THE ALLEYWAYS OF the Lodi Grape Festival grounds were packed this past weekend as people explored food and games, got their faces painted and sampled wine in an annual celebration of the region’s grape harvest.

The event started eight decades ago as a small food festival in downtown Lodi. It’s now four days of carnival rides, music concerts and more at the 20-acre festival grounds.

The festival scheduled more than 100 events including live band performances at four music stages — Michelob Ultra Stage, Pier 805 Stage, Foster Lumber Stage and Vaz Brothers Stage. Saturday attracted a big crowd for headliner Plain White T’s on the Michelob Ultra Stage.

John Cervantes goes inverted for a moment as he rides the “Fireball” roller coaster during the Lodi Grape Festival on Saturday. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Alongside live music, the festival included percussive dance performances, a circus and reptile shows presented by The Serpentarium.

The wine cellar hosted local winemakers who offered samples for $20 per person.

Brian Howes, who likes to call himself a wine hobbyist, attended the festival for the first time Saturday.

“Tasting of this wine for $20 is such a good bargain,” Howes said. “I’m having such a great time here.” On Sunday, the wine cellar featured wine made by the club members of the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association (LAVA). “LAVA is a club for wine lovers interested in making wine,” said Karen Kiplinger, a LAVA member.

For an annual membership of $50, the club provides its members with equipment to make wine and a mentor to guide the winemaker through the process.

Those attending the festival on closing day Sunday got to taste the wine made by the LAVA members.

“Don’t get mistaken by ‘amateur’ in the club’s name, because some of these members are such pros at making wine. It’s delicious,” Kiplinger said.

Another highlight at the event was the booth with little chickens and fertilized chicken eggs incubated by the agricultural science students at Tokay High School. Children and adults alike were in awe as they saw the hatched eggs and newly born chickens inside the incubator.

Children touch a newborn chicken during the Lodi Grape Festival on Sept. 16, 2023. The booth, setup by Tokay High School’s agricultural science students, also had fertilized eggs inside incubators, where the vistors got to see hatched eggs and newly-born chickens. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Dave and Kathy Bustos were a couple that relocated to Manteca and attended the grape festival for the first time this year. “Coming from the Bay Area, this festival reminds me of the county fairs back in the Bay Area, but they are kind of dying down,” Kathy Bustos said. “It is so good to be at a festival that is so big and lively.”

The Lodi Grape Festival grounds hosts several public events throughout the year. Next up is Lodi Comic Con on Sept. 30. Lovers of grapes in their juiced and fermented form can look for the Lodi Wine Festival next spring, while the Grape Festival returns next September.

Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.