Trelio Restaurant reopens in Clovis

Ponderosa pine interior, menu highlights Old Town opening


After closing just after New Years and a full-scale remodel nearing completion, chef and Clovis restauranteur Chris Shackelford is ready to reinvent Trelio Restaurant, January 27, 2017.

With a brand new interior of custom designed and manufactured local Ponderosa pine food grade tables, paneling, wine cabinets and bar, Trelio is ready to open their doors and serve a new menu

Opening in 2006 as an upscale, fine dining establishment on Clovis Avenue in Old Town Clovis,  Trelio has evolved from regional american cuisine that not only represents the locally grown and produced bounty  of the San Joaquin Valley, but also the changing food interests of the Fresno area and its owner.

Trelio sous chef Thomas Stempien, left, and chef Chris Shackelford chat in the kitchen during dinner prep on re-opening night, Jan. 27, 2017.

And, while the central Valley’s dining options continue to expand and contract, often between the whims, perception and the harsh realities of economics, Trelio has been a stabilizing force in the Clovis dining scene even as owner and chef Chris Shackelford adjusted to both his and patrons’ expectations and desires.

“(In the beginning), we slowly migrated from being the ‘French Laundry’ of the central Valley to being more of a farm-to-table restaurant and comprehensive dining option in a European style,” Shackelford said. “That being said, we also enjoy the ties to regional cuisine of America.”

Trelio’s is food and wine centric. Every entrée and small dish they create is from scratch, including baking their own bread. As the restaurant has evolved and grown, owner  and patrons alike place an emphasis on cooking, food and wine pairings.

“There are a lot of correlations between our menu and the wine offerings as well as correlations between the wine list and the food we serve,” Shackelford said. Styles and ingredients may change but our core is European.

“The food is a mix being that I have a French core technique, but we create homemade pasta dishes, seafood, steaks, wild game to tapas dishes that might be found in Barcelona,” Shackelford continued. “Heck, nothing is off-limits. We might even offer a Mexican dish or even offer Armenian or Persian.

And as the San Joaquin Valley has such a diversity of people and culture that have made the area one of the greatest agricultural industries in the world, Trelio has made it a point to be relevant and reflect that diverse cuisine with a distinctly European flair.

The new Trelio dining room is completely refurbished with Ponderosa pine tables, banquettes, paneling and a new bar milled from Sierra foothills trees above North Fork.

However, Shackelford and the new Trelio is adjusting its focus even as the chef and owner battles complacency in and out of the kitchen. He said he needed to change things up and began to change the menu about a year ago.

“We decided to shift the restaurant in what I believe to be the trending style to smaller plates, less expensive dinners,” he said. “We’ve basically been doing much the same for the last 11 years and decided to shift our focus.”

Trelio used many of the 70 dead Ponderosa pine trees from Jim Shackelford’s (Chris’ father) property to form the furnishings in the restaurant, including the tables.

When the Shackelford brothers opened the restaurant in 2006, Chris quit his job and jumped in. This time he wanted to be more methodical in his vision for Trelio.

“I’ve been planning (changes) now for about six months with construction going on for about three months (furniture being built, etc.),” he said. “We are losing a few tables as part of a quality issue. We want to be full every night, keep our costs under control (food, staff) and be core, quality oriented.”

While the old Trelio had 12 tables, the 2017 version will only have eight including two sets of banquettes (up to 10 on each side for larger groups). The new menu is designed to be less expensive (up to 50 percent cheaper) and the portions are downsized by 20 percent to allow people to try other courses.

“The goal is to serve customers so they will not be overly full and be able to enjoy multiple dishes over an evening,” Shackelford said. “The menu is expanded, larger than it used to be. These options will be able to be put out (created) at a quicker pace. Simpler styles and more quality oriented dishes.”

Chef, Sommelier and owner Chris Shackelford has changed the Trelio menu to reflect new techniques, expanded and less expensive offerings.

Besides special events, wine tastings, holiday and winemaker dinners, Trelio is also offering a new take on dinner in the dining room.

“I wanted a way to develop dishes or introduce new techniques to the staff, so three to four times a month, we we do ‘bar dinners,'” Shackelford said. “We only have four-five seats at the bar for longer and specialized wine paired dinners hosted by me, the sommelier and chef.”

He went on to explain that this would be an extended prefix menu, a rare opportunity to experience an artistic version of a dinner that will most often be theme oriented. Examples might be a Cajun dinner during Mardi Gras to a French dinner on Bastille Day.

Those who are interested in a bar dinner will sit with guests at a beautiful 16X4-foot custom made solid natural distressed Ponderosa pine top complete with rustic wood edges cut from father Jim Shackelford’s property in the Sierra foothills above North Fork. He had over 70 dead and/or dying trees and hired The WoodShed of Clovis to mill and manufacture the bar, tables, open wine cabinets and paneling that now graces Trelio’s interior.

The whole interior is custom and brilliant in its natural state of light reddish-brown, grey/blue hues as well as the knotty highlights and nail or insect holes associated with each tree. The Woodshed contractors completed all the fine woodwork in a refurbished Trelio to complement the new grey color scheme.

