Family owned and operated. Home of Freakshow, Petite Petit, Earth.
As the temperatures cool and the fall colors explode, the scenic landscape of San Joaquin County becomes even more picturesque. During harvest season, Lodi wineries like Michael David celebrate the end of summer with an annual display of colors, a garden full of multicolored zinnias, hundreds of orange pumpkins to purchase, and great estate wines to taste.
Founders Michael and David Phillips, two brothers whose family has farmed fruits and vegetables in the Lodi region since the 1850s, began cultivating wine in 1984. Over time, what was originally the Phillips Family fruit stand and roadside café on Highway 12 transformed into a full-scale winery.
Today, it is replete with extensive but walkable grounds. Its paths lead visitors to a large outdoor tasting room and four strategic outdoor, umbrella-covered table settings. In addition, the facility includes an indoor wine bar, bakery, café, and specialty bistro and bottle restaurant.
Tasting Michael David Wines
Openings on both sides of the cavernous tasting room make it inviting for visitors to casually stroll into and up to the open-air stone bar for wine tasting. Giant exposed wooden beams above provide a modern decorated look to the room, juxtaposed with old wine barrels supporting shiny wooden planks that provide additional tasting areas.
Both sides of the tasting room are flanked by two-story wine racks fully stocked with bottles. A green-colored bicycle propped up among open bottles completes the bar’s functional mid-section.
The outside patio features another stone bar with seating glorified by a beamingly large “Freakshow” light across its opening and connection to the inside bar.
Further into the outdoor courtyard, tables and chairs are spread comfortably under the shade of an expansive willow tree planted many years ago by owner Michael.
Wine tasting at Michael David Winery is a well-orchestrated affair split between two separate wine-tasting menus – current-release and limited-release wines. Both include your choice of five wines to taste. Current-release tasting costs $10 per person; limited-release tasting costs $15 per person.
Wine tasting is complimentary for wine club members for up to four people. Some wines on the tasting menu are only available for purchase by wine club members, but anyone can taste them.
Guests are able to taste at the open-air bar or at one of the nearby patio tables. Knowledgeable wine educators welcome guests and happily explain the characteristics of each wine they pour. And yet, to make your experience even more informative, descriptions of the aromas and flavors in each wine also appear on the tasting menus. This approach to wine tasting guarantees each visitor an enjoyable experience.
Wine tasting is available daily from 10 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The Wines of Michael David
Michael David Winery offers an unconventional collection of wines, names, and labels. Originally known for its Seven Deadly Zins, Symphony, and Incognito, Michael David now produces Freakshow, Inkblot, and Earthquake.
According to Lodi Rules, all wines are produced with sustainability in mind. The winery applies over 100 standards during the winemaking process.
However, the proof of this approach is really in the tasting. Here are descriptions of four wines we tasted:
Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon 2021
Flexing brand-new packaging, the label features an image of the strongest man on earth. It represents this wine as the star of the show and is currently a top seller. The Freakshow labels, whimsical and colorful, are inspired by Michael’s love of vintage circus posters depicting the days of the traveling circus.
The playful art featured on the Freakshow labels is so beloved that it even graces the Freakshow fermentation tanks. The fermentation tanks are temperature controlled and keep the wine cool even in the warm Lodi months.
The 2021 Freakshow Cab opens with black cherry, raspberry, and toasted hazelnut aromas. Like the image on the label, the wine is larger than life, medium-bodied, and showcases flavors of dark fruit, strawberry jam, and clove in a lasting finish.
Aged 12 months in French oak and sells for $20.
Sixth Sense Syrah 2021
Michael and David’s favorite wine, the Sixth Sense, is produced from one of California’s oldest Syrah vineyards, planted in Lodi. Deep ruby in hue, layered aromas of berry cobbler, plum, and cigar box fill the nose. Full-bodied flavors of ripe raspberry, black licorice, and tobacco lead to a captivating finish.
Aged 12 months in American and French oak and sells for $18.
Petite Petit 2020
The Petite Petit, a blend of 85% Petite Syrah and 15% Petit Verdot, is the second most popular wine at MDW. It opens with notes of ripe summer berries and ends with a rich, lingering finish. This is a dense, full-bodied wine loaded with pure black fruit and vanilla flavors.
Aged in French and American oak for 12 months and sells for $18.
This varietal originated in Bordeaux, France, and now grows mostly in Chile. However, Michael David grows and produces its own Carmenere in Lodi under limited production. The wine is a brilliant crimson color like Autumn foliage, with supple red and blackberry flavors and herbaceous fresh green peppers. It is medium-bodied, with pleasant acidity levels and soft tannins in the finish.
Aged 19 months in 100% French oak and sells for $32. Available to wine club members only.
The wines of Michael David include Bordeaux-style, Rhone-style, and, of course, Lodi’s most well-known varietal, Zinfandel. Melissa Phillips Stroud, Michael Phillips’s daughter and Vice President of Sales and Marketing, says, “My father visited France in his youth and fell in love with the Rhone region. And we have some of the oldest Syrah planted in the United States. The Bordeaux varietals are pretty easy to come by, and Zinfandel is famous in Lodi.”
