California Wine Tasting from Lodi to Napa

Lodi to Napa California wine country

The other weekend, I had a chance to go wine tasting in two preeminent California wine regions back to back: Lodi & Napa. I thought I’d highlight some of the differences between the two and what I love about both regions for any of you who happen to visit California and want to sip a little vino

If you’re tired you take a Napa, you don’t move to Napa!

Napa, California

Napa needs no introduction. Even If you’re not from the U.S., chances are you’ve heard of Napa, California because for many, Napa = California wine. 

I was in Napa to take my Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level II exam at the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and I decided to cram by fitting in a tasting before the exam (my kind of test, lol!).

Sidenote: I’ll be do a full post soon all about what WSET is, how to study, and why you might want to take it. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below! 

Where is Napa? 

Napa is located a little over an hour north of San Francisco. Last time I was in Napa was for my grad school best friend’s bachelorette party. We took a shuttle bus from San Francisco to Napa, where she made a tipsy purchase of 5 cases of wine for her wedding…that we all ended up hauling back on the ferry! 

San Francisco to Napa, California

Wine Tasting at Beringer

The town of Napa itself looked like it could be anywhere U.S.A., sprawling strip malls filled with chain stores, at least what I could see just off the freeway. I’m sure the downtown is much more quaint than that. However, my aunt and I headed even farther north to Beringer. Once you get past Napa, State Route 29 that passes through Yountville, Rutherford, and St. Helena is what I like to call winery row. You’ll pass big names like Sutter Home and Robert Mondavi before reaching Beringer in St. Helena. 


Beringer Winery, St. Helena, California

Beringer Winery, St. Helena, California

Beringer Winery, St. Helena, California

Beringer Winery, St. Helena, California

What I Tasted at Beringer

My aunt and I had fun being princesses for the day and drinking wine in “our castle.” The grounds at Beringer are absolutely a fairytale!

Beringer has different many different tasting options. I ended up going for the $25 flight, with the 2016 Napa Riesling, 2016 Carneros Pinot Noir, and the 2014 Knights Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I have to be completely honest here, I am into rich, deep reds, along the lines of Cabernet Sauvignon. I thought Pinot Noir was not my thing becase every one I’ve tasted seemed tinny and hollow compared to my full-bodied reds. But let me tell you, Beringer’s Pinot Noir changed my mind! It had so much more complexity than others I have tried. I liked it so much that I *almost* took home a $45 bottle that is only available at Beringer.

My aunt and I had such a blast chatting with our server, Joel. So Joel, if you read this, you were an absolute pleasure to chat with, and we would have tipped you handsomely if we had had cash on us. So here’s a little PSA if you go wine tasting in Napa, bring some cash to tip your server! Help me spread the word by sharing this tweet below, that’s my way of paying it forward to Joel! 

[bctt tweet=”Wine tasting tip: If you go #winetasting in #Napa #California, bring a few extra dollars in cash to tip your server in the tasting room just in case you aren’t able to add the tip on your card. Learned this from experience, and our server totally deserved a tip!” username=”@kellyleonardini”]

Beringer Winery, St. Helena, California

Beringer Winery, St. Helena, California

What I loved about Napa

I merely got a sip of Napa, but what I absolutely love about this region is the terroir: vineyard upon vineyard amongst rolling pre-coastal hills. I’m not sure if that’s the real geographical name for them, but these are the rolling hills that mean the Pacific is just on the other side. There is something so comforting and peaceful about these hills, perhaps it’s because the mermaid in me can hear the ocean calling. 

I also love the quaintness of the Napa region. There’s two kinds of California towns: those that are sprawling and commercialized, and those quaint ones with one Main Street. Once you get past the actual town of Napa, you’ll reach the quaint and charming part of Napa Valley that will make you wonder whether you are on a movie set. 

Now onto my next wine adventure…

Lodi, California

Let me introduce you to Lodi, California. If you happen to have heard of Lodi, “You go Glen Coco!” (Seriously don’t know what is up with all the film & TV show references in this post! 😂….Maybe I shouldn’t be writing posts at midnight?!?!).