Trelio’s menu is expanding and besides offering more dishes, the entreés will cost less and be 20 percent smaller.

While Trelio is already booked through Feb. 4, reservations are already filling up beginning  Feb. 7. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday and guests looking for a relaxed, upscale dining experience that is centered around handcrafted food, an Wine Spectator award-winning wine list and personal service should consider Trelio for dinner.

Upcoming events on Trelio’s calendar include a Winter Wine Tasting, Feb. 4; a special Valentine’s dinner, Feb. 11 & 14; winemaker dinner with David Scheidt of Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars, Feb. 23. The dinner at the bar special series begins Feb. 28 for “Fat Tuesday at the Bar.” Please call ahead for availability and reservations.

Look for Trelio Restaurant near the Clovis Gateway to the Sierras sign on Clovis Avenue.

Reservations are recommended as Trelio will only seat 32-36 patrons per evening. Call (559) 297-0783, visit Trelio Restaurant on the web or use ‘Seat Me’ via Yelp. Trelio has seating times Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 – 8:30 pm. Trelio is located at 438 Clovis Ave, Clovis, CA 93612.

Today, Chris Shackelford continues the Trelio Restaurant tradition and acts both as Trelio’s sommelier, chef and owner. He has been in the restaurant industry since he was 13 years old under a variety of central coast restaurants and chefs and at Erna’s Elderberry House for nine years before opening Trelio in 2006.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Dinner pairings with Buena Vista Wines.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.


Changing Lodi Zin culture: Klinker Brick Winery

Fifth generation farmers Steve and Lori Felton grow brand

Fifth generation grape growers, Steve and Lori Felton, opened Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi, Calif. in 2000.

A Zinfandel stronghold and track record of over 150 years, Lodi, California, has long attracted lovers of Old Vine Zins. Since the early 1900s though today, generations of families have farmed and produced over 40% of California’s premium Zinfandel and the region has long been branded that way.

Steve and Lori Felton, fifth generation Lodi grape growers, continue this family farming tradition and now exclusively farm, grow and produce wine on land their ancestors planted. And while they worked in the industry for years producing Zinfandel for other wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties on 16 individual vineyard blocks of Old Vine Zinfandel, today they produce premium Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel under their Klinker Brick Winery label.

However, Klinker Brick Winery, founded by the Feltons in 2000, continues to change the way wine enthusiasts view the Lodi wine region.

From their first vintage of Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel in 2000  and their first vintage of Farrah Syrah in 2001, the Feltons and Klinker Brick have set out to produce world-class wines that move far beyond the Lodi growers who singlehandedly kept the American wine industry alive during Prohibition, sending out thousands of railcars each harvest full of Zin, Tokay and Alicante Bouschet.

Old Ghost represents the best Zinfandel harvested each year at Klinker Brick Winery. This is lush excellence, perfect with prime porterhouse, grilled lamb or beef stews.

With a passion for producing exceptional wine and the vision and passion of winemaker Joseph Smith, Klinker Brick views themselves as stewards of the land and their ancient vines. They have also expanded and are creating award-winning Syrah, Petite Sirah and dry Rose among other wines. In addition to their own property, they manage a number of vineyards in the region with the goal of producing award-winning fruit.

Smith joined Klinker Brick in 2008 after starting his career in the nineties as an apprentice with Gnekow Family Wines. In fact, Smith actually made his first bottle with Felton as a consultant in 2000. Smith says his and the Felton family’s love for many varieties helped fuel their passion and they seemed to gel. The Feltons were ready to expand from just the farming aspect of the business and took Smith on to build Klinker Brick Winery as a label.

“While we are known as Zinfandel producers and branded as a Zinfandel region, we are wine drinkers and wine producers,” Smith said. “We like Zinfandel but we also like Rose, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Albariño and many others. I like all these wines and it depends on the occasion and where I am at as to what I want to drink.

“Kicker Brick has been very successful in creating world-class Zinfandels but I (we) wanted more,” Smith continued. “Five years ago, I knew I made a great white wine and Rose, and even though we started little by little, people have applauded our efforts. The wines have done very well in the tasting room. While this makes good business sense, it has been the love of our product that has grown the Klinker Brick brand.”

Klinker Brick concentrated on wine distribution first and then built up their tasting room. While they distributed a core three wines nationally, they used tried and true Lodi varieties  that had been forgotten by some. Consider their Carignane vineyard is over 108 years old and their Old Vine Zinfandel is harvested from an 90-year-old vineyard.

Klinker Brick Winery owner Steve Felton (middle left) and Farrah Felton-Jolley (right) are now six generation grape growers in Lodi, California. Winemaker Joseph Smith (middle right) has led the winery’s production since 2008.

