LODI – One of the larger wineries in the Central Valley rises from the fields east of Highway 99 like a stainless steel behemoth.
Bending pipe and large tanks cut a perfect contrast to the green-leafed vineyards along the outer edge of the property.
Vintner Robert Mondavi was a visionary that lusted over improvements and new technology, and his forward-thinking helped catapult an entire region onto the world’s stage.
Lodi is home to nearly 80 wineries, hundreds of “Lodi”-labeled wines and roughly 100,000 acres of winegrapes, according to the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center.
Each year Lodi and wine connoisseurs near and far celebrate the unique local culture and delicious wines with a party. Or two.
The ZinFest Wine Festival continues today and Sunday at Lodi Lake Park. Patrons can “sip, swirl and savor” from a selection of 250 wines, enjoy live music, and shop. Nearly 5,000 people attended ZinFest last year, and Lodi Wine and Visitors Center executive director Cameron King expects a similar crowd.
“With the weather, it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful weekend. A number of our wineries are excited and that buzz has created good conversation,” King said. “We should be right set for a great event.”
In February, the Lodi wine collective also hosts Wine and Chocolate Weekend, pairing together two of life’s true indulgences.
Woodbridge has been a catalyst for many of the region’s successes, largely because a man dared to be different.
“To succeed and have a happy life, you need common sense, a commitment to hard work and the courage to go your own way,” the late Mondavi once said.
Indeed, Woodbridge – which will serve as the start and finish lines for Sunday’s Avenue of the Vines half-marathon – has separated itself from its contemporaries, including those in Napa Valley.
Mondavi, who would have turned 100 this year, returned to the Central Valley with a dream of creating affordable wine for everyday enjoyment. Having spent some time in Lodi during his youth, Mondavi was familiar with the area, its fertile ground and rich supply of grapes.
In 1979, he purchased a local cooperative of growers, introducing Woodbridge Winery.
Thirty years later, the operation is a modern marvel.
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi sits on 100-plus acres along the outer edge of the Lodi wine trail map and its reputation as a world-class winery is well deserved.
The winemaking process is nothing short of impressive.
On Tuesday, Woodbridge pulled back the curtain, revealing its inner workings with a golf-cart tour of the grounds.
On two competing lines, bottles rattled and clanked as they were filled, corked, labeled and packaged at a startling rate. It was a scene reminiscent of that famous “I Love Lucy” episode, minus the chaos and cheeks full of chocolate.
How fast and efficient is the bottling process?
Woodbridge can fill 750 bottles per minute, and by 2 o’clock the lines have produced nearly 20,000 six-bottle packages.
It is also home to one of California’s largest barreling facilities. To save energy, Mondavi burrowed underground, creating cave-like conditions for some 50,000 oak barrels stacked floor to ceiling.
Out in a vineyard across the street, where a tractor tilled the dirt, a tour guide explained the harvest, the importance of picking the right grapes and how to identify the fruit.
She took a leaf in her hand, pointing out that no two leaves are alike; each varietal has a distinct leaf.
This intimate look at the winemaking process – from vine to packaging – is offered twice a day to the public, beginning in the tasting room.
To get there, exit Highway 99 at Woodbridge Road and head east.
Look for the stainless steel behemoth, sprouting from the vineyards.
— James Burns