Northside SF  

October '09

Wine Report from the Fort
The Lodi explosion

By Fred McMillin

photo: courtesy Icon Estates
Lodi, Italy was the scene of Napoleon’s first spectacular victory in May 10, 1796. That name was also chosen in 1874 for the community south of Sacramento. Because of the abundance of wild vines, early trappers called a nearby stream “Wine Creek,” which was later renamed Calaveras River. It flows through the southern part of the Lodi region.

The first vineyards were planted during the Gold Rush in 1850. The region’s wine growing expanded steadily for about 100 years. Then in 1986, Lodi’s wine production exploded because the federal government made Lodi an official American Viticulture Area (AVA). As a result, Lodi is now the home of over 70 wineries, hundreds of wines bearing the Lodi label and thousands of acres of premium wine grapes. The area produces more of these wines than any other California wine district: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, and Viognier.

Furthermore Lodi produces more wine than Napa and Sonoma combined. In my recent S.F. City College (Fort Mason campus) classes, the winning Lodi wines were: Zinfandel by Blackstone, Cabernet Sauvignon by Forest Glen, Pinot Noir by Harlow Ridge, and Roussanne by Hagafen. And there’s more ...

The guy from Lodi
His name is Robert Mondavi. His father, Cesare Mondavi, moved the family from the iron mines of Minnesota to the grape-growing town of Lodi, where Robert first went to St. Anne’s Catholic School and then to Lodi Union High School.

While Mondavi later achieved his greatest wine-growing triumphs in Napa Valley, his first wine work was for his father at Lodi. So it is only fitting that the other high-scoring wine was again from the guy from Lodi: Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2008, $8 (over two-thirds of the grapes from the Lodi AVA).

Quite a few vintages ago I was visiting Robert Mondavi for an interview. Coincidentally a S.F. CBS TV station crew arrived, so they decided to film my interview with him. Typical tidbit: He preferred his Sauvignon Blanc with a year or so of bottle age; for example, he would have preferred to drink a vintage 2000 in the year 2003.

Another good topic dealt with how he came to create the name “Fume” Blanc for his Sauvignon Blanc, but that is a tidbit for another time.

Wine quiz
Which one of the following six statements is false?
1. E.J. Gallo is the largest winery in the world.
2. California has 109 viticultural areas (AVAs).
3. The grandfather of Cline Cellar’s Fred and Matt Cline was Valeriano Jacuzzi, inventor of the whirlpool bath.
4. Charles Dickens was the first to call aged port wine “tawny.”
5. At Stanford, Robert Mondavi played on the rugby team and majored in wine science.
6. Charles Darwin reported that the first wine vines in New Zealand (planted by British missionaries from Australia) “were looking good.”
Answer: 5. Although he became famous as a winemaker, Robert Mondavi majored in business at Stanford. All the other statements above are true!

Somewhat related wines that scored well in my classes at the Fort Mason campus of S.F. City College:
1. Gallo Family Vineyards Sonoma County Chardonnay 2007, $15
2. Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008, $24
3. Cline Cellars California Zinfandel 2000, $10
4. Deaver Vineyards California Merlot Port NV (375ml), $21
5. Robert Mondavi “Private Selection” California Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, $11
6. Saint Clair Family Estates “Vicar’s Choice” Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2006, $18

Summer wine classes
Speaking of my classes at Fort Mason, the summer semester starts this month, with six classes through July:
• June 19 & July 19: Basics for Beginners – Learn the five basic types of wines and how they are made.

• June 26 & July 24: Taste the Terms – Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe wine.

• July 17: Sonoma vs. Napa – Study and taste wines from the two greatest wine regions in the New World.

• July 31: California vs. the World – compare and taste California wines with their counterparts from France, Australia, Chile, Italy, and more.

To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit

And a final wine smile
Wine comes in a variety of colors, red, pink and white ... which reminds me of Henry Ford’s statement when he produced his first autos: “You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.”

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophie Mercado (statistics)

A version of this column appeared previously in “On Wine” at

Fred McMillin was voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468.

Browse Column Archive

Bookmark and Share Print Page

September 2011 Issue


Horse Shoe Tavern Amici's East Coast Pizzeria


Alfreds Alfred's Steakhouse

Bobos Bobo's

Franciscan The Franciscan


Getting to know the Reillys June Top Picks

Copyright © 2005 - 2008 NorthSide San Francisco