With the help of their daughter, Farrah Felton-Jolley and her husband, Stefan, the family now moves to the six generation of grape growers. Farrah joined the winery in 2009 after graduating from the University of the Pacific with a degree in Business Administration. With a passion for grape growing, organic gardening, cooking and a love for wine, she travels and promotes the family winery and wine as VP of marketing & sales. Stefan is the most recent addition to the Klinker Brick Family, managing winery operations, compliance, website and information technology.

“We are making wine that we love and believe in,” Smith said. “We don’t short change ourselves or the consumer. When we decided to make a Rose, it had to captivate me–a Rose from start to finish. We grow our grapes for Rose with all Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignane). That’s our style of Rose. We are serious producers of a classic dry, crisp Rose.”

Wine Enthusiast gave Klinker Brick Rose blend 90 points and a “Best Buy” designation for their 2015 version. It is a dry blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignane.

The winery distributes their Bricks Rosé nationally, producing 4,500 cases. The blend has is crisp, light with citrus aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries, grapefruit and subtle watermelon.

However, the winemaker believes they still produce an award-winning Rose because they do not shortchange the vineyard. They grow the grapes, cultivate the vineyards and are managed from beginning to end.

“The process is quality driven,” Klinker Brick owner Steve Felton says. This starts in the vineyard. We’ve got to have the highest quality right there. And that’s the tough part of growing grapes–maintaining the quality. Fortunately for us, not only are we a winery but we are also growers and we’ve been doing that for six generations. I guess you could say, we have a handle on growing grapes.”

Over the years, Steve has been growing grapes for some of the best producers in the State, so that keeps them in close to the heart beat of the land and the expectation high quality demands.

“We always over deliver wines for the price and that starts in the vineyard,” Felton said. “And of course our winemaking staff is outstanding. Joe is very hands on. He still makes sure he is there each step of the way.”

With a large winemaking staff, Smith’s challenge is to keep quality high despite a high case count with so many different varietals. And he definitely is the one behind what’s in the bottle.

“While I am in charge, and then collectively, nothing goes in the glass without the round table,” Smith said. “I am the guy in the cellar making the protocols. I haven’t changed how I make these wines from day one. I am physically in the winery and in the vineyard, making sure the wines are made the way we want it done.”

The 2013 Farrah Syrah has ripe plum, blackberry, anise, pepper, exotic spices and earthy notes. Serve it with grilled meats, spicy tacos or mushroom risotto.

Of course the Klinker Brick is still widely known as a top shelf Zinfandel producer. Their  Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel ($37) is created with standout fruit, sourced from the best Lodi vineyards. Taste the blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Pair with your prime porterhouse or grilled lamb.

The winery owns or manages 18 Zinfandel-vineyard blocks that range from 50-125 years old in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation of Lodi. Wines from this warm climate and sandy loam soil create yields from gnarly, old vines with intense color and flavor. This region produces exceptional Zinfandel and Syrah.

Klinker Brick has access to Syrah vineyards over 125 years old in the same Mokelumne River region. Their award-winning Farrah Syrah and Farrah Syrah Grand Reserve are rich, vibrant and full of black fruit and spice flavors.  These are first class wines created for foodies and hearty wine drinkers. Both have amazing structure and balance with long, lingering finishes.

The 2013 Farrah Syrah exhibits aromas of ripe plum, cacao, and smoky oak with subtle earthy floral notes. The palate is greeted with bright and vibrant flavors of blackberry, anise and exotic spices. Supple tannins and superb balance lend structure to this full-bodied Syrah with a long, lingering finish. Enjoy with grilled meats, spicy tacos and Mexican dishes or mushroom risotto ($20).

The Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel paired so well with the rich, herbed  earthy sauce of the beef stew.

Their Old Vine Zinfandel is their flagship and still their most popular wine. Wilfred Wong, gave the latest release 94 points. It is a blend from 16 different vineyards with an average of 85 years. Taste these beauties as the dark fruit, spice and tannins with just a hint of pepper and anise will tantalize you ($19). This is a go to Zin for burgers, BBQ, hearty pizza or by itself.

While the farming aspect has long been a part of the Felton family’s history, an expanded Klinker Brick Winery from its modest beginnings is now an internationally-distributed brand of world class wines. And as Wine Enthusiast named the Lodi region their 2015 winner, isn’t it time you booked your next wine tasting trip to Lodi, California? There are 88 wineries to explore but be sure to put Klinker Brick Winery on your list.

For more information on the wines of Lodi, California, read Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation and learn more about the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (LoCA).

Kinker Brick Winery is located at 15887 N. Alpine Road, Lodi, California 95240. They can be reached via phone: (209) 333-1845 or through email: Their wines can be ordered online or find a retail outlet via the Klinker Brick website.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Old Fig Wine Cellars: A Central Valley urban dream.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

The Klinker Brick Carignane is easy to drink and fresh with black cherry and black tea aromas. I love hints of leather and earthy dried sage notes. caption
The Petite Sirah is rich and brooding with flavors of espresso, dark chocolate and blueberries that linger long on the palate.


