Downtown is vibrant with retail, entertainment and drinking establishments. Just beyond, vines stretch in all directions. The vignerons here did much to put California on the wine map, with roots going deep, figuratively and literally. You were thinking Sonoma? No. For decades Lodi provided grapes for others’ wines, the source of which was seldom identified. Then a generation or two ago local farmers had an epiphany: “Our families have grown these grapes for 100 years. Who knows more about our grapes than us?” they asked. And Lodi, about 35 miles south of Sacramento, was born as a wine destination. The tab: From $125 a night, including breakfast and taxes, at Bella Vino, and $80 for dinner and a bottle of wine, plus tip and tax, at Zin Bistro. Wine tasting fees vary.
Bella Vino Bed & Breakfast, a quick, tree-lined stroll from downtown, is a century-plus-old Craftsman bungalow with four good-sized en suite rooms — all easy on the frills. We chose the Merlot, the largest and probably the noisiest room given its top-floor orientation facing one of the main drags through town half-a-block away. If you prefer the windows open at night instead of AC, try the main-floor Champagne, which looks out over the backyard, a great spot to sip a bottle of the local bounty.
Zinfandel grapes might be of Croatian origin, or they might have come from Italy. My wife, Terri, and I don’t really sweat the DNA; we just like the wine. Zin Bistro, tiny and light on the wallet, is something like its namesake grape. Menu items are from Greece, with bits of France, Italy and Germany and a touch of Southeast Asia, but most important it’s farm-to-fork local. Make a reservation and enjoy. It’s an easy stroll to Bella Vino.
Interstate 5 and Highway 99 skirt Lodi, which means tens of thousands of travelers career by every day warbling a Creedence Clearwater Revival lyric about being stuck in Lodi. Big mistake. Central Lodi has blocks filled with bike shops and clothing stores, wine bars and beer joints, white-linen dining and ethnic eclectics. Most towns this size — population about 65,000 — don’t have a cheese monger with the chops of Cheese Central. Pop in, sample across the globe, then fill a basket with meats, prepared salads and bread for lunch among the vines. Inquire in advance about cooking classes.
The lesson learned
Bella Vino Bed and Breakfast, 235 S. Hutchins St., Lodi; (209) 747-1463. No wheelchair-accessible rooms.
Zin Bistro, 722 W. Lodi Ave., Lodi; (209) 224-8223.
Cheese Central, 11 N. School St., Lodi; (209) 368-3033
m2, 2900 E. Peltier Road, Acampo, Calif.; (209) 339-1071