Lodi, California’s Omega Cellars, owned and operated by the Natsis family, is full of Greek Philoxenia. When you visit, you’re part of the family.
Omega Cellars in Lodi
Readers will recall that my family and I visited California during the summer of 2016. We covered a lot of ground, including a visit to Lodi — known as the Zinfandel capital. We were connected with Omega Cellars by a mutual friend, and it was a must-stop on our trip. It was one we won’t soon forget.
Roots in Arkadia and Laconia
Patriarch Frank Natsis was born and raised in Artemisio, Kakouri, Arkadia. He grew up working on the farm with his father. He immigrated to Montreal Canada in 1960. His wife, Astrini, hails from Loganiko, Laconia. There, Frank began what became a 40-year career in the restaurant business.
The family, which includes sons Jim and George, and daughter Bess, moved to the States in 1977. They stayed in Chicago for two years, but wished to be closer to family. Frank had two brothers in St. Louis, so the family relocated in 1979. Frank became ill due to the climate, and in 1980, the family returned to Montreal. That move wasn’t as easy as anticipated. The children didn’t grow up speaking French, and had difficulty at school. An acquaintance from San Jose recommended the area, primarily due to the weather. The family settled in California in 1981.
From the restaurant business to the wine business
Over the years, the family had purchased property in Lodi. Frank and Astrini planned to move there eventually. After selling one of their restaurants in 1989, they needed to reinvest the proceeds. Though he found success as a chef and restaurateur, Frank longed to return to the fields and work the land. He’d considered the wine business. A fateful trip to Lodi in 1990 to purchase a lamb for Easter, set the wheels in motion.
Frank found a vineyard with a small house on it, and the decision for the new business venture was made. Over the years, they purchased more land, and built their permanent home on the original property. The couple moved to Lodi in 1995. Soon after, they opened a restaurant in Lodi with son George, called Omega. The final transition to the wine business came in 2000, when the restaurant was sold. Jim and his wife, Niki, moved to Lodi in 2007.
We loved this dessert wine from Omega Cellars. Their wines are only sold online and in the tasting room, so we brought some home — and joined the wine club. PHOTO BY MARIA A. KARAMITSOS
Omega Cellars is born
The family began growing grapes, but were concerned about finding a home for their grapes. So in September 2002, they officially branded Omega Cellars. The first tastings were held in April 2004.
Jim spoke about the Omega name.
“Clearly we like the Omega name and have used it before. The name itself is easily recognizable. It represents the significance and sophistication of our brand.”
In keeping with their restaurant roots, they wished to create wines that pair well with food.
“We like our wines to express the character of the fruit grown on our estate vineyards. As such, we craft wines that are balanced, unique, and pair well with food. We also like to display a bit of an Old World feel.”
Omega Cellars is truly a family-run enterprise. While Frank manages the vineyards, George is in charge of production and winemaking. Jim handles the business and finance side, and manages the tasting room. Their sister is not involved in the business, but Mom Astrini has her hand in the mix — she grows olives. After harvesting them, she brines and cans them for sale in the tasting room.
“This was my father’s dream, to see his children establish and grow a wine business and possibly pass it onto future generations.”
Visiting Omega Cellars
This family-run business is truly all about family. We visited with our two daughters, and they welcomed us without hesitation. As my husband and I chatted with Jim and tasted several vintages, “Papou” Frank showed the girls the barrels of wine in the back room. Outside they encountered “Yiayia” Astrini, who just as any yiayia would do, loaded them up with koulouria and hugs. I’d baked some kourambiedes for my husband’s aunt, and had them in the car. I went outside and returned with a plateful for our new friends — and they were ever-so grateful. We felt like we were part of the family, and enjoyed an extended stay. They even directed us to the nearest Greek Orthodox Church so we could attend Sunday services.
This philoxenia is something they pride themselves on.
“Besides offering good wine, we hope to leave people with a nice, relaxed feeling after they leave Omega Cellars. We want them to feel like they’re at home and even part of the family. Many of our customers have become some of our really good friends.”
We enjoyed our tasting. The 2013 Omega White and 2011 Midnight Serenade, a dessert wine, were particular favorites. Omega Cellars wines are available only in the tasting room, and online, so we took a few bottles with us. And some of Yiayia’s olives. We joined the wine club, too.
For traditional Greek philoxenia and an overall wonderful experience, head on over to Omega Cellars. Tell them we sent you!
Lodi is about 1-½ hours east of San Francisco and 20 minutes south of Sacramento. Omega Cellars is located at 13731 N. State Route 88, Lodi, CA. 209.367.1910.