Old Fig Wine Cellars: A Central Valley urban dream

Backyard winemaker Dave Carlson grows Fresno winery

While owning Sports Point Photography for 30 years, backyard winemaker and Fig Garden resident Dave Carlson began making commercial wine from his one-acre plot in the heart of Fresno since 2010.

While local Fresno area residents often travel to Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles to wine taste, many do not know a local resident has a boutique winery within the city limits.

Clovis resident and FresYes writer Kendra Gilbert called Old Fig Wine Cellars a Field of Dreams which accurately incorporates both the youth of the winery and the winemaker himself.

Nestled in the Westerlies of Fresno’s Old Fig Garden, this urban winery produces grapes on a county island on Dave Carlson’s one-acre plot in the center of the city.

“I was looking for a plot of open land in late 1999 in order to build a bigger house for my wife, Susan, who was about to have a second set of twins,” Carlson said. “I bought the property and its almond trees from a former Fresno State professor’s estate.”

Carlson actually grew up about six blocks from his new property but had no clue that there was 15 acres of open land just sitting here, ready to be developed.

“So I built the house, bought a new, bigger van, and became the first person in Fresno County with solar electric in May 2000,” Carlson said. “But after I was sitting in the backyard with a new mortgage, a new pool being dug, new mouths to feed, I thought, ‘I can’t afford a $25 bottle of wine.'”

When a local wine shop would not carry Old Fig Wine Cellars because he did not have a white wine, winemaker Dave Carlson sourced fruit from Lemoore to create his Clean & Neat Chardonnay.

After a couple of months with his feet in the backyard dirt, enjoying a glass of cheap red wine, Carlson mussed how big his backyard really was. And the longer he sat with his feet in the sandy soil, the more he believed he could “best Two-Buck Chuck and give Silver Oak a run for their money.”

By 2002 Carlson had planted Zinfandel and Petit Syrah. Two years later Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc rows were added.

He created his first vintage as an amateur winemaker in 2004. And from that point on, according to Carlson himself, “it’s been a rollercoaster ride of the highest highs and the lowest lows.”

Today Carlson, while not an enologist or viticulturist, creates wines not only from his backyard vineyard, but sources grapes from other central Valley locations.

“I decided that at the outset, that if I was going to make wine from my limited studies,” Carlson said, “I wasn’t going to buy grapes or juice just from anybody. I wanted to go the whole nine yards because I figured to really understand the entire experience, I needed to have a feel of what goes on in vineyards close to home. So why not start on my one-acre plot?”

Old Fig Wine Cellars field of dreams really began as a way for Carlson to grow his personal wine journey, but today it has become his passion: Create a premium wine and build a brand name. Today his Chardonnays, Petit Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet are all sold locally in Fresno.

Growing grapes is by far much more difficult than making wine

Dave Carlton stands in his cellar ready to bottle his 2016 Rose blend of Pinot Gris, Merlot and Petit Syrah.

Carlson said the first couple years were like a honeymoon. Trying to get the perfect combination of sugar, PH, and acidity in a wine seemed next to impossible in the opening few years. Living and growing grapes in Fresno also has its challenges, including the heat, bugs and city water bills.

On a whim he planted two rows of Zinfandel and another Petit Syrah in 2006 and by 2009 earned a Double Gold at the California State Home Winemakers competition at Cal-Expo. His 2008 Petit Syrah earned the top prize but he only had 12 cases to share with his followers.

“Of course I was dumbfounded–no dumbstruck,” Carlson said. “However, that was either going to be great news or the kiss of death because now all my friends and followers said, ‘Hey Dave, you now need to be in the wine business. You are no longer an amateur.’ And, at that time, I really didn’t know whether I was really ready for all this. I most certainly don’t have the formal education.”

Carlson, who is a professional photographer by trade, knew the next level would be a big challenge.

“I’ve owned Sports Point Photography for almost 30 years,” Carlson said. “I started the business in 1990 when I moved back to Fresno from Sacramento and photographed team and individuals in baseball and soccer for a living. I started doing the grape thing with a ‘let’s see what happens’ attitude and now it could easily become a full-time gig.

Old Fig Wine Cellars creates approachable, dry wines that are great alone or with food. Carlson’s Drinkable is a Merlot blend, combining his fruit with grapes sourced from Lemoore.

“It was then that I bought grape stock cloned to root stock which was suitable for the types of soil on my property,” Carlson said. “Soils range from concrete in some places other areas that have the most white sandy beach you’ve ever seen. And when I planted more Petit Verdot and Cab Franc, I used VSP trellising. This proved to help me get to the fruit zone easier where I wasn’t crawling in between canes.”

Farming has pretty much been trial by fire for Carlson. He’s had some help by a couple of viticulturists and a little advice from a couple winemakers, but this urban winery owner has learned via his mistakes since he first planted in 2002. And, of course a lot of that has to do with transitioning from an amateur winemaker to a commercial winemaker.

Carlson recalled a couple of rookie mistakes early in his winemaking career that nearly ended it before he gave away or sold a bottle.

