Friday, November 26, 2010

John Fogerty never saw this Lodi

LODI, California – If John Fogerty gave Lodi an inferiority complex, the town got over it a long time ago.

Yes, Fogerty’s Credence Clearwater Revival made Lodi infamous nearly four decades ago with the line, “stuck in Lodi, again.” Nowadays, getting stuck in Lodi wouldn’t be such a bad thing, particularly for the wine connoisseur.

What? Lodi would hardly strike anyone as the center of the wine universe. Sitting 50 feet above sea level between San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada mountains in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Lodi is about the size of Idaho Falls and Ammon combined.

Surrounding Lodi, acre after acre of wine grapes grow in the region’s hot summer sun. Unlike more famous wine regions like Napa and Sonoma, Lodi’s wineries actually seem to appreciate having visitor and don’t charge an arm and a leg for either a tasting or the wine itself. Just as important, lodging is comparatively inexpensive and Lodi is two hours from San Francisco in one direction and a little more than that in the other direction to Yosemite National Park.

This is convenient, since the Lodi region produces more wine grapes than Sonoma and Napa counties combined at more than 600,000 tons a year – that’s 20 percent of California’s total wine grape yield. The main difference between Lodi and its more famous wine producing cousins is that a lot of the grapes are purchased by wineries outside the area.

          That is changing, however. There is a handful of major wineries in the Lodi area and 60 or so boutique wineries, most of which have a tasting room. Or, stop in at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, which is adjacent to the best place to stay in town, the Wine and Roses bed and breakfast. If wine isn’t your thing but your “stuck in Lodi” anyway, there’s no cause to fret. Try any or all of these local activities:
  1.     Visit the Isenberg Crane Reserve. Each fall, thousands of sandhill cranes make Lodi a stop on the Pacific Flyway, and the town throws a festival in early November to celebrate their return.        For nature lovers, there’s also the Consumnes River Preserve with abundant flora and fauna or a float trip on the Mokelumne River.
2.     Go to the Micke Grove Zoo or, for a real creep-out, visit the Great Valley Serpentarium (featuring more than 50 breeds of snakes, lizards and other icky reptiles).
3.     Visit a museum. The Hill House Museum is a restored Victorian mansion with turn-of-the-century artifacts, while the San Joaquin County Historical Museum is a great indoor/outdoor experience for kids and adults.
4.     Tour an olive oil pressing operation at Cecchetti Olive Oil Co.
5.     Look at the wall murals in downtown Lodi. For its 100th birthday, the city commissioned nine outdoor murals showing scenes from the town’s history.

If you are into wine, however, that makes Lodi a destination instead of just a place in which to get stuck. You can tour the huge Woodbridge winery (formerly part of the Mondavi empire) or take a full-day wine tour that includes lunch and lots of slurping.

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