As I mentioned in a previous article about Lodi, even though I had been there before (but only for a day), I really did not know much about the AVA. Before heading out there a few weeks ago on a media trip, my thoughts on the region could be wrapped up in just a few bullet points:
- It’s really hot
- It’s really tiny
- It’s all about Zinfandel
After my four days out there in June, however, my perspective completely changed:
- It’s not all that hot–there are areas in both Napa and Sonoma with higher average temperatures than Lodi. People might think it is so hot because you have to drive through Antioch to get there. My in-laws live in Antioch. I visit Antioch all the time. It is very hot in Antioch this time of year. Unfortunately, that is the extent of the nice things you can say about Antioch. Don’t worry, Lodi is nothing like Antioch.
- I am not sure why I thought it was small, but Lodi is huge. The town of Lodi is not big by any measure, but the AVA is gigantic. It produces 20-25% of all of California’s wine grapes (think about that for a minute) and was divided into seven sub-appellations to better capture the different soils and micro-climates of the region.
- It’s not only about Zin (although there are some incredibly well-made Zinfandels): I was shocked to learn that there are over 100 different varieties grown in the AVA. Another point upon which one should ponder–most people can’t even name more than a dozen or so.
That last point is where I come to the stories of two fantastic winemakers in the region: Markus Bokisch and Markus Niggli. The latter, I will get to perhaps next week, while the former is the subject of this week’s article.
Markus Bokisch grew up in Southern California, but spent his summers with his family in Spain, which provided much of the backdrop for his adult life. In the early 1990’s, after a stint working at Phelps, Markus and his wife Liz moved to the Catalonia region of Spain to work in the Spanish wine industry. When they returned to the U.S. a few years later, they purchased the Terra Alta Vineyard in Lodi, where they eventually built their winery and (soon to be open) tasting room. From the beginning, Markus and Liz decided that they would focus on growing Spanish varietal wines: Tempranillo, Albariño, Graciano, Garnacha, Garnacha Blanca, Monastrell, and Verdejo (they also grow and produce a Portuguese variety, Verdelho, which is why they now say their focus is on “Iberian” varieties).
Currently, Bokisch produces 5,000 cases but Bokisch Ranches, their vineyard management company, manages over 2,000 acres of sustainably farmed vineyards, supplying wineries in Lodi, Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz with fruit for their wines.
We met Liz and Bokisch’s assistant winemaker Elyse Perry around 10:00 at the winery (where they also have a large custom crush business) and started sampling through the Bokisch portfolio about ten minutes later (which was about 9 minutes too late for me).
Bokisch Vineyards make a four different Albariños, all are harvested at 21.5 Brix and go through a cold fermentation to help maintain the naturally high acidity in the grapes. The fruit is organically grown but that does not figure prominently on the label since Liz fears the wines might be then put in a different part of the shelf.
2014 Bokisch Albariño Las Cerezas Vineyard: Retail $18. From the original Bokisch vineyard, the “mother block”, planted behind the Bokisch home. A really floral nose, great body and acidity with citrus and viscosity. Outstanding. Used 50/50 stainless and neutral oak. 89-91 Points.
2014 Bokisch Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard: Retail $18. Rounder than the Las Cerezas. Equally as floral but a bit beefier. 900 cases produced, making this the biggest production along with Tempranillo. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Bokisch Albariño Anders Island: Retail $18. Comes from a vineyard in the Delta (and not part of the Lodi AVA), with an even cooler climate. Rounder and perhaps a bit less lively than the first two, but with better flavors than the others. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2014 Bokisch Verdejo Clay Station Vineyard: Retail $18. The green apple really stands out here. Another very nice wine. Round but sharp with a lasting finish. Perhaps my favorite of the four. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2014 Bokisch Verdehlo Vista Luna Vineyard: Retail $18. Portugeuse variety–when they brought it over, Markus thought it was actually Verdejo, only discovering its true identity after it was planted. Comes from the Azoe Islands off of Portugal, so great for seafood. Another stellar wine. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Bokisch Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyard: Retail $18. Some oak aging. A different story. Comes off a bit sweeter but still bright acidity. More of a pineapple note. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2012 Bokisch Tempranillo: Retail $23. Blend of two vineyards. Smoky red fruit. Vibrant and bright. Very nice with some grip on the backend. Some Gaciano blended in. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2012 Bokisch Graciano: Retail $23. Usually a blending wine in Rioja, tMarkus and Liz had to go through and arduous process to get the grape even recognized as a variety in the U.S. This might get a whoa on the nose. Cherry vanilla a go-go with blueberry and plum. Thick and chewy. Tannic finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Tizona Old Vine Zinfandel Kirschenmann Vineyard: Retail $32. Just bottled this weekend. Nice Zin. More restrained but still great fruit. Not a huge wine at all, but bigger than a cold climate Zin. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.