!”

2009 Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: This smelled of caramel and leather, and tasted of burnt sugar and leather (but less sweet than that description implies).

2009 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: This nose was loaded with musky tannins, but the flavor was full of fruit, like an alcoholic version of Izze’s Sparkling Blackberry juice.

Boy, at the end of this tasting, did I ever wish we’d booked the Super 8, Travelodge or Best Western that are all just a block away rather than booking a hotel all the way out in Thousand Oaks. (I’d wish this even more after we got to our allegedly-swank but actually-skanky hotel, but that’s another story.) Clearly, one of these days we’re going to have to book a weekend stay at one of those lodgings, just to try all the wineries in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Who’s coming with us?

Taste of Sta. Rita Hills: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Ah, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. So unassuming outside, so delicious inside.

Sta. Rita Hills is a teeny tiny little appellation located between Buellton and Lompoc, in Santa Barbara County. Some of the wineries there are so small and personal that they don’t have their own tasting rooms. Enter Antonio Moretti and his Taste of Sta. Rita Hills tasting room.

Mr. Moretti is a more than a wine aficionado. Proof? He’s got his own label, Moretti Wine, which you can sample at the tasting room. He also provides an outlet for nine other wineries from the same appellation.

With some excellent jazz playing in the background (another of Antonio’s passions) we tasted five wines from Sta. Rita Hills. It quickly became clear why he’s so enthusiastic about the appellation.

The Wines

2009 Moretti Bianco: This combination of Tocai Friulano, Arneis and Traminer has flavors of apple and pear, and while the fruit is evident it is never too sweet. It’s a bright wine, destined to be enjoyed with food. Nikki also got an impression of citrus and honey and declared that this would be fantastic to have with cheese.

2008 El Rey Pinot Noir: This had a very pleasant and intriguing aroma of oil paint! I know it sounds strange, but there it is. Medium body, good structure from not-too-assertive tannins and an unbelievable dark, smoky character. Some of the flavors reminded me of an artisinal smoked black tea liqueur we have at home. Nikki notes: That liqueur is Qi Black Tea Liqueur by the amazing Hangar One. One of these days our wine travels will bring us to Alameda and we’ll do a whole column or three on Hangar One! There was a lot going on in this young wine, which seemed wise beyond its years. I was quite captivated by this wine, and I’d love to try it after it’s had a chance to mature. I’ll get the chance, too, if you know what I mean. Nikki’s notes indicate a masculine character to the wine – she got hints of leather, tobacco and wood in addition to blackberry, strawberry and patchouli. Nikki adds: It’s no wonder that man of mine would enjoy such a macho wine!

2007 Thorne Estate Pinot Noir: An aroma reminiscent of salami? I’m intrigued. The flavor is one of soft fruit at the beginning, followed by a gentle swell of tannins. There’s a faint but definite flavor of cherries in there too. Nikki noted the fuller body of this wine and a peppery quality accompanying the fruit.

2007 Ken Brown Pinot Noir: The aroma of this one is nice and sweet, full of fruit and just the slightest hint of something savory… dare I say it? A hint of thousand island dressing. Nikki got caramelized blueberries from the aroma. The flavor continues the slightly savory impression with just a trace of sulfur playing off cherries and a delicate layer of oak. The oak hit Nikki’s palate a little harder. This is a full-bodied, complex wine.

2007 Huber Dornfelder: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a wine this dark. It’s almost opaque, and even the thinnest residue clinging to the glass displays a deep red-purple hue. On the nose you get a beautiful fruity impression with a touch of black pepper. Despite the intense color, this is more of a medium-bodied wine, and the flavor is a bit more restrained than the very fruity smell. This would definitely make friends with food. Nikki found figs and a touch of spice in the flavor.

Palmina: 40th Birthday Road Trip

For the day after my 40th birthday, we decided to go to a wine area we’d never been to before. But there were so many to choose from! Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang, Santa Barbara…Then I read a great comment from reader Christine in which she mentioned “the ‘ghetto’ in Lompoc.” Ghetto, huh? We were intrigued and had to give it a try.

