It’s an area often missed by visitors to Northern California’s magnificent wine regions. But Lodi, California, located 85 miles east of San Francisco Bay and only 35 miles from Sacramento is regarded as the Zinfandel capital of the world producing more than 40 percent of California’s premium red grape. Additionally, the picturesque region produces more wine grapes than any other California appellation, boasting 85+ wineries producing some 450 labels of diverse wines. That’s some serious winemaking!
History of Oak Farm
Originally established in 1860, Oak Farm Vineyards is a family owned and operated 70-acre estate winery in Lodi. Residing along the banks of the Mokelumne River, the property in the San Joaquin Valley is considered to be one of the most magnificent pieces of land in the state. William DeVries, a wheat farmer and cattle rancher, purchased the property in 1860 and built a white-pillared colonial home that’s been beautifully restored. DeVries departed Baltimore in 1853 in search of California gold but instead made his fortune selling provisions to other prospectors.
Centuries-old majestic oaks grace the verdant grounds. Planted by the original owners, they are a stately testament to the property’s name. A tree-lined driveway leads to a rustic yet elegant tasting room and visitor center. The estate’s bucolic character with white barns (Lodi’s oldest) and splendid white-railed fencing makes Oak Farm appear just like a pastoral painting.
Orchards to Vineyards
In 2004, the Panella family assumed stewardship of the estate. Dan Panella, a third-generation California farmer, and his wife Heather run the day-to-day operations. With Dan’s passion for the land, it’s of no surprise that he journeyed into vineyard planting and winemaking. In 2013, Dan began the process of replanting 60 acres of vineyards to ensure the estate had the right varietals, rootstocks and clones. At the time, Zinfandel was the only varietal grown on the estate. Today that number has grown to 14 diverse varietals with more to follow. Lodi’s sandy soil and Mediterranean climate of warm sunny days and cool nights are similar to European winemaking regions along the Mediterranean Sea.
Consulting winemaker Chad Joseph, a Humboldt State University grad, moved to Lodi in 2001. His focus on the terroir of the region along with his passion for the craft has been instrumental in Oak Farm producing its amazing results. Lodi native Sierra Zeiter joined the winemaking team in 2017 after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She’s a hardworking millennial whose passion for winemaking is equal to her expert practical and technical skills.
Wine Tasting Experience
After a historical walking tour of the vineyards, estate grounds and DeVries family cemetery, and a visit to the barrel room, we headed to the tasting room to sample some of Oak Farms delectable wines. Guests can taste six preselected wines from the tasting menu at the impressive indoor tasting bar for $10 per person (waived with bottle purchase). Those seeking a more in-depth experience may enjoy a personalized seated tasting on the East patio with stunning panoramic views of the vineyards and 300+-year-old grand oaks. For $30 per person, visitors are treated to a history of the winery while imbibing a flight of exclusive library wines not available in the tasting room coupled with a complimentary seasonal charcuterie of assorted artisan cheeses, meats, fruit and nuts. With a bottled wine purchase, visitors can relax and sip on the inviting outdoor umbrella-covered courtyard complete with water features, a massive fireplace and plenty of romantic ambience.
Splendid Wine Selection
Oak Farm Vineyards is noted for its exceptional mix of small lot, premium quality Mediterranean varietals- red, white and Rosé. These prime wines have won so many awards, it’s awe-inspiring. I fell in love with the Fiano, an Italian grape varietal primarily grown in the Campania region of Southern Italy and Sicily, and one of Oak Farm’s newest creations. Dan is particularly proud of this wine as his Dad’s family hails from Naples. It’s smooth, aromatic and refreshing with tropical, floral and honey aromas, a lingering finish, and so enjoyable to sip. It’s no surprise the 2017 Fiano won a gold medal at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Albariño has also become exceeding popular in the Lodi region. Though the grape grows well here, the taste is decidedly different from its Spanish and Portuguese counterparts-due largely to Lodi’s lack of a coastal influence. It’s more floral and tropical and overall, it is honestly one very fine-tasting creation.
The winery also produces two Rosés; a 2018 Estate Rosé made from Sangiovese and Barbera vineyards and a Grenache Rosé.
Of course, the much-decorated Zinfandel here is king, and it’s not surprising as the 2017 has taken three gold medals at various competitions. I love the story of Oak Farm Vapor Trail- a bold high-octane Zinfandel named after a racing boat that leaves a towering wake behind it in the water. Other notable red varietals include Primitivo, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.
An anonymous author once said “All you need is love…And a bottle of wine.” There’s no doubt that Oak Farm Vineyards celebrates its rich history and tradition in grand style. The team of winemakers led by Dan Panella is driven by passion and love. Their results are amazing award-winning creations artfully crafted from the fruits of its Lodi vines.
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