tempranillo

Great Wines of Lodi, Part III: Bokisch Vineyards

This is the third and final installment in our series on the superior Lodi wineries that we visited over the course of a weekend last month.  We published our three-part series in the chronological order of our winery visits.  We were so impressed with Lodi that we have added wine from three wineries to our online web store, www.topochines.com.

It surprised us to hear that there is a winery in Lodi making outstanding wines exclusively from Spanish varietals.  We wouldn’t have guessed it from the name: Bokisch Vineyards.  After all, Bokisch is as Spanish as, well, Ingersoll (our name).  It turns out that Bokisch Vineyards’ co-founder, Markus Bokisch, is half-Spanish on his mother’s side. Our mother/mother-in-law (Mamá) is also from Spain. This shared upbringing – spending time in Spain during summers and holidays with aunts, uncles and cousins – was one of the things that motivated us to visit Bokisch.  That, and recommendations from over a dozen wine experts imploring us to add Bokisch to our Lodi itinerary.

Our host for the Bokisch tour and tasting was co-founder Liz Bokisch, wife of the aforementioned Markus.  She greeted us as we came in and spent nearly two hours telling us the Bokisch story, giving us a visual tour of the vineyards,  and sharing their portfolio with us.  We started our tasting with Albariño, a classic Spanish wine common to the Rias Baixas region in the northwestern province of Galicia.  We had side-by-side tastings of two different Albariño wines – the 2016 Terra Alta Vineyard and the 2016 Las Cerezas Vineyard.  Although made from grapes sourced from vineyards just a few miles from each other, these two wines were by no means identical. The Terra Alta version was a bit more crisp, having aged 100% in stainless steel.  The Las Cerezas, meanwhile, saw some time in oak which yielded a softer mouthfeel and a longer, rounded finish.

We continued on with the white wines and sampled some delicious wines made from grapes indigenous to Spain.  Our next wine was the 2016 Garnacha Blanca from Vista Luna Vineyard.  Many wine drinkers have encountered this grape varietal as Grenache Blanc, common to the  Rhône region in France; however, the varietal is native to Spain.  Bokisch’s Garnacha Blanca is very light in color, with aromas of apple and stone fruits, and flavor of apple and pear.

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Crisp, refreshing and delicious Grenache Blanc

Our next two wines were made from grapes that sound very similar but are genetically distinct:  Verdehlo and Verdejo, the former a classic Portuguese grape, the latter the star of Spain’s Rueda wine region.  We enjoyed both wines but the Verdejo was a real revelation to us, perhaps because we were expecting a simple, crisp, refreshing white wine.  Of course, the Bokisch 2016 Verdejo was all of these things, but so much more. In addition to the expected aroma and flavor of citrus and stone fruit, the wine was more full-bodied than we expected with a nuttiness on the palate.  We attribute this more complex aroma and flavor profile to the fact that the wine was aged in new French and Acacia barrels.  While most white wines are best consumed within a couple of years of purchase, we believe the Bokisch Verdejo is capable of ageing due to its structure and complexity.

 

After making our way through the Bokisch white wines, it was finally time to turn our attention to their roster of vino tinto.  In our opinion, Tempranillo is the king of all Spanish red grape varietals, although we are biased by the fact that Mamá only liked wine from Rioja.  However, Liz blew us away with two of their other reds, the 2014 Bokisch Garnacha and the 2014 Bokisch Graciano.  Wine aficionados will know that in the past couple of years Garnacha/Grenache have become popular red wines, both for their flavor as well as their relatively low prices.  This Bokisch take on Garnacha was true to the Spanish expression:  lovely rose and strawberry aromatics complemented by a bit of spice.  On the palate the strawberry was complemented by cranberry and raspberry and a spicy finish.  Certainly Mamá would not approve of our saying this, but Garnacha is currently our favorite red wine.

Our next Bokisch red wine was a single-varietal wine made from the Graciano grape, which is not so common in the U.S. but a key grape in Spain’s Rioja region.  Because of its deep color and intense flavor, Graciano most often finds itself blended in with Tempranillo in Rioja’s highest quality wines and contributes to their ability to age.  Recently, some bodegas in Rioja have started making single-varietal wines from Graciano.  After tasting the 2016 Bokisch Graciano, we are looking forward to sampling some 100% Graciano when we go to Rioja later this Spring.

