Part of what makes Lodi a fantastic place to grow grapes is that the cost of land hasn’t soared like it has in Napa Valley or Sonoma County. Much of the acreage has trickled down from earlier settlers to today’s generation, remaining in the family, a serendipitous move that has made them immune to real-estate hikes.
In 2015 Wine Enthusiast named Lodi the wine region of the year, suggesting that not only are the wines worthy of scoring 90-plus points but also the ability to roll out the red carpet to visitors is a shared value. Indeed, on a recent visit I found myself at m2 Wines in nearby Acampo, where a boxy, glass-walled building with a retractable garage door sits just a few feet from the vineyard. One gentleman arrives with two Yorkies in a stroller, while a mix of couples out for a romantic jaunt and groups of wine lovers sip through the portfolio. Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” is playing over the sound system.
The taste of m2 Wines’ Old Vine Zins and a Tempranillo still fresh on my palate, I check into the area’s most luxurious property: Wine & Roses, its wooded acres tended by a master gardener. Lodi Wine Grape Commission operates a tasting room on-property as a lens to the region’s wineries, some of which make wine but don’t have a tasting room.
That night, a seven-course dinner at the Towne House Restaurant at Wine & Roses is paired with local wines and marked by innovative plating and a delicate dance between sweet and savory—beginning with ahi carpaccio and ending with fig-and-quince napoleon—all at the hands of John Hitchcock, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park, New York, campus. The carpaccio is paired with LangeTwins Family Winery’s 2015 Sangiovese Rosé, and pancetta-wrapped rabbit loin with Acquiesce Winery’s 2015 Viognier.
On another night, dinner at Pietro’s Trattoria in Lodi was a postcard from Italy. Whenever possible ingredients are sourced local, right on down to the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. However, many ingredients are flown in from Italy, such as prosciutto and Parmesan cheese. The restaurant has been open since 1985, and its owner, Jim Murdaca, is working closely with his son, Pete, who recently returned from cooking in Calabria and Rome, Italy, on a quest to dive even deeper into southern Italian cooking.