Friend or foe, guests at the Watts’ home in Lodi were guaranteed a good time.
At least, that was the family’s hope.
Their tradition of hospitality lives today, though an invitation to drop by isn’t necessary.
The home where third generation grower Craig Watts grew up has been transformed into an art gallery and tasting room, providing a true feast for the senses.
At Upstream Wines at Watts Winery at 17036 North Locust Tree Road just south of Highway 12, visitors can stroll the grounds or gaze at the work of resident artist Joe Lee and other artists. What once was the Watts’ living room and kitchen now is the tasting room, accented by a black baby grand piano, the very one Watts learned to play on, and one of six in his collection.
Craig and his wife, Sheri Watts, owners of the winery, operated a tasting room at Vino Piazza from 1999-2011, then converted their home into a hospitality hub, and moved to Walnut Grove. Now, visitors can feel at home in their former home.
“We needed more space, so we moved over here,” Sheri Watts said. “This is the family property. My husband grew up in this house. When you came into this house, you always had a good time.”
Voices and laughter faintly could be heard as Lee gave us a tour of the garage turned art gallery. He and bottler Mike Tarnowski resurfaced the garage floor and installed ceiling fans, lighting, French doors, and retractable floor-to-ceiling windows that allow the cooling breeze to blow inside.
Lee couldn’t have been more gracious as he showed off his paintings, some commissioned by professional athletes and coaches, including Joe Montana and Bill Walsh, as well as portraits depicting old Lodi, jazz musicians, and scenes from rural San Joaquin Valley.
“I try to get more agriculture in here,” said Lee, who grew up in Linden, but has called Lodi home the past 35 years. “I’m trying to get San Joaquin agriculture and farm life because there is so much of it.”
The voices and laughter grew louder as we walked past the tasting room, and entered another room, where other artists’ work is displayed. Then, we moved to the tasting room with its raised center island, where Sheri and staffers Shannon Clarke and Kenny Martin offered samples of Watts’ eclectic collection of fine wines, all from estate fruit grown in Lodi and Clements Hills.
Particularly pleasing was the Watts Chardonnay made in stainless steel with scant creaminess from malolactic fermentation, and bright acidity.
It isn’t every day you can try Montepulciano in Lodi, but the Italian varietal in all of its cherry, blackberry and black olive splendor is available at Watts, as well as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, dessert wines made from late harvest Zinfandel and the Portuguese varietal, Souzao, and of course, Zinfandel.
“We jumped in with two feet, not knowing what we were doing,” Sheri Watts said. “We’ve drowned a few times, but we’ve survived.”
Go to Upstream Wines at Watts Winery and see what all the fun is about.