“As a newbie with one of my first batches, I stuck my face in the tank to check if fermentation was taking place,” Carlson said. “After trying to take a deep breath to see or smell if the juice was rotting or doing anything, all I got was CO2. I pulled my head out of the vat even as I already was turning blue. My young daughters screamed and freaked out as they were watching dad do his  work. But I learned. Oh, I learned that the process was working. It was working even if I could not see it.”

But this was not the first time the novice learned a lesson the hard way.

“I nearly lost my little finger one year in the beginning when I was trying to do my own barrel shaving with a router,” Carlson mused. “Community Medical Center staff reattached part of my finger with over 30 stitches. The doc said I was lucky to still have it.”

With a growing local following, Dave Carlson, seated right, often provides tastings at venues across Fresno County. Tim Ferris, above right, an MBA graduate student from Fresno Pacific University, has helped market the Old Fig Wine Cellars brand at events, including the Fresno County Wine Journey in November 2016.

The sports photographer and winemaker says he looks at winemaking today as being light years ahead of what winemaking was 50 years ago. Carlson also says he can’t even keep up with all the technology involved in making wine.

“People can get into the weeds on micro oxigenation of wines and oak alternatives,” he said. “While years ago you would put wine in barrels, now it can be made 50 different ways.

“The winemaking aspect has radically changed and coming from a place without formal experience, left me to sort out by trial and error,” Carlson continued. “The hard part is waiting six to nine months and up to two years before I understand what happened. And now I have to try and figure out why did that turn out so good.”

Carlson likes to be somewhat of a purist at heart. While he may sometimes use oak chips to flavor wine, he would rather the grapes speak for themselves.

There are five reds in the Old Fig Wine Cellars portfolio, including the Five Susans Petit Syrah.

“One of my biggest mistakes in winemaking as a new commercial winemaker was making wine that I wanted to drink instead of what people were willing to buy,” he said. “I had a rude awakening a couple years back when it really just came to a head.

Carlson was pouring wine at a local event three years ago and everyone walking up to his table said ‘give me your sweetest wine.’ All he had was dry red wine. And when the next person who came up asked the same question, and seven people after that asked the same question, reality set in.

“I can’t do that,” Carlson said. “So there was a shift in my thinking about how I had to approach the market. And when local wine shops initially did not want to sell my reds because I didn’t have white wines, that also changed how I approach winemaking.”

Old Fig Wine Cellars now sells five reds, two whites, a Rose that is poised to be released in time for the FC Wine Journey’s Wine & Chocolate Lovers Weekend, Feb. 13-14, and, for the first time, will have a Petit Verdot and a Cab Franc by March 2017. Currently Old Fig Wine Cellars wines can be purchased locally at the Sierra Nut House, Fig Tree Liquors,  The Meat Market in Fresno and Clovis, ApCal, Monet’s in Exeter, Cafe 225 in Visalia and at Harris Ranch. The Grape Tray also places orders.

Tim Ferris, an young apprentice winemaker and Fresno Pacific University MBA student has been proactive in the Fresno area helping Carlson create the Old Fig Wine Cellars brand since January 2016. In the podcast to follow, Young Fig (Tim) shares how the original Fig (Dave) has influenced him and the Old Fig Wine Cellars brand.

Ferris also shared part of the Old Fig Wine Cellars story on Central Valley TV.

Carlson is poised to create a premium local wines on a limited basis all from a plot of land within the confines of a 100 year-old neighborhood. While he makes all his wine in the vineyard he will continue to put them together Old Fig Wine Cellars in the garage.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Garlic Parmesan chicken in cream sauce.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, Instagram, Twitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Lodi Wine Country: Boutique winery innovation

Lodi Wine & Visitor Center offers in-depth winery information

While Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel capital of the world, over 85 boutique wineries offer a broad range of varieties, including 200-300 wines in the Lodi Wine & Visitor’s Center.

While I did not grow up in the San Joaquin Valley, I have lived close to its vineyards, crops, orchards and beneath the shadows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for over 35 years. However, for the first time since I began sipping, then collecting wine, I visited Lodi Wine Country in mid November.

Sheepish. Or maybe a little red-faced. That’s how I felt when both Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (LoCA) and Snooth reached out to me during the past summer. I have to admit my knowledge of Lodi wines was pretty much  limited to a few boutique wineries and the historic, well-known wine houses like Sutter Home, Gallo, Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi.

But I could only name a couple of boutique wineries who had already made a name for themselves.

I’d hear of Lodi’s wine history, even after it was named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year Star Award by Wine Enthusiast; however, the lure of Paso Robles, Sonoma and Napa distracted me from exploring the rural landscape of farms and wineries, even those run by its 4th and 5th generation families.

With wine tasting trips to their big brothers to the West and wineries in France and Italy, I totally misjudged the growth and subsequent evolution of Lodi’s 85 plus boutique wineries and now established premium wine grape varieties.

Well, I’m not claiming ignorance now. Bring on LoCA and the wines of Lodi, California.

One visit to the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and chat with Stuart Spencer, Program Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, last week changed everything. I had to check out for myself why people from all over the world visit the Lodi wine region.

