Depending how you count, this is either my tenth or eleventh article in my series about my recent trip to Lodi, California on a media trip sponsored by the Lodi Winegrape Commission with four other bloggers (Amy of Another Wine Blog, Frank of Drink What YOU Like, Gabe of Gabe’s View, and Julia of Wine Julia) and Mark and Claudia from Snooth.com. For most of the trip we were also joined by Jenny Heitman and Camron King of the Wine Grape Commission.
After lunch at the Bokisch home, we all headed over to Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, which is situated in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation in Lodi. We parked the van (which was on loan from Mule Creek State Prison) and strolled through an open field to a bit of a glen down by the Mokelumne River.
[Editor’s note: I just realized that I described the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard as “a bit of a glen down by the Mokelumne River” that is creative writing at its zenith, folks.]
Bob and Mary Lou Koth have lived in Lodi for decades, and originally had Zinfandel and Chardonnay in their vineyard. In the early 1990’s, however, on a trip to Germany to visit their daughter Ann Marie (who was in Mainz on a Fulbright scholarship), Bob fell in love with German Riesling.
Returning home, Bob decided to transform Mokelumne Glen Vineyards into essentially a German varietal vineyard. Despite warnings from many of their neighbors that German varieties could not grow in Lodi, Bob forged ahead with a “the heck we can’t” attitude and now has over forty varieties in his vineyard, most of them German: Bacchus, Dornfelder, Gewürtztraminer, Riesling, Rieslaner, Spätburgunder, and Kerner (to name but a few).
Kerner, not a variety that you hear every day, seems to be a bit of a white wine geek’s holy grail: every time someone mentions “Kerner” it is followed by a few “oohs”, “ahs”, and empty glasses thrusted forward in parched anticipation.
Perhaps there is no other winemaker in the U.S. doing more with Kerner than whom we met next: Markus Niggli, the winemaker at Borra Vineyards and his own Markus Wine Co. Markus, by all accounts a rising star in winemaking circles, grew up in Wesen Switzerland, which is evident by his chiseled jaw, strapping frame, and pronounced Schweizerdeutsch accent. A few years ago, somewhat frustrated by the rigidity of European winemaking, Markus came to the U.S. looking to make wines similar to those he became familiar with growing up, but with more freedom for experimentation.
Before we tried a few of his wines, Markus spoke a bit about his winemaking philosophy, stating that his primary goal is to showcase what one can do in Lodi. Additionally, he wants to introduce something new to the market, to stand out in some way. After tasting a few of his wines, it is clear that he is well on his way to reaching both of his goals.
2014 Markus Nativo Lodi: Retail $19. 75% Kerner, 19% Riesling, 6% Bacchus. A wine that Markus says is meant to be refreshing and light–and it is. Lemony nose, bright, reminiscent of Grüner Veltliner. Just slightly off-dry. Nice. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2014 Markus Gewürztraminer Nuvola Lodi: Retail $19. 100% Gewürztraminer. Classic Gewürztraminer nose. Floral and lychee. Completely dry and fantastic flavors but I would love to try this with food as this is outside my experience–it has a razor-sharp focus and is really well made, but there might be a reason that almost every producer of Gewürztraminer leaves a bit of sweetness in there. I need to try this again, but without a doubt, the wine (along with the ’13 Nimmo) that left the longest lasting impression with me. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2013 Markus Nimmo Lodi: Retail $22. 69% Kerner, 11% Gewürztraminer, 10% Riesling, 10% Bacchus. Cork closure. Barrel fermented. Really interesting nose. Is it melon? A touch of caramel? Smoke? On the palate. Whoa. Unlike any white I have ever had. This is really great. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2014 Markus Nimmo Lodi: 71% Kerner, 13% Gewürztraminer, 11% Riesling, 5% Bacchus. Screw cap. Not quite there yet–Markus says it needs a bit of time still, but this is also strange. In a great way. It is closed on the nose and even on the palate but the finish? Off the charts. Now? 89-91 Points, but I would love to have another go at this one 6-12 months out.
Markus is not a one trick pony, however. He dabbles in many different varieties including this Torrontés that he left for me upon leaving.
2014 Markus Joey Insieme Lodi: 95% Torrontés, 5% Riesling. Pineapple and guava. Whoa. What an expressive nose. Vibrant from the jump–great acidity with white peach a go-go. The finish is lengthy and memorable. Another whoa. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
After the tasting, Markus asked us if we had any more questions as he was headed back to the winery. The Swiss are known to be rather athletic and involved in numerous outdoor sports, so seeing the opportunity for a budding young bromance, I pounced:
“Markus, I have to ask, are you a triathlete?”
I figured that he had to be a cyclist of some sort (but I was hoping it was not of the mountain variety), which would immediately create a solid bond, leading to a life-long friendship.
“Actually, no. For exercise I play badminton.”
Now there is something you do not hear everyday.