A furious storm was battering the Central Coast as we tried to make our way down Highway One. We drove through Pismo Beach and past the campground we’d planned to camp at that night, only to find it closed. A bit further on, we found Highway One was closed and followed the detour signs…only to find that the detour was also closed! After close to another hour on the road, we finally got to Lompoc.

We weren’t sure if the tasting rooms would be open. The streets in Lompoc (pronounced Lohm-poke, as the locals pointed out to us) were rushing with water, so much so that at times it seemed like we were driving through a river. The power was out in every building we passed for blocks on end. But, miracle of miracles, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto appears to be on a different section of the power grid, and was brightly lit and awaiting us.

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto is the nickname for a small industrial park behind Lompoc Valley Medical Center. According to an article in the Lompoc Record, there are 12 tasting rooms in the eight industrial buildings that make up the Ghetto, although according to one person we spoke to that number may by now be as high as 20. Clearly, one could spend a weekend here, and someday we will, but on this day we only had a couple of hours before we had to forge on to our hastily-Hotwired hotel.

On Christine’s recommendation, our first stop was Palmina, one of the first wineries to open a tasting room in the Ghetto. Let me say right now, when Christine gives you advice, follow it! This was the first of her winning recommendations we visited in our trip, but it wouldn’t be the last.

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Palmina’s tasting room is charming, decorated in a country-Italian style that reflects the Italian heritage of their wines. In addition to their bottled wines, they also have house wines on tap that they will decant into bottles or growlers for patrons, an eco-friendly and budget-friendly option. While we were there, a regular from the Bakersfield area came by to have four growlers filled, a testament to the quality of the wine.

We got to taste both of the wines on tap. The Tavolo Bianco wasn’t complicated, just an easy-drinking white wine that I would enjoy having on hand at home. The Tavola Rosso had a chocolate and caramel nose and was very fruity with a deep caramel finish.

I had the same problem with this winery that I do in a really good bookstore: everything was so good, and I wanted to take every single one of these wines home!

2009 Tocai Friulano:  A little nugget of trivia for you wine nerds out there: This is the most widely planted grape in the Friulia area of Italy, and is unrelated to the Tokaji grape of Hungary or France’s Tokay d’Alsace. It had a saffron scent with a hint of sweetness and tasted citrusy, with a touch of minerals and a hint of maple syrup. If you were feeling decadent, this would make a great breakfast wine. And, for those of you keeping score, this Santa Ynez Valley appellation wine was our first new appellation of the day.

2009 Arnes: Our pourer described it as “oily,” and that’s true, but in a good way. It had a lively citrus taste and a honey-citrus scent.

2009 Dolcetto: This Santa Barbara County wine is meant to be drunk young, which is a darn good thing, because even if I had three cases of it in my house the bottles wouldn’t last through the year. It’s full of fruit and caramel with some sultry tannins at the end, and dangerously easy-drinking.

2006 Nebbiolo: At this point the tasting room staffer brought out some salami and cheese. The salami provided a good counterpoint to the Nebbiolo, Mike said, and I could believe it, because the wine smelled like salami! The tannins were strong but not at all unpleasant, and there was a hit of stewed plums toward the finish.

2008 Lagrein: We held this up to the light, which took one look at this wine and said, “Yeah, I’m gonna go somewhere else.” Seriously, this wine was utterly opaque. It smelled and tasted of blackberries and raisins. Delectable.

2009 Savoia: This was fruity with big, big tannins at the finish. I would need to drink this with some food in order to enjoy it.

We also got to try a surprise tasting while we were there.

2010 Pinot Grigio: This was bottled only two weeks before we tried it. It smelled of (cover your eyes, Mom!) sex and pineapple, and tasted like lemon zest and warm minerals.

Anglim Winery: 40th Birthday Road Trip

The tasting room for Anglim Winery is housed in Paso Robles’ historic train station. The rail tracks still run behind the building, and while we were there, the one Amtrak train of the day came through, as you can see by the photo below.

Amtrak train at Anglim Winery

Riders of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, might I suggest staying overnight in Paso Robles and making Anglim Winery your first stop? Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Steffanie Anglim, who poured for us, is lovely, the wines are great, and they often have cheeses out (we liked the Barely Buzzed from Beehive Cheese Company).