I spent a couple of hours chatting with Stuart Spencer, (right), Lodi Winegrape Commission, program manager, at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center in mid November.

From the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Lodi has seen its planted acreage change from a source of fruit for blends of “red” and “Chablis” to premium varietals. The 1940s-1960s produced sought-after Lodi dessert wines and a source of Zinfandel. The Lodi American Viticultural Area has transitioned to premium grape varietals and also has its own AVA since 1986 as well as adding seven smaller AVAs in 2005.

That same year the “Lodi Rules” certified sustainable wine growing program was formed, demonstrating leadership in sustainable agriculture, energy management, soil conservation, water quality and disease management and is a model for many other wine regions. Today over 20 wineries farm bearing “Lodi Rules” on the label.

Spencer attributed the growth of the wine region to the establishment of the Lodi Winegrape Commission in 1991. Today over 750 growers in the Lodi area belong to and tax themselves much like a milk board might. This forms the base source of money to support the organization. In fact, the Lodi Winegrape Commission just celebrated its 25th year! The primary goals of the Winegrape Commission are to educate the region’s winegrowers, conduct grape-growing research, and raise awareness of the quality of Lodi grapes and wines through innovative marketing and public relations campaigns.

“Many of the winegrowers and wineries wanted someone to tell their story,” Spencer said. “A lot of our guys wanted someone to share the Lodi story. They also created an extensive grower education, which became the sustainable viticultural program in 1992. This provides day-to-day promotional and educational opportunities to improve famers.”

The Lodi Appellation is about 100 miles directly east of San Francisco at the north end of the San Joaquin Valley. The Mediterranean climate allows Lodi winegrowers to craft a diverse set of full-flavored varietals.

I love it that so much leading research has been done to improve farming in Lodi. Deficit irrigation and management to mechanization, canopy management, rootstock and trellising, and a host of other innovations have given famers the tools to excel and craft world-class wines in vineyard specific sites.

“Our commission provides information in real time to help farmers,” Spencer said. “We then shared the research story along with our growers’ story. This research not only helps our famers improve but it also gets more buyers to the area, marketing Lodi grapes to the North Coast and the big players and buyers in the industry.”

Spencer went on to say that Lodi has created a real culture of sustainable wine growing program. From the growers to the winemakers to the consumers, Lodi on the label now brings prestige. The farmers are innovative, respond to consumer needs for diversity (they lead the state in alternative or experimental plantings) with over 75 varieties in commercial production and 25-30 experimental varieties.

But I guess what impressed me the most about my visit was listening to Spencer talk about the collaboration of winegrowers who have struck a balance between creating wine of place, tradition, independence, balancing modern science with traditional methods and support of each other. They place a high value on Lodi as a region–a destination–a favored place; they value its history, heritage and pioneering spirit. Most growers are working together, in many cases as fourth and fifth generation winegrowers, to provide leadership in education and research for those in their AVA and beyond.

As I walked around the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center and tasting room, I marveled at over 200 different selections of Lodi’s wines beautifully displayed from over 60 wineries. While it opened in 2000 with far fewer selections, Spencer said today there are between 200-300 selections are available over the course of the year, depending on the calendar and recent releases.

For those who still have doubts, the Lodi Wine & Visitors Centers now has over 700 wine club members, further solidifying its status. Four times a year, 3-4 local Lodi wines are sent to members for about $80.  I for one, will be looking to find my favorites amongst the wineries represented.

And as Claudia Angelillo wrote in her Oct. 13, 2016, article, “Lodi is changing the way we think about wine,” I too have become convinced Lodi wines need and will be a part of my wine cellar and table wine pairing.

Take the time to return and/or bookmark TalesoftheCork for future posts on Lodi area wineries on my subsequent visits to the AVA. While my time was short on this day, I plan on returning to visit and taste some of Lodi’s favored wines.

Pencil in Lodi Wine’s next event on your calendar as they gear up for spring. The 20th annual Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend is slated for Feb. 11-12, 2017. Over 50 wineries will provides tastes and a chocolate snack for visitors. Tickets are $55 advance and $65 after Feb. 10. They will go on sale the first week of December 2016.

The Lodi Wine & Visitors Center is conveniently located just two miles from Highway 99 on 2545 Turner Rd., Lodi, CA 95242. LoCA is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. They can be reached at 209.365.0621 or via their website: They are also on social media as well.

Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Five Thanksgiving sparkling wines.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, InstagramTwitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.

Matties Wood-Fired Pizza set to grow business

With a plethora of eating options at local farmer's markets, I decided to try Matties Wood-Fired Pizza. With fresh ingredients, including dough made fresh each day, the thin-crusted pizza's aroma lured me to join the food trailer's queue.
With a plethora of eating options at local farmer’s markets, I decided to try Matties Wood-Fired Pizza. With most ingredients grown locally, including dough made fresh each day, the thin-crusted pizza’s aroma lured me to join the food trailer’s queue.

