I love going on adventures. Earlier this month I flew out to Lodi for the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference and it was quite the adventure. Part of the conference agenda was a mystery excursion where attendees picked their destination based purely on the name. The choices included Watts Up, The Wine Abides, Three Ring Circus, The Rack Pack, 99 Bottles of Wine, The Porron Zone, Dutch Crush, Blends with Friends, and my snap pick, Goats, Groves & Grapes.
While everyone seemed to have a grand old time on their excursions, I can’t help but think that mine was very special. A group of about ten bloggers packed into a van and I was happy to see that Jeff, one of my best good Twitter friends, who I’d yet to meet in person, was in my group.
It took us about ten minutes to get to our first destination, Jessie’s Grove Winery. We were greeted by Wanda Bechtold and her son Greg Burns, fourth and fifth generation owners and caretakers of the winery. They welcomed us into their tasting room with a glass of Chardonnay and quickly brought us through to an outdoor space where we gathered around Wanda and settled in for a tale of the history of Jessie’s Grove.
This 85 year old matriarch was a beautiful sight to behold. She’d published a book in 2004 about the history of her family’s estate and she used it to tell us the tale of her great grandfather, Joseph Spenker, who immigrated to the United States from Dragun, Germany in 1854. His journey to Lodi started when he joined a wagon train to the West Coast in 1859, hoping to capitalize on the Gold Rush and find his fortune. At a rate of about two miles per hour, the journey took him 154 days. He’d made a poor decision when he traded his only horse for a mining claim that turned out to be barren; so and after several months when nothing had panned out, with $1.27 in his pocket he walked to Stockton, California. He began selling mining tools to the miners who hadn’t yet lost hope, and in ten years, after saving and scraping, he found himself the proud owner of more than 1,500 acres, including the land I found myself sitting on that day.
Joseph’s daughter Jessie, who the winery is named for, took over management and had to make some tough decisions during the Great Depression and Prohibition. Jessie’s perseverance is what kept them going. As the roosters crowed and the cat meowed from under the table in front of us, I realized what a special moment this was, and how much history was surrounding me. The resulting success of Jessie’s Grove is a testament to the hard work and forethought from each generation of the Spenker family who sacrificed to keep the operation going.
When Wanda’s tale was over, we took a tour of the surrounding property; a gorgeous sprawling space with a rustic old barn, a live music venue, an open air museum, and last but not least, Tortie, Wanda’s pet tortoise.
Greg, Wanda’s son and current owner, walked us through the vines, which were almost ready to start harvesting. Some vines had been planted as far back as the late 1800s, making them some of Lodi’s oldest.
Just as we were grabbing the perfect photo of the sunlight on the grapes, our van appeared and it was time to travel to our next stop, their “cousin” property, Spenker Winery. Just a few minutes down the road, another branch of the Spenker family also grows grapes, but on a bit of a smaller scale. This Spenker bunch has been growing grapes for more than 100 years. Fritz Spenker bought the farm from his relative, Joseph Spenker, Jessie’s father. It’s not clear how they’re related exactly, so the families continue to refer to each other as cousins. Fritz’s grandson Chuck began making wine with his wife Bettyann in 1994, and by 1997 they’d earned a 90 rating from Wine Spectator. In addition to their two daughters, Kate and Sarah, the Spenker’s have brought on lots of goats to help with farm tasks, and now Bettyann makes fabulous, fresh goat cheese. The plan is to have the Spenker Artisan Creamery open in 2017.
We were introduced to the goats and even got to feed them. They were just as excited as we were! When it was time for them to go to bed, we headed into the tasting room for dinner. Our meal of homemade stuffed peppers with a healthy side of fresh grown tomatoes and homemade goat cheese was stunning. The cheesecake finish was topped with an exquisite zinfandel reduction. It was exactly what we needed after our strenuous day of wine tasting.
We walked out feeling sated and truly moved by the hospitality we’d been shown. The Jessie’s Grove and Spenker families welcomed us with open arms. And then, as if they night couldn’t get any better, we walked out to a stunning sunset surrounding the vineyard. An epic end to an epic day.
 Because who doesn’t love goats? But seriously, I was also hoping for some chèvre…
 Read: the BEST one.
 Wanda and Greg are the owners of neighboring Bechthold Vineyards as well. Famous for their Cinsault grapes, it was named California’s best vineyard in 2014, and is also Lodi’s oldest at 128 years old.
 It’s out of print and now virtually impossible to get. Keep your eyes peeled at tag sales and church book sales for me!
 See what I did there? #playonwords #panningforgold
 With a few more glasses of wine. Obviously.
 I figured the goats had to be there since we’d only seen a tortoise at Jessie’s Grove. I was right.
 I’ll be back.
 No but seriously, it’s hard work! I swear!