 

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A wine geek’s wine

The first thing that captured our attention when Liz poured the Graciano was its color.  Often wine notes will refer to a wine as “inky,” but usually that means darker purple.  This Bokisch Graciano really is inky – a dark and brooding color. On the nose, there were no red fruits, just more darkness – blackberry, plum, coffee, dark chocolate.  On the palate, the fruit was balanced beautifully with acidity with strong tannins leading to a long finish.  We like to think that Mamá would have enjoyed this wine as it resembles the strong, masculine, dry Rioja wines that she loved the most.

Our final Bokisch red wine was the 2014 Tempranillo, a faithful representation of this Rioja varietal and a wine that we are sure Mamá would have enjoyed, albeit grudgingly.

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This Bokisch Lodi Tempranillo honors the style of Rioja

Dark ruby in color, the Bokisch Tempranillo presented aromas of cherry, plum, cedar and a hint of clove.  On the palate, dark fruits mixed with earth, resulting in a more balanced Tempranillo than we have encountered from other U.S. wineries.  Having spent 18 months in new American and French oak, the wine has a luscious, almost silky texture without tasting over-oaked.

After we made our way through what seemed like the entire portfolio of Bokisch wines, Liz let us know that they have a second label (Tizona) that features wines that are not native to the Iberian peninsula.  Markus and Liz wanted to keep the Bokisch label purely focused on Spanish wines, but also wanted to offer wines that are more classically Lodi.  We tasted a Tizona Zinfandel that was rich, structured, balanced, and a fantastic addition to the Zinfandel offerings in Lodi.  We also tasted the Bokisch 2016 Late Harvest Graciano, a ridiculously good dessert wine that we also purchased and consumed almost immediately after arriving home.

A hallmark of a great winery – and winemaker – is when the portfolio of wines smell and taste consistent.  This consistency comes from having a specific approach to viticulture and enology:  how to tend the grapes; when to pick; yeast inoculation protocol; and ageing.  Markus Bokisch is in charge of the grape growing for the 80-acre estate parcel that surrounds the winery and he has consistent practices for how he tends his vines.  100% of the Bokisch Vineyards are certified organic as well as sustainable; in fact, Markus Bokisch provides vineyard management services on over 2,800 acres of vines within 5 of the Lodi Sub-AVAsand Clarksburg AVAs.  Many of these vineyards have been or are being converted to organic-certified.  Complementing Markus’ organic farming practices are winemaker Elyse Perry’s hands-off approach in the cellar.  Her respect for each grape varietal is evident in the fact that the Bokisch Spanish wines resemble their Spanish counterparts in their aroma, flavor and texture.

John & Irene Ingersoll                                                                                                                  March 20, 2018

We are in the process of adding three Bokisch wines to our online wine store, www.topochines.com.  We will publish an update when these wines are available.

 

Vidon Vineyards – Making Wine is Rocket Science

One of the wines in our Topochines Vino Wine Store is from Oregon winery Vidon Vineyard whose winemaker Don Hagge we met recently and enjoyed a tasting of over a dozen of his wines.  The 2016 Vidon Rosé of Pinot Noir is available here for $20.00 per bottle.

We recently ran across a book that asserts “wine is not rocket science.”  After our recent trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we are not so sure.  One of the wineries we visited as we were scouting wines for our Topochines Vino Wine Store is Vidon Vineyard, located just outside of the town of Newburg in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Vidon’s founder and winemaker, Don Hagge, is a rocket scientist.  Referring to Don as a rocket scientist is not a generic way of saying that he is a really smart guy.  Don is a rocket scientist. Literally.  Before starting his wine career at the age of 69, Don worked at NASA as Chief of the Physics Branch at the Manned Space Flight Center (now called the Johnson Space Center).  So, you see, he really is a rocket scientist.

After completing a 2-year tour in Korea in Naval aviation, Don returned to the University of California, Berkeley (Go Bears!) to complete his engineering degree.  While at Berkeley, Don had the opportunity to study and work with Ernest Lawrence, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics (for inventing the cyclotron) and the founder of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.  After receiving his PhD, Don did post-graduate work at Lawrence Berkeley Lab and the Centre d’Etudes de Physique Nucléaire in Paris.  He then joined NASA and supported a number of key space Apollo space missions including Apollo 11 (Armstrong’s moon landing) and Apollo 13.  Transitioning from government to private work, Don moved to Silicon Valley and had a long, successful career managing high tech organizations.

