Looking into Lodi, California Wine Region on the Make

Michael David Winery knows wine and how to market it

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By David Hammond

On trips to see grandchildren in Oakland, California, we've taken the opportunity to visit well-known West Coast wine regions like Sonoma and lesser known regions like Livermore and, just last week, Lodi.

Northeast of San Francisco/Oakland in California's Central Valley, Lodi (pronounced Low-Dye) is both an excellent place to see what Sonoma must have been like 40 or more years ago and a wonderfully promising wine region in its own right.

Not too long ago, Lodi was largely farmland, producing the usual crops, some of which were grapes destined to be crushed into juice and shipped to Sonoma or the even more established Napa wine region. Relatively recently, Lodi has become more focused on wine production. Lodi is changing, and you can witness the change right now, making it an interesting and exciting case study for those interested in wine and the growth of the wine region in America. 

An excellent example of this region in transition is Michael David Winery, a family-run, one-time farm stand that since 1984 has been producing some of the most popular wines in Lodi. 

Seven Deadly Zins -- available at Whole Foods (on sale now at $14.99) and many other local outlets -- is the best-selling Zinfandel in the country.  Zinfandel seems to be an especially successful grape to grow in the Lodi region, which is characterized by fruit-forward blends: Seven Deadly Zins is a blend of Zin and Petit Syrah grapes. Slightly tannic and with only mild astringency, this wine conveys expected and very pleasing cherry and berry flavors as well as bass notes of tobacco and coffee. Seven Deadly Zins is a deep-colored red that drinks like a medium body red, making it a very versatile wine to enjoy with a range of foods (this is a very important feature: the popularity of Pinot Noir, probably the most popular red on the market, is due in part to its relatively mild character; it pairs well with meat, fish, vegetables and cheese).

The name "Seven Deadly Zins" is clever, highly memorable, and a reflection of the Roman Catholic heritage of the family (in keeping with that theming, they're also working on producing wines named after the specific sins, including Greed, Lust and Envy).

We may not want to admit it, but we buy much wine (much everything, actually) with our eyes, and having a catchy name and an eye-catching graphic is a proven way to sell your juice. Well aware of this, the brainy marketers at Michael David have come up with a wine that's probably going to get some big sales, based in part on its name: Freakshow.

For those old enough to remember Chicago's Riverview, the amusement park at Western and Belmont, "freak show" may conjure memories of abnormal individuals who found a rare opportunity for employment by exhibiting themselves. My mom would never let me go into the Riverview freak show, feeling it was brutal and mean, but such sentiments are likely not shared by younger drinkers, who probably think of freak shows as ancient practices, somewhat on the order of gladiatorial combat and bull baiting. I asked some of the folks at Michael David about the potentially negative connotations of the name, and they were careful to point out that by "freaks" they include people who have abnormal abilities, like geniuses Nicholas Tesla and Charley Chaplin, both featured on the label.

Serious wine drinkers may actually be turned off by such marketing panache, but the wine is good and a good value, and I'd recommend to those suspicious of such graphic verve that they look past it and enjoy the contents of the bottle. 

For those who want to visit a growing wine region before it hits the big time, Lodi is a fun and informative destination, offering a good opportunity to check out a wine region on the make and get good value for your wine dollar.

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