Melissa says they also produce a wine called Symphony, made from a University of California, Davis hybrid of Pinot Grigio and Grenache Gris. The winery has a loyal following of consumers who love the Symphony.
As long-time grape growers, the Phillips family continues to grow their own grapes. But due to the volume the winery produces, half the grapes come from their own estate vineyards and approximately half come from other growers. Until 2018, all Michael David grapes came from Lodi and the Lodi appellation. They did purchase a vineyard and winery in Sonoma County – so Michael David now has 23 acres of Alexander Valley Cabernet.
Today, the winery produces 600,000 cases annually and distributes to 39 countries.
Jeff Farthing, Director of Winemaking and fellow winemaker Sean Goehring believe that winemaking starts in the vineyard. Melissa says “they are really about balance. Jeff is generally going for a fruit-forward, balanced wine with plenty of acidity.”
Café and Produce Stand
Adjacent to the indoor tasting room, Michael David operates a café, bakery, and produce stand. These are part of the original business that operated long before the winery began. The café offers a full breakfast and lunch menu. Shelves between the café and the produce stand are lined with mouthwatering signature pies. The pies are made using Michael and David’s mother’s recipes.
The farm café serves breakfast daily from 8:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Lunch is served from 11:30 am – 3:00 pm. All seating is first come, first served. The produce stand and bakery operate daily from 8 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Bottle and Bistro Service
Besides the excellent wines, the Bistro and Bottle Service is probably the next best feature at MDW. Premier seating alongside a small lake, a nearby waterfall, garden, or vineyard, known as a “relaxation station,” comes with a designated server.
The Bistro menu, different than the café menu, features sandwiches, paninis, salads, and wood-fired pizza. Wine tasting is unavailable in this location, but wine by the bottle is. Open May to November, Friday through Sunday. A $5 deposit per person is required but is refunded upon check-in.
The Kid’s Play Area
Michael David Winery loves kids. So much so that MDW built a children’s area complete with play equipment and miniature buildings replicating the winery’s barn and café. Melissa says, “There are very few family-friendly wineries, and we pride ourselves in it.” The children’s area is surrounded by a safety fence alongside additional seating for parents to enjoy bottle and bistro service.
Melissa says, “Our family has been farming here for 150 years. My great, great, great grandparents came out here on the Homestead Act in the 1860s and planted grapes. I’m the sixth generation now working in the family business. It began as a farm, then a roadside fruit stand, and eventually, we added a café. We still operate under the original license as a farm stand and café.”
Michael, a fifth-generation family member, first became interested in winemaking when he attended the University of California, Davis. Melissa says, “When my dad moved back to Lodi, he and his friends started making wine in his garage. But he was tired of growing grapes for others and wanted to start his own winery.”
In 1984, Michael Phillips bonded his winery, just the 14th winery in the Lodi wine region. Melissa says, “For the next 15 years or so, it was all him making wine and selling it at the roadside fruit stand.” Soon younger brother David joined Michael in the business. And in the late 90s, the winery really took off. Around 2002, the winery began winning some awards and earned some national recognition with well-known brands like the Seven Deadly Zins.
However, long before it became a winery, the Phillips Family operation was also a kid-friendly farm that allowed visitors to see and learn about animals, plants, and nature. School buses from the local Lodi school district would regularly schedule field trips year-round to Phillips Farms. Melissa says, “My grandparents loved, loved, loved, children.
They had ten foster children over their lifetime, in addition to the two boys they adopted and three biological boys they had. But they really loved children. These school groups would come out for a field trip, and my grandmother would give them a tour.”
Kids enjoyed hayrides, cornfield mazes, and tunnels made from bales of hay with special treasure hidden inside, waiting to be discovered. Near Halloween, the farm became a large pumpkin patch where homemade, giant Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls greeted visitors upon entry. Other spooky, life-sized Halloween characters made from paper mâché were spread throughout the grounds.
To continue the tradition, during the month of October, the winery still turns itself into a pumpkin patch featuring the same wooden cutouts hand-painted by Michael and David’s mom 50 years ago. These brightly decorated picture boards are scattered around the grounds, enticing visitors to stick their faces in the cutout for some amusing photos. And the life-size dolls and other Halloween characters are still on display.
Nowadays, visitors can still purchase pumpkins while they enjoy an afternoon of wine tasting. Generations of families return to Michael David in the fall and bring their own children to enjoy what they remember from their childhood.
From the moment you walk into Michael David Winery, you realize that it’s much more than just a tasting room. The hub of the winery is still centered around its original fruit stand that was constructed to sell the family’s organic produce along the side of Highway 12. True to its humble beginnings, the tasting bar, café, bakery, and farm fresh produce still call this location home. And you’ll feel quite at home anytime you visit.