Rather than evocative views of lush, heavy grapes on the vine, harvest in Napa and Sonoma often means traffic jams. The wine region of Lodi, however, represents the undiscovered side of California winemaking.
And it's best seen in fall, when the grape crush is in action. Hit the visitor center, the innovative Vino Piazza with its collection of small wineries, or the annual Taste of Lodi festival. Or take your time and explore the area's peaceful backroads.
Lodi Wine and Visitor Center. WHAT: Tasting, exhibits, and helpful staff make the center a great starting point. Grab a free Lodi wine country map. WHEN: 10-5 daily. HOW MUCH: Tastings $1. WHERE: 2545 W. Turner Rd.; 209/365-0621.
School Street Bistro. WHAT: A casually stylish downtown Lodi restaurant. Try the flatiron steak salad with shoestring potatoes. WHEN: Lunch Tue-Fri, dinner Tue-Sat. HOW MUCH: $$$. WHERE: 116 N. School St.; 209/333-3950.
Wine & Roses Hotel Restaurant Spa. WHAT: This lovely hotel property―home to Taste of Lodi―has an ambitious, intimate restaurant with dishes like coffee-marinated duck breast. WHEN: Lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily, brunch Sun. HOW MUCH: $$$. WHERE: 2505 W. Turner Rd.; 209/334-6988.
Phillips Farms. WHAT: A diverse roadside farmstand offers one-stop shopping. Taste Michael-David Winery's 7 Deadly Zins at the tasting counter, select Halloween pumpkins, or sample a yummy pumpkin milkshake. WHEN: 7:30-5 daily. HOW MUCH: Free tastings. WHERE: 4580 W. State 12, 1½ miles east of I-5; 888/707-9463.
Vino Piazza. WHAT: Twelve small wineries (plus a new Thai restaurant) with winemaking facilities and tasting rooms radiating from one plaza. WHEN: Most are open 1-5 Sat-Sun. HOW MUCH: Free tastings. WHERE: 12470 Locke Rd., Lockeford; www.vinopiazza.com or 800/939-2566.
Jessie's Grove Winery. WHAT: A friendly winery with picnic tables, historic family photos, and tasty Zinfandel. WHEN: 11-4 daily. HOW MUCH: Free tastings. WHERE: 1973 W. Turner Rd.; www.jgwinery.com or 209/368-0880.
INFO: Taste of Lodi festival (1-4 Oct 9; $35; www.tasteoflodi.com or 800/798-1810). Lodi is about 40 miles south of Sacramento on I-5 or State 99.