When we first heard Don’s story, we wondered how this stellar scientific career would translate to winemaking.  After tasting his wines, we can say the translation is perfect.  In everything he does, Don applies his scientific knowledge and challenges pre-existing assumptions about the best way to grow grapes and make wine.  His goal is to continue finding ways to do things more efficiently through a test-and-learn approach:  try something new, measure the result, and implement the new solution if it is indeed better.  Although several wine makers told us their preference for screw tops vs. corks, Don made his case the way a scientist would – with data.

 

Most wine consumers are aware that a certain percentage of wines are ruined each year as a result of “cork taint,” which involves the cork being tainted by the chemical 2,4,6-trichloroanisole.  While the cork industry claims taint occurs in only 1-2 percent of all bottles, the above data suggests otherwise, with 2007 showing a nearly 10% frequency of taint.  For their white wines, Don uses a screw top; for the red wines, he uses a glass stopper rather than the traditional cork.  In addition to avoiding cork taint, he points out that the use of cork results in unacceptable variability in aged wine.  As he explains, a case of red wine that has been aged 10-15 years will have 12 different wines because each cork is different and the oxygen entry will vary by bottle.  Generally, wine consumers that age wine are looking for consistency not variability.  If there is a theme to Don’s use of science at the winery, it is to eliminate variability in the process so that each wine tastes the way that it should.

To strengthen the scientific fire power in the tasting room, Don decided to double the number of PhD’s from one to two by hiring David Bellows to assist with the wine making.  A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Arizona, Dave received his PhD from the John’s Hopkins School of Medicine.  Complementing Don’s physics training, Dave is a molecular biologist and has long had an interest in wine.  Together, these two run Vidon’s cellar like a lab with more emphasis on predictability and and little to no worry about following conventional methods simply for the sake of tradition.

During our visit at Vidon, we tasted at least a dozen wines, starting with the several 2016 Vidon white whites:  Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Viognier.

These wines were exquisite examples of their variety – aromatic, crisp and dry – and very nice values at $20.00.  We also tasted the 2015 Chardonnay, a lovely “French-style” Chardonnay with crispness and nice acidity but also a lovely yellow/gold color and a full-bodied texture.  Before moving on to the red wines, Don poured for us his 2016 Vidon Rosé of Pinot Noir, easily our favorite rosé from among the many we tasted during this Oregon excursion.  We made room in our car for a few cases of the 2016 Vidon Rosé so that we could get them up on our website as soon as we got home.  This wine has a gorgeous light-salmon color and a beautiful aroma of cherry and apricot with a hint of strawberry.  On the palate, the wine is clean and crisp, balancing the fruit flavors with nice acidity to provide a long finish.  While perfect for summer, we think this rosé drinks just fine in Fall and Winter as well.

Moving on to the red wines, we tasted the entire range of Vidon Pinot Noir offerings, three of them named after a different Hagge grandchild – Brigitta, Mirabelle and Hans.  Measured by total case production, the top Pinot Noir is the “3-Clones.”

This particular Pinot Noir is produced from three different Pinot Noir clones, while the “grandchildren” wines are produced from a single pinot noir clone (777, 115, Pommard) from grapes grown in different blocks on the 20-acre property, of which 12.5 acres are planted to vines.

We thoroughly enjoyed these wines and they clearly reflect Don’s hands-off approach to winemaking.  We could definitely discern differences between vintages of the same wine as well as the difference between, for example, the Mirabelle Pinot Noir (clone 115) and the Hans (Pommard clone).  As part of Don’s non-interventionist approach to making wine, he generally avoids new oak in fermentation resulting in subtler wines rather than the bolder, fruit-forward wines that many Oregon producers favor as they search for high scores from wine reviewers.  Despite this approach, however, the Vidon wines have managed to accumulate an impressive array of scores from the top wine publications.

This is one of Don’s favorite fact sheets in the tasting room as it shows the price difference between his 94-point-rated Pinot Noir and wines from some well-known names in Willamette Valley whose prices are 2.5 times higher per bottle.  For us, this was one of the key takeaways of the visit to Vidon:  the focus on making high quality at prices much more approachable than many places we have visited in the past.

As we drove away from the Vidon tasting room, one of us said to the other, “When I grow up, I want to be Don.”  We were mesmerized by his incredible life story, but even more captivated by the courage and passion to try something so different at the age of 69 and to be still fully engaged at 85.  Make no mistake, Don is no figure head or chairman emeritus at Vidon Vineyard.  He can still be seen riding a tractor in the vineyards or doing punch downs in the cellar.

Irene & John Ingersoll

December 6, 2017

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