Anglim Winery

2008 Grenache Blanc: We were surprised to taste this again at Anglim. We’d never seen a grenache blanc before, and now we had two in one day! This was very different from Ortman’s version. It had a subtle smell of pears, and the flavor was reminiscent of clementines and the tartness of grapefruit (but none of the bitterness).

2007 Rousanne: This smelled of honey and kiwis; in fact, the scent reminded me powerfully of a honey kiwi ice cream I had on board an Air New Zealand flight from Melbourne to Auckland about nine years ago. It was very tasty, with flavors of honey and grapefruit.

2007 Pinot Noir: These grapes came from the Fiddlestix vineyard, the same vineyard from which Ortman sources the grapes for their pinot noir. The two share some flavor elements. This had an aroma of caramel and raspberries. When I tasted it, I was first hit with the “brulee” element of creme brulee. Then I tasted plums and blackberries, followed by leather at the finish.

2008 Pinot Noir: This smelled of honey, that brulee part of creme brulee, leather and fresh laundry. It was a fruit-forward wine with elements of caramel and a strong flavor of leather on the finish. It was my favorite pinot noir of the day.

2006 Grenache: It smelled like blackberries and coffee grounds. The flavor was well-rounded, reminiscent of raspberries and cherries, with tannins highlighted at the finish.

2007 Mourvèdre: I smelled peppers, spices and something savory. That savoriness was echoed in the taste, which had pepper paprika, bacon (says the vegetarian) and a hit of fruit that came right after the tannins. This was a complex wine I could drink for days just to try to get my head around it.

2005 Best Barrel Blend: This smelled like a great dinner, with aromas of spicy Spanish plums, tomatoes, pepperoni and steak. The complexity continued on the palate, with flavors of pepperoni, plum and blackberry.

2006 Cabernet Franc: I could only describe the scent as “spicy deep red.” As I tasted it, I got a hint of caramel, then a hard hit of pepper and spice, and a little bit of savory tannins on the finish.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: The smell was complex: vanilla, lacquer and a subtle scent of savory spices. My tasting notes are as follows: “Just YUM!!!!”

2006 Gorgeous Port: It lives up to its name. It was very savory for a port, with rich raisins and a flavor that reminded me, in the best possible way, of A-1 sauce. I cannot have A-1 sauce anymore due to food allergies, but I think I could happily replace it with Gorgeous Port three nights a week.

Ortman Family Vineyards: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Ortman Family Vineyards
ortmanwines.com
1317 Park Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446 (map)
805-237-9009

Things looked a little dicey due to work commitments, but in the end we were able to get out of town on my 40th birthday. Our first stop was a town we’d visited on our first vacation together, Paso Robles.

All of the winery tasting rooms we’d visited on that trip – the apparently-defunct Midlife Crisis, the recently-relocated Edward Sellars and the in-limbo Silverstone) are closed now, but downtown Paso is still loaded with great tasting rooms. For our first stop, we chose one that’s only been open for a few months: Ortman Family Vineyards.

Ortman Family Wines tasting room

Ortman Family Wines has a cozy tasting room loaded with works from local artists. They also, thoughtfully, have handbag hooks all around the tasting bar. I don’t think Mike ever notices these things, but I do and I’m very appreciative of them. (I do notice! – M)

Tasting room staffer Holly, who poured for us, was friendly and warm and very complimentary about my landmark birthday. The wines were lovely, but Holly would have made it enjoyable even if they’d been terrible.

Ortman Family Vineyards

2008 Grenache Blanc: Few people make whites out of grenache grapes. This was an unusual, but very enjoyable wine; in fact, its startling taste was part of what made it so enjoyable. It smelled of toffee and butterscotch, and tasted of toffee and minerals, with a satisfyingly balanced sour finish.

2008 Chardonnay: This wine comes from the Etna Valley appellation, adding yet another AVA to our list! It smelled warm and woody. Those warm wood flavors softened the acid edges of this chardonnay.

