Are you a zinner? Been forgiven for your zins? I have ... or at least so says the stickers given out exuberantly by Red Hat Ladies volunteers upon entrance to the 2nd Annual Lodi Zinfest, a weekend-long event showcasing local wineries, restaurants and artisans. Fortunately, the cute stickers were the least useful items that filled our hands upon entering - the others included a logo wine glass and a large, fresh stick of french bread (perfect for 'cleansing' between tastings). Dutifully armed, surrounded by exuberant tasters, and with excellent weather above us, we were off.
The entire festival ran Friday through Sunday; Fridays event was $60 a head, and limited admission, for a grilled dinner and wine tasting at the lake. Saturday was the main event, and the one we decided upon. Held at Lodi Lake, $20 (advanced) admission got you in the door from 12-8pm, and all the wine tasting you can handle. Over forty wineries were there, most pouring around 3 selections. Plenty of cabs and zins (not surprising, given Lodi's Zinfandel domination), with some notable exceptions popping up here and there. The most notable of the non-zin/cab varieties were Macchia Sangiovese Amorous, which was not only wonderful in its own right, but stood out among the crowd, and the very fun Olde Lockeford Wild California Butterscotch which tasted precisely like butterscotch, but not in a cloying way. It would serve well as a surprising bottle to open among friends, giving everyone a glass-full, and little more.
In addition to the multitude of wineries represented, there were also plenty of local eateries there offering something for just about everyone. We grabbed a cheese and fruit plate from a local caterer for our first leg of tasting (well-presented with herbed feta, brie and cheddar, grapes, strawberries and crackers, especially for $3), hit California Street Cafe for a wrap combo after our second leg (included a santa fe wrap, thai wrap - which was very fresh and delicious - and some Caesar salad which was a little heavy handed on the shredded Parmesan topping, but the dressing was quite good, particularly for not being fresh-made), and then stumbled up to a local BBQ caterer for a pulled-pork sandwich after our third leg that was amazingly moist and full of flavor. Of course, Rich doesn't consider a meal concluded until dessert has been consumed, so we headed over to a local chocolate company (forgive my brain for forgetting the name... er, rather, forgive the wine) for a chocolate covered frozen banana (he gave it two thumbs up). I had hoped to indulge myself in an A&W Rootbeer float (yes, A&W that good old standby), but they were sadly out of the floats by the time I got there. All told, we spent under $20 for food (we did share all of the dishes, save the banana), that served as snack, lunch and dinner.
All the while, we enjoyed the weather, the crowd (a complete range in ages, styles and wine-knowledge, which was both a happy surprise and very comfortable), the local artisan stands hawking everything from wine glass cozies, bottle stands blacksmith-ed before our eyes, and photography of local vineyards to local olive oils and some ingenious contraption called a Smoke Stack. Contained in a canister the size of a pringles can is a miniature metal smoker and plenty of wood chips and seasonings for 6 barbecues. You fill the canister with the wood chips and set it on your charcoal or gas grill until it smokes. Add your meat and grill, giving it a good smoking without the addition of a pricey smoker attachment. For $20 we got the four different varieties offered, and gave it a shot Sunday night, using the hickory chips and two Niman Ranch fillets. I have to admit total skepticism, so I was pleasantly surprised when the steaks came out perfectly, full of wonderful hickory smoke flavor. We're excited to give it a try with pork and fish, and a six bbq's a can, we've got plenty of playing around to do this summer.
All in all, we found the Lodi Zinfest to be a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, and look forward to returning next year to taste the local grapes and support the wineries, restaurants and entrepreneurs that make the Central Valley so unique.