You go Glen Coco!

While Napa is the classic star of California wine, Lodi is its rising star. That doesn’t mean that Lodi is new to the wine world though. Vineyards have graced the Lodi countryside since the mid-1800’s. Though Lodi produces all of the traditional California varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot, it’s Zinfandel that has put Lodi on the map. Fun Italian connection: Zinfandel is the same as Puglia’s primitivo. And there’s also a Lodi in Italy

Lodi now touts titles like Zinfandel capital of the world and Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year 2015, but to me, Lodi will always mean family. I’ve been going to Lodi since before I could even say “wine.” My earliest memory of Lodi was the smell. On road trips to visit family, my brother and I would always proclaim, “WE’RE IN LODI!” whenever we smelled cow dung while passing a cow pasture along the freeway. Believe it or not, that farm smell is a comforting smell because it reminds me of the tranquility of the countryside. Relatives have lived in the Lodi countryside amongst the vineyards before, but I never gave it much thought, that is, until I started studying wine, and now I see Lodi with new eyes. It’s fun rediscovering a place that I have always known. Lodi, I’m so proud of all your wine accomplishments!

Where is Lodi? What’s it like? 

Lodi is an hour and a half to two hours (depending on Bay Area traffic) east of San Francisco, and just south of Sacramento. Compared to the hills of Napa, it is quite flat. In fact, the countryside of Veneto often reminds me of Lodi. These past few years strip malls have been popping up in the Lodi countryside, taking away from some of its small town charm, but I guess that’s the price to pay for convenience and having an Ulta in town. 

San Francisco to Lodi, California

Wine Tasting in Lodi

I met my cousins at the Oak Ridge Winery tasting room. Can you guess what this building is? 

Oak Ridge Winery Tasting Room, Lodi, California

IT’S A WINE BARREL!! If you got it, then go pour yourself a glass of wine! I feel SO blonde because it took me forever to realize this (even before a drop of wine)!

Oak Ridge Winery, Lodi, California Oak Ridge Winery, Lodi, California

Wine tasting at Oak Ridge Winery was the bomb!!!! (Wait, I don’t think it’s cool to say that anymore, but I can’t bring myself to say “lit” just yet). The tasting list is an absolute dream, this paper is double sided. What you see here are just the reds! On the other side, there are the whites and sparkling wine. YOU CAN TRY THEM ALL. FOR ONLY $5. And get this, if you buy a bottle of wine, your tasting fee goes towards your bottle of wine. I loved the 2014 Ancient Vine Zin so much that I brought it home with me to open on a special occasion (i.e., when I find out that I passed my WSET II exam!), so stay tuned for a review & tasting notes on this old vine Zin from the Zinfandel capital of the world! 

What I love about Lodi

The number one thing I love about Lodi is FAMILY and (finally!) wine tasting with my cousins (we have literally been talking about wine tasting for years! We are usually busy with family things when I visit). Oh, and TACO TRUCKS. There was a taco truck strategically located outside of the tasting room, and unfortunately it closed before we got a chance to try it…but I’m sure it was good because, I’m sorry Texas, but California has you beat when it comes the Mexican food! (Which, after Italian, is my favorite food…all about the spicy stuff!).

Lodi & Napa both produce great wines, and I can’t wait to discover more of these California wine regions, just over the Sierra Nevada mountains from my hometown.

Have you ever been to Lodi or Napa or tried any wine from these regions? 

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Ciao, I'm Kelly!

Welcome to my adventures in learning Italian, often while cooking authentic Italian recipes and wine tasting! I love discovering the traditional regional cuisine of Italy and trying to recreate those dishes when I'm back home in the US. I'm also on my way to becoming an Italian citizen through jure sanguinis (by ancestry).

WSET Level 2 Certified Wine Blogger


Join me for a virtual "aperitivo chat" to get exclusive updates on my Italian progress, dual citizenship journey, plus food & wine adventures in the Bel Paese and beyond!

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[…] had a bit of sticker shock wine tasting in Napa Valley. Tastings generally start at $25 bucks a pop for a flight of 3 wines (we are in a world renown wine […]

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