2008 Pinot Noir: And we continued to rack up the AVAs with this San Luis Obispo County wine! This smelled of butterscotch and fruit. It tasted of fruit and capsaicin, and when I say capsaicin I mean both a hint of the sweet start of a bell pepper as well as a spicy finish usually found in the more aggressive members of the capsicum family. Really enjoyable.

2007 Pinot Noir: This Santa Rita Hills wine was the third appellation of the day — and we’d only tasted four wines! It had a toffee-coated grape smell. The flavor was profoundly grape-y, with a little toffee and a hint of a bitter finish.

2008 Sangiovese: Sangiovese is a particular varietal that Mike is intrigued by. He’s searching for a flavor that he tasted once upon a time at Pomodoro Cucina Italiano years ago (with some other woman, ahem). I don’t know if he found it here, but I sure found this wine to be lovely. I smelled sugar, caramel, a little molé, and pepperoni. When I sipped it, there was fruit on the front and paprika at the finish. And, since this was from the Paso Robles AVA, it was our fourth AVA of the day!

2006 Syrah: Yum. This smelled of chocolate, coffee and toffee. It tasted of sour blackberries, pomegranate and a hint of cranberries.

2007 Cuvee Eddy: It smelled of stewed tomatoes, prunes and oaks. The tomato element was evident in the taste, as well. I eat tomatoes like they’re apples, so I loved this.

Lodi Wine and Visitor Center: In Love with Lodi

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center
www.lodiwine.com
2545 W. Turner Road, Lodi, CA 95242 (map link)
(209) 365-0621

The order of words in the name is telling. It’s not the Lodi Visitor and Wine Center. Sure, that wouldn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly as Lodi Wine and Visitor Center, but it’s more than that. The word order reflects the sequence of discovery you experience when visiting Lodi as a wine lover.

You come for the wine. Then, while you visit, Lodi reveals its many charms.

From the wonderful cottage we shared with friends to the delightful downtown, through every surrounding vineyard and tasting room, Lodi unfolded as a welcoming spot to relax and explore with loved ones and friends.

The Lodi Wine and Visitor Center is the hub of the Lodi Wine and Chocolate weekend. It’s where you pick up your wristbands and maps and any other information you might need to navigate the abundance of venues. That’s not all though – the Center is perhaps the most comprehensive wine tasting facility in all of Lodi. Their website explains that they offer tastings and sales of over 100 wines from the roughly 80 wineries in the area. On any given day they offer 8 different wines for tasting.

We tried to stop in Sunday morning, but as we approached the Center we saw a stretch Crown Vic parked at the curb and a stretch Hummer limo parked in the lot, with a shuttle bus just pulling in from the road. Taking quick advantage of California’s attitude of “anything not forbidden is permitted” we made a (perfectly legal) u-turn and went somewhere else instead. Nikki says: As I recall, we were all shouting, “Abort mission! Abort mission! Retreat!!!” as we turned. Even we have a threshold when it comes to crowds.

We managed to get back to the Center toward the end of Sunday when the crowd was refreshingly sparse. We tasted at their main bar and on the patio, and enjoyed some samples of balsamic vinegar and artisan olive oils in the lobby.

The Wines

We arrived late enough that some of the wines were gone baby gone, but you know what they say – two’s company, three’s a party.

2007 Peltier Station Viognier: Nikki was taken with the scent and flavor of orange blossoms in this aromatic wine. I appreciated how its sweetness peaked at just the right point and I enjoyed the lightly creamy mouthfeel.

2007 Campus Oaks Old Vine Zin: I had a taste of chocolate right before trying this. It was not a good choice for this wine. It had a fairly light body that I associate with a more European aesthetic, but it seemed too acidic through the chocolate aftertaste. Nikki’s notes indicate it may not have been the chocolate that made me feel this way.

2009 Wooden Nickel Petite Sirah: This one was squarely in the California pocket. Fruity and accessible, I’d call it unambitious but gregarious.

I think this is my last writeup for the Lodi trip. As Lodi got smaller in the rearview we felt satisfied but a little sad to be leaving such an endearing place. It definitely belongs on the short list if you’re contemplating a wine weekend in California.