Why go now: The weather's pitch perfect, the vines are emerald green, and new wineries and tasting rooms are sprouting up overnight.
Another reason: ZinFest (May 13-15; zinfest.com), a three-day tasting party on the shore of placid Lodi Lake that brings you nose to brim with 250 wines from the region's best producers.
- Electric Car Road Trips to Wine Country
- 8 Great Wine Country Vacation Rentals
- Top 15 secret wine country escapes
Easy going: Most of the action is located within a 15-minute drive from downtown.
The vibe: Laid-back, as in the person filling your glass more often than not made the wine.
Grape cred: The 600,000 tons of wine grapes grown here each year is more than Napa and Sonoma combined.
Star of the show: Zinfandel. Lodi produces nearly half of California's big, juicy red Zin.
Old-school vines: Some local Zin vines date back to the 1880s. Many survived because of the 1970s boom in white Zinfandel--yes, the sweet pink stuff.
Hometown hero: Robert Mondavi, who put California wine on the map, grew up here.
Backroads, big pours: The bulk of Lodi's wineries are concentrated along a grid of country roads. Start at powerhouse Michael David Winery (4580 W. State 12; michaeldavidwinery.com) for five free pours, including the iconic 7 Deadly Zins. Next, shoot north to Abundance Vineyards ($5 tasting; 1150 W. Turner Rd.; abundancevineyards.com) to sip fruit-forward Petite Sirah in a Tuscan villa-style tastint room looking out over the vineyard.
A visitor center with legs: The folks at the Lodi Wine and Visitor's Center are quick with maps, but they can also school you on the region's vino. Learn how night breezes from the Sacramento Delta keep vines from withering in the valley heat. Then choose from a dizzying array of Lodi bottles (200-plus), including small-batch vinters without tasting rooms of their own. $5 tasting; 2545 W. Turner Rd.; lodiwine.com
Get a taste of downtown: Lodi's four-block downtown has recently come alive with tasting rooms, thanks to newcomer Jeremy Wine Co. ($5 tasting; 6 W. Pine St.; jeremywineco.com), known for its take on Spanish varietals. Sip Albarino at a vintage oak bar before zipping up the street to Cellardoor ($5 tasting; 21 N. School St.; lodicellardoor.com) to graze on salumi and local cheddar while sampling from a list of a dozen wines by the glass.
Not your garden-variety park: The best spot in town to stretch your legs is Micke Grove Park and Zoo. Spread over 250 acres, it encompasses the zoo (say hello to Ling, an 80-pound snow leopard) plus a mini amusement park and a Japanese garden bursting with camellias and other spring blooms this month. Park $5/vehicle, zoo $4; mgzoo.com
Best place to stock up: The creamy edamame hummus drizzled with chile seasame oil is reason enough to stop by Crush Kitchen + Bar. Another one: the restaurant's new adjoining market. Load up on specialty treats like pink Hawaiian salt, cured meats, 38 artisanal cheese, and local honeycomb. $$; 115 S. School St.; 209/369-5400.
Make it a weekend: There's a reason Wine & Roses is the place for Lodi weddings. The luxe 80-room inn oozes romance, from the large rustic rooms to the world-class spa, famous for its organic facial with rose hips. After your treatment, soak in the waterfall hot tubs set in a secluded garden, where (if you ask nicely) they'll even bring you a glass of wine. From $239; winerose.com