It’s OK getting stuck in Lodi

In my Rock ‘n’ Roll DJ days, I played everything I could get fromCreedence Clearwater Revival — in my mind the best American band to come out of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

When their song Lodi came out in 1969, it shot the group into the top 10 and earned them the second highest billing at the famed Woodstock concert in New York.

The song is about a musician who sets out looking for “a pot of gold,” and winds up going from bad to worse, getting stuck in Lodi, Calif.

Now I can’t vouch for musicians today who try to make it big in Lodi, but what is burgeoning are the number of wineries in Lodi that are making a name for themselves with California style reds.

Lodi lies between Interstate 5 and the 99, just north of Stockton and south of Sacramento. Lodi is less about Cabernet and Merlot and instead is dominated by Zinfandel, especially old vine, Petite Sirah and Carignane. The soil is well-drained sandy alluvial soil. When they say “old vine” in Lodi, they don’t mean grafted or transferred. Lodi’s 42,000-planted acres still sit on their own rootstock. Lodi vines are tended by generations of farming families with old world roots. Some could have settled in the much more famous Napa Valley, a short drive to the west, but chose this area more highly focused on everyday, tasty reds.

Lodi caught my attention when Cameron Hughes, a shrewd and successful wine entrepreneur, who buys and bottles quality grapes from attractive wine countries, decided to turn to Lodi for his latest Zindandel entry, the 2011 Lot 381 Lodi Zinfandel ($14.) He describes his wine as “boisterously aromatic, with jammy raspberry, plum and baking spice aromas with hints of black pepper.”

In Lodi, Zinfandel is the singular force for big sales. The household name is Gnarly Head, with vines that resemble wild bushes with intrepid old vines. The 2010 is out ($10.99) with 100,000 cases produced. Gnarly Head is but one brand from the Indelicato family, making wine in the Lodi area for more than 80 years.

Michael-David Winery is another name to know, maker of 7 Deadly Zins ($16), indeed a sinful blend! Seven Lodi vineyards were chosen for this fast growing bottle, with over 200 percent growth yearly. Petite Sirah was added for spiced blackberry. Visit lodiwine.com so you don’t get “stuck” when you visit.

A $30 million renovation has put a new face on the historic Rancho Santa Fe resort, Rancho Valencia.

Nowhere on the property is the upgrade more evident than the hacienda-styled restaurant Veladora.

“Veladora means wooden candle in Spanish,” said General Manager Simon Chen. “Our treatment of the large, romantic wrought iron candles is a source of great pride and beauty.”

In a walk-through, I was struck by the quiet, elegant semi private areas of Veladora, with colors like cobalt blue, orange, red and brown. The décor suggested that the menu would be equally sensuous and inviting — and I was not disappointed.

Executive Chef Eric Bauer serves signature “Coastal Ranch” cuisine. “The menu is Mediterranean inspired, with fresh seafood, meats and produce. We use a wide variety of vegetables that will be exclusive to the entrée it compliments. We keep it different and exciting for the diner,” he said.

Veladora and the nearby Pony Room, with small bites and a modern, fun design, bring interesting, naturally made wine to the table, in glass portions customized for the guest. Over 430 selections are offered. The Pony Room has a draft wine program of Cabernet and Chardonnay blends from Paso Robles and Lake County California, served in 100 percent Riedel Crystal. Learn more at ranchovalencia.com.

Wine Bytes

Wines from Paso Robles will be spotlighted at Bacchus Wine Market downtown San Diego, Jan. 26 from 2 to 8:30 p.m. A wine specialist will be on hand to guide you through Cabs, Syrahs, Zins and more. $20. Call (619) 236-0005.

Il Fornaio in the Del Mar Plaza hosts a Batasiolo Barolo Wine Dinner Jan. 31 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Cost is $55. A four-course menu will be paired with the wines. Call (858) 755-8876 to RSVP.

Fleming’s First Friday in La Jolla is Feb. 1 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Try 20 different wines from Italy. For reservations, call (858) 535-0078.

Cakebread vs. Rombauer wines is the matchup at La Costa Wine Company, Feb. 1 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Cost is $35. Call for details at (760) 431-8646.

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