3 January, 2019
Lodi Wine and Chocolate Festival – February 9-10, 2019!Posted in : Bars and Tasting Rooms, Fortified Wine, Garnacha / Grenache, Petite Sirah, Port, Red Wine, Tasting Rooms in Lodi - CA, Travel Guide for Lodi - CA, Travel Sponsored Stays and Tours, Verdelho, White Wine, Wine on by : The Gourmez
It’s 2019 already?! Farewell, 2018, and your delicious food and drink memories. Attending the Lodi Wine and Chocolate Festival for the first time was one of those memories for me.
Obligatory disclaimer: My tickets were comped for the 2018 Lodi Wine and Chocolate festival as a media representative.
Tickets are now available to the general public for the February 9-10, 2019 festival! Yes, folks, it’s already time to think about how to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your romantic partner, or your friends who may be even better company. 😉
So what do you get for $65? Two days’ worth of wine tasting at over 50 participating Lodi wineries, a chocolate treat, a souvenir glass, and the chance to sample the intriguing chocolate pairings each winery comes up with.
The folks behind the Lodi Wine and Chocolate Festival do a great job compiling the list of wineries, chocolate treats, and general festivities ahead of time, so you can plan your hit list of places to visit – I opted for a total of seven, probably more ambitious than I’d recommend. I’ve become familiar with Lodi wines and wineries from past visits, so I chose to only go where I hadn’t gone before. I’m a completist; I like to try everything once before making a return visit.
What’s offered at each winery over the festival weekend varies greatly, and it’s fun to see how each one approaches the celebration differently. Some places put on a grand gathering, like Jessie’s Grove Winery, which hosted many booths of local vendors, musical performers, and artists, much like a trip to a farmers’ market, only with the produce in the glass. I discovered Alison’s Gourmet Brittle there and went home with two bags, including the extra spicy almond brittle that was almost too spicy for me – a feat!
I enjoyed trying Jessie’s Grove Winery’s 1868 while there, a port-style wine being sampled from the barrel. The festivities centered on a grand old barn that lent an authentic country spirit to the day.
I also was thrilled to run into Karen Chandler, of the Olive Drop Olive Oil Company, so I could stock up on her great products that I’ve written about before. You’ll note I didn’t say anything about chocolate at Jessie’s Grove, though. Not all participating wineries offer a chocolate treat for visitors during the festival. Those that do cover a great range, from tiny bites of brownies to bowls of chocolate chili.
Whether or not the listed chocolate selections cost extra also isn’t clear until arriving at the individual wineries, so bring cash if you have your heart set on any particular one. Mine homed in on the churros and hot chocolate at Bokisch Vineyards, free for festival attendees.
Mmm, sweet, fresh, crunchy bites of fried dough with cinnamon and sugar, dipped in hot chocolate—few things are more exciting for me. I’ve been a churro junkie since Disneyland visits as a child, and discovered the joy of dunking them in chocolate on a trip to Barcelona.
Also included in a visit to Bokisch are great views and tastes of the Spanish varietal wines that Bokisch specializes in. While I hadn’t visited the winery before, I have definitely enjoyed Bokisch wines in the past. Alternating bites of churro with sips of the Bokisch Terra Alta Vineyards 2014 Garnacha was the definition of relaxation.
My favorite discovery during the Lodi Wine and Chocolate weekend was the St. Jorge Winery.
The grounds and buildings had Mediterranean flair and plenty of activity with wine offered upon entrance, a number of local bakers selling their wares, and bites of “pig in the mud”: linguica dipped in chocolate.
I do like my chocolate food explorations on the adventurous side, and the sausage did not disappoint, though I’m not sure I’d have them in chocolate again. 😉 But more memorable than the pigs in the mud was the pairing of St. Jorge 2014 Verdelho with Topo São Jorge, a Portuguese semi-hard cheese.
The wine had vibrant acidity that I loved, especially when the mild’s cow cheese cut through it. Though if I’d been hungry enough for a linguica sandwich, I may have preferred that with the Verdelho…
Few things entice more than the smell of grilling meat, don’t you think? Yet the best chocolate bite I had all weekend was the chocolate molé at Pondl Winery, made well after the chicken had been cooked.
As Pondl was a smaller operation than most of the wineries I visited in Lodi, described by the owners as a “hobby that got out of hand,” they only had spoonfuls of molé left by Sunday. But it was enough for the spices and richness of the sauce to stand out in my memory. As does their classy labels featuring ladies and gents meant to stand in for the qualities of their wines, whether “sexy as a pin-up gal” or “the contemptuous swag of a fella.”
The Pondl “The Flirt” Petite Sirah 2015 had a vivid nose that led into bright raspberry candy with kumquat undertones. Why did I identify with that wine most? Well, let me tell you about my high school dating history…
…or maybe that’ll have to wait for a memoir, someday. 😊 The final stop I’d like to share from my experience at the 2018 Lodi Wine and Chocolate Festival was another smaller operation: Spenker Winery, run by a branch of Lodi’s historic Spenker family. Jessie’s Grove Winery is also part of the legacy of Joseph Spenker, one of Lodi’s earliest winegrowers, who first bought land in the area in the 1860s. Spenker Winery is co-owned by a descendant of one of Joseph’s second cousins, Fritz Spenker, and it resides on land Fritz bought in 1902.
Spenker Winery opened a goat’s milk creamery this past summer, though when I was there, the new facilities were still under construction. Thus, I did not get to try the cheese! But chocolate was on my mind that weekend, anyhow, so I went in for meatballs dunked in a barbecue chocolate sauce.
They did not taste strongly of chocolate, which might be a plus! The nibble was tasty, nonetheless, and went well with Spenker Winery’s Petite Sirah 2012, the type of wine that makes you want to cozy up in front of a fireplace. Well-rounded with spice and dark cherry notes.
The 2014 Spenker Winery Morning Glory Table Wine, made with muscat, surprised me.
I’m often skeptical of muscat wines, as I did not enjoy their cousin, muscadine, during my years in North Carolina, where they made plenty of muscadine wine. The funk that puts me off from such grapes was present in the nose, but the wine’s dryness and flinty acidity made it quite drinkable. For glory in the morning? Maybe, if paired with a syrupy French toast!
I’d recommend spending your Valentine’s weekend in Lodi, especially if you’re looking for an easy-to-plan experience. The Lodi Chocolate and Wine Festival’s event guidebook is so well-organized, it makes that easy, with its list and map of all the wineries and their respective special events and chocolate offerings. I do wish the chocolate bites were more substantial across the board, more of a significant treat rather than a fleeting eat. But it was fun to try them nonetheless, and even more fun to explore Lodi gourmet food items at the wineries themselves.
Most importantly, this weekend offers a great chance to experience the wide variety of wineries and vineyards in Lodi , from the glitzy producers like Viaggio with their glamorous facilities to the tiny family estate wineries that bring more of a small farm feel to the festivities.
Whatever you choose, make sure to try the petite sirah coming out of Lodi. Writing this has made me realize I’ve become a fan of it, in addition to the great zinfandel and Spanish varietals with which I was already familiar. Yet I’ve so much left to explore of this wine region! Luckily, it’s only a day trip away from Oakland.
Attended February 2018.