Lodi, deep-rooted in California’s rival wine country, is giving Napa Valley a run for its money. While it doesn’t stretch along the north Pacific coast or the ultra-warm region of the south, its Mediterranean climate creates the perfect Zinfandel varietal, and offers up an ideal location for the exploration and implementation of agricultural technology to serve the wine business well now and in the future.
This land is as ripe for commercial and residential real estate development as it is for its Zinfandel grapes. Because of its agricultural roots, Lodi has unfolded into an international tourist destination and real estate market, attracting medical biotech and light industrial development to the area, and with San Joaquin County’s awe-inspiring prairies, vineyards, and charming architecture, it’s not hard to see why.
Investors are beginning to look to Lodi as an opportunity for adding commercial real estate, residential, in-fill, and mixed-use development to its picturesque agricultural setting. The city’s strength as a real estate market lies in its strong infrastructure, wine tourism industry, and never-ending stretches of vineyard landscape that make the market so attractive to new business and residents. After all, who wouldn’t want to look out of the corner office at sumptuous vines, almonds, walnut and fruit trees before heading back to the business of the laboratory or the plant floor? Higher education is an easy commuting distance away, and the State Capital is just over the horizon.
“It is a community that has grown up around farming and grapes. We held our first grape festival in 1907; our police cars have grape clusters on the doors; the bus line is called the grape line, and the high schools are named after grape varieties, so it is a community that is so imbued with farming grapes and wine that it’s inseparable,” says Lodi Winegrape Commission Executive Director Stuart Spencer. The commission is the trade association for the wine grape growers and vintners in the region.
Throughout its history, the area’s identity and culture have developed through agriculture, and the city continues to honor these roots. It began in the 1850s when the first vineyards were established, and the area has consistently supplied grapes to the rest of the California wine industry ever since. However, in the last twenty years, there has been a remarkable transition.
The area has vertically integrated, and the growers have begun to open their own wineries and take advantage of the added value that comes with both producing and selling wine. This shift has created a great amount of economic activity from small artisan producers selling out of their cellar door to large wine companies such as Sutter Home Winery that recently constructed a massive facility in the area.
“We have what’s called a Mediterranean climate. We’re, of course, nowhere near the Mediterranean, but we have nice warm sunny days and ninety-five percent of the evenings, we get what’s called a Bay Area breeze, and it comes right through the Golden Gates, down the Bay, up the tributaries, and Lodi is its bulls-eye for this breeze,” explains Lodi Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Pat Patrick. Temperatures near one hundred degrees Fahrenheit during the day cool down to about sixty degrees in the evening. This type of climate is one of the best parts of life here and is enjoyed by both grapes and people.
This is a farming paradise, as the rain falls mostly between November and March before the grapes begin to bud, and the weather is clear through to October after the harvesting period.
“The climate is really ideal, and the location is ideal from many perspectives. Lodi is a little gem of a town on its own, but it’s also only ninety minutes from San Francisco, if you want to go for some cultural activities or sports. It’s forty-five minutes from the State Capital if you need to go do some lobbying, and it’s a couple of hours from Lake Tahoe. It’s just a really ideal place to live and work,” says City of Lodi Mayor Mark Chandler.
The San Francisco Bay Area is booming with employment opportunities, but it is mired in traffic jams and an extremely high cost of living. Lodi is seeing a lot of residential development to support residents who are looking to get away from the Bay Area. People want to stay close to the opportunities of a larger center but are looking for a quality of life that the San Francisco Bay Area cannot provide.
“We have about eighty to ninety thousand people that drive from our valley every day into the Bay area, and that’s probably eating up four to five hours of their day, every day of their lives, and so we have a great story to tell about relocation,” says Patrick. “It’s never been a better time to woo people to Lodi, and from an economic development standpoint, Lodi is a blank slate. Our little community has really never been marketed as a place to come and do business.”
But that is starting to change. The chamber of commerce reached out to the business community to raise funds to create a new website. ‘GrowInLodi’ is a collaboration of both private and public efforts to improve economic development, and it will be running in June. It will feature people who have moved their businesses from the Bay Area with success. Multiple statements discuss the strong work ethic of the people that have come from generations of a hardworking farming community.
At the same time, Lodi continues to support and enhance its existing businesses. Celebrating these mainstays, and facilitating their growth through the latest technology and infrastructure, is just as important as attracting new business owners who are interested in investing their capital in a place where people still count.
The city is not only the ideal location for winemaking operations, but it is also a convenient place for industrial businesses. The accessibility to Interstate 5 and Highway 99 allows manufacturers to get their product out to market quickly. The Lodi Energy Center, located only about three miles outside the city on I-5, provides consistent and dependable local electricity, which is particularly crucial for its industrial thermoforming companies. The city-owned power is more reliable and less expensive than the publicly-owned utilities in the area.
“We are a small utility that provides reliable, personal service to all of our commercial customers because we want them to stay here and benefit from that customized approach to power and water. Sustainability in terms of clean energy and water is paramount in Lodi. The city’s energy efficiency business model coincides nicely with sustainability-minded business owners and entrepreneurs,” says City of Lodi Business Development Manager Astrida Trupovnieks.
Approximately fifteen years ago, another smart decision was made by the city’s leadership after the advancement of drip irrigation in its vineyards created a surplus of water in the Woodbridge Irrigation District. The city agreed to purchase 6,000 acre-feet of water per year from the water utility company, and this water makes up about a third of the city’s water supply. An acre-foot is the water volume that could cover an acre of land, one foot deep.
“In the last five years, while the rest of the state has had declining water tables and drought, the water table underneath Lodi has actually been rising,” says Mayor Chandler.
A noticeable aspect of the city is its quality of life, with numerous recreational and entertainment options that attract business and residents alike. As a tourism destination, its claim to fame is its wine and grape industry, and approximately two million people a year visit the city from all over the United States and Canada.
More often, tourists are travelling here specifically to see vineyards and wineries rather than stopping by on the way to San Francisco. There are other attractions that are gaining in popularity as well. The Lodi Lake fed by the Mokelumne River is the perfect place for kayaking and other water activities, and there are many areas for cycling.
The quaint, old-fashioned downtown sector was renovated in the late 1990s, and many wineries have added their own tasting rooms in converted spaces of all shapes and sizes, which has boosted the number of visitors. Visitors can come by train and sip local wines and even craft brews in converted transmission repair shops, landmark town pharmacies, and the old neighborhood stores,” says Convention and Visitors Bureau President and Chief Executive Officer Nancy Beckman.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau raises awareness about the area as a tourist destination and is funded by the hotels and other lodgings, and it has seen an increase in the number of people visiting and staying in the city. “We are developing and approving, at the city council level, more hotels to accommodate the visitors,” explains Mayor Chandler. “The range of activities goes from the very calm and peaceful paddling down the lake, to jumping out of an airplane. We have one of the top parachuting centers in the country right here just north of town, so it’s something for everybody.”
The combination of the weather, the city’s leadership, the quality of life, the business opportunities, and the people make Lodi a worthy alternative to the hectic commotion of the San Francisco Bay Area.