With farmer’s markets springing up all over Fresno County in recent weeks, I joined the crowds in Old Town Clovis for the weekly summer street market.

While I initially wasn’t planning to eat dinner, my family and I stopped in front of Matties Wood-Fired Mobile Pizza Oven. The smell of freshly baked dough and local ingredients wood-fired in an Italian-made oven stopped me behind a queue of five patrons.

I have often joined the community bandwagon and eaten at local CartHop Fresno events, so pausing to watch my personal-sized, 14-inch, wood-fired pizza bake was a no-brainer. Cost? $6-8.

Owner Matthew (Mattie) Wolcott was kneading dough into thin crusted personal pies. The menu included up to 12 varieties of Neapolitan-inspired pizzas (VIDEO). My first taste of Matties Wood-Fired Pizza was split with my twenty-something daughter, Brittany. We decided to share two pizzas: 1) Pizza Vera: caramelized onions, fresh thyme with Maytag blue cheese and Enzo olive oil; 2) Mattie’s pistachio pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella, San Marizano tomatoes, and bacon.

Owner Matthew (Mattie) Wolcott left the education field to pursue Italian cooking, dreaming to cook and entertain with an authentic Italian oven.
Owner/operator Matthew (Mattie) Wolcott left the education field to pursue Italian cooking, dreaming to cook and entertain with an authentic Italian oven.

The pizzas came out piping hot. The mozzarella bubbled and the bacon’s aroma melded with the smokiness that one only gets when the BBQ cooks with almond and/or fruit wood. The freshly ground pistachio pesto was brilliant on the slightly charred, crispy crust, adding texture to the pizza. The tomatoes? Well, they were fresh, ripe, red, halved and full of flavor.

“We are pushing the pizza envelope,” Wolcott said. “We are pushing the pizza tradition, creating gourmet pizzas on wheels. This is good, clean, simple food. I’m just a simple person, using great flavors. Living in Valley I have access to incredible ingredients and I believe I am making incredible wood-fired pizzas.”

Mattie said his favorite pizza is the Vera. I concur. I’m a caramelized onion fan as well. That may be due to my own extensive time in the kitchen. The pizzas did not last long as we chowed down on the sweet and savory flavors.

Matties is gourmet pizza at its best. I must admit I longed for a glass of Paso’s Tablas Creek Estate Rosé, Santa Ynez Valley’s 2009 Martian Vineyard Grenache Rosé, Villa Creek’s Pink, Caliza Winery’s Pink or other Rosé alternatives.

However, the wine or beer option is only available for those who attend one of Matties weekly private parties. A bottle of iced water filled in just fine this time as June in the Central Valley heats up.

I shared  two pizzas with my daughter 1) Pizza Vera: caramelized onions, fresh thyme with Maytag blue cheese and Enzo olive oil; 2) Mattie’s pistachio pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella, San Marizano tomatoes, and bacon.
I shared two pizzas with my daughter 1) Pizza Vera: caramelized onions, fresh thyme with Maytag blue cheese and Enzo olive oil; 2) Mattie’s pistachio pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella, San Marizano tomatoes, and bacon.

After working in the performing arts field for four years, Wolcott (43) taught elementary school for two years before becoming a consultant for a publishing company in the Bay Area. He served as a local rep. selling textbooks and later led a charter school for three years. However, by 2010, he grew dissatisfied with his role in education.

“I really didn’t believe in the way education is mapped out. It was hard to sell something I did not believe in,” Wolcott said. “My passion for education began to wane. I didn’t like the education philosophy.”

However, despite his career choices, he has always had a interest in cooking. In fact, Wolcott used to watch the 1980’s PBS show, Ciao Italia, with Mary Ann Esposito and still follows it when he can.

The wood stone floor is kept at 750 degrees. The beauty of a wood-fired oven at that the temperature ensures the crust will not be soggy and the radiated heat cooks the top ingredients quickly.
The wood-fired oven stone floor is kept at 750 degrees. The beauty of a wood-fired oven is that its high temperature ensures the crust will not be soggy and radiated heat cooks the top ingredients in about two minutes.

“I’ve stuck with Italian for most of my life and so I felt it was time to strike out on my own, sharing my passion: wood-fired pizzas. I just wanted to cook. So I worked with someone in the Bay Area and began catering for two summers while I still was in education. That became the impetus for me to get a food trailer and begin making pizzas on my own almost three years ago.

“I knew I wanted to use a wood-fired oven, but it is my dream to cook and entertain with an authentic Italian oven. I turned to the Mugnaini Inc. from Watsonville who have been importing wood-fired ovens from Italy for 20 years.”

Matties Wood-Fired Pizzas start with fresh pizza dough made from scratch using Giustos flour out of South SF because it was recommended by a cooking school in Healdsburg. And while fresh local ingredients most often make a tremendous difference in culinary presentation, Wolcott believes the wood-fired oven changes everything.

“There is an art to it,” he said. “No gas flame here. I wanted to bake pizzas in an old-world style in an oven that will dry the dough quickly and brown evenly. While the pizzas are baking in the oven, they must be rotated to evenly cook. We usually use almond but apple and peach wood is also being used this summer. I love the smell of the wood in each pizza.”

Matties Wood-Fired Pizza can create 12-15 different pizzas and can be found at the local CartHop events, farmer's markets and private parties.
Matties Wood-Fired Pizza can create 12-15 different pizzas and can be found at the local CartHop events, farmer’s markets and private parties.

Mugnaini Inc. Italian wood-fired pizza oven (VIDEO)

The wood-fired oven’s stone floor is kept at 750 degrees and takes about two hours to reach that temperature. The beauty of a wood-fired oven is that its high temperature ensures the crust will not be soggy and radiated heat quickly cooks the top ingredients. The average time for a pizza in the oven is about 2-2.5 minutes.

Matties factoid: Mattie Wolcott’s favorite pizza is caramelized onion and blue cheese with thyme. He says it is great with a salad. He also says pizza lovers might try a bubbly Lambrusco Le Grotte white wine on hot summer days.

However, when he was pressed, Wolcott said he was mostly a red wine drinker. His favorite is/was the Jordan Winery ’95 Cabernet. However, he went on to say that he is not a traditionalist to wine choices with food.

Wine pairing anyone?

Currently Wolcott is relying on referrals to build his pizza-loving clientele and has only used one postcard mailing. His team uses a trailer equipped with a Mugnaini Italian oven and an enclosed tent to create the pizzas. His goal is to add a second mobile oven on a 20-foot trailer with a full kitchen. He plans on joining the other food trucks at events, including weekends at Bella Frutta.

Matties Wood-Fired Mobile Pizza Oven is a wonderful food alternative for those stopping for lunch/dinner at local farmer’s markets, a family reunions/gatherings, graduation, weddings, corporate parties/events, bridal rehearsal parties, baby showers and graduation parties. It reminds me of homemade Italian pizza.

Mattie’s has set up for oven-fired pizzas in backyards for small parties to large events at wineries. All they need is about three-four hours of prep. time before each event and an approximate number of guests. Each event may have additional costs, but Wolcott said a flat $350 fee would cover about 25 guests with each additional pizza eater rate at $6-8 for a 2-4 hour event. Matties will serve up to five pizza varieties at an event.

Pizza The sausage pizza has tomatos, Tuscan pork sausage, mixed mushrooms on an alfredo base.
The Alfredo sausage pizza has tomatos, Tuscan pork sausage, mixed mushrooms on an alfredo base.

On a typical day, Matties will wood-fire 100-200 pizzas but will increase those numbers for larger events. They have 12-15 different varieties.

Matties Wood-Fired Pizza Menu:

Monday: Site views/visits to map out area for private parties. Food offerings include but are not limited to wood-fired pizza, salad, dessert (berry crisp) biscotti, pasta bars, dinner party appetizers, roasted egg plant, arugula goat cheese, butternut squash, etc.

Tuesday: River Park Farmer’s Market, 5:30 – 9 p.m.

Thursday: CartHop Fresno, Fulton Mall, 11 a.m. – 2 .pm.

Friday: CartHop Fresno, Eaton Plaza, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Friday: Downtown Clovis Farmer’s Market, 5:30 – 9 p.m.

Finally, in an effort to increase business, Matties needs a bigger trailer. He is hoping that through social media, referrals and a Kickstarter account , a new $40,000, 20-foot trailer can be built by the end of 2013. Wolcott said he has already contacted West Coast Trailers in Madera for the specs. on a new trailer.

“I couldn’t have built Matties Wood-Fired Pizzas without the help of an army of people,” Wolcott said. “So many people have come along side of me to encourage and put their time in by volunteering hours upon hours to help me build a viable business. The Valley and Fresno/Clovis have been very good to me; the community has been so supportive.”

So through the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram social media, referrals and repeat customers, Wolcott is hoping to grow his business just a little more with a Kickstarter account. He said he felt awkward to ask people for money–even weird. However, this is an avenue he felt his supporters might consider. So if you are inclined to foster a home-grown business, #BeABacker: Mattie needs a bigger home.

For more information on Matties Wood-Fired Mobile Pizza Oven, call Matthew Wolcott at 559.917.1969 or email him at He can also be reached through Twitter: @MattiesPizza.

For more information on the Fresno’s food truck growth, including Matties Wood-Fired Pizza, watch the video, CartHop: Moving Food Forward by CreativeFresno559.

Carthop: Moving Food Forward


Also be sure to read my Feb. 11, 2013, post: Bella Frutta hosts food truck hub each weekend.

NOTE: After struggling through illness during the winter, I am refocused and determined to restart TalesoftheCork on a weekly basis. Thank you for returning and a hearty cheers to you.

READERS: Have you tried the meals on wheels trucks or been to Bella Frutta? Leave a comment at the bottom of the article.

For more TalesoftheCork stories, scroll to the top of the menu bar or read The Grape Tray reopens in Fresno’s Opus I Center .