With the fall wine-grape harvest under way, farm families throughout California are hustling fruit from vineyard to cellar, but few are as busy as the Bogles of Clarksburg.
By the time the last gondola pulls up to the crush pad of Bogle Vineyards, the family will have crushed about 39,000 tons of grapes drawn from several of the state’s prime wine regions, including their own 1,900 acres, 1,500 of which are in the Delta.
With all that fruit they will produce around 2.5 million cases of wine, a total that makes Bogle Vineyards the 11th-largest winery in the United States, according to tracking by the wine-trade magazine Wine Business Monthly. When the magazine began its annual survey 15 years ago, Bogle was the nation’s 22nd-largest winery.
The Bogle family has been farming the Delta since the 1870s but only got into grapes 50 years ago, when Warren V. Bogle, a success at growing seed corn but not so successful at cultivating potatoes, was looking for another crop — preferably one that didn’t require planting every spring.
He settled on 20 acres of wine grapes – 10 each of petite sirah and chenin blanc. He had more success with grapes than he’d had with spuds. Today, no winery in the country makes more petite-sirah wine than Bogle, some 130,000 cases a year.
As for chenin blanc, well, it’s fallen out of favor among Americans, though the Bogles continue to make 1,400 cases a year of their clean, refreshing, delicately sweet take on the grape. Most of it is exported to the United Kingdom and Asia, Japan in particular, where wine enthusiasts remain keen on the variety.
Here, the chenin blanc, with most other Bogle wines, sells for around $9. That’s been the Bogle way — solid, friendly, well-balanced varietal wines at bargain prices. For years, their mantra has been to exceed consumer expectations, to produce $10 wines that taste as if they should cost $20.
The Bogles aren’t tinkering radically with that successful formula, but on the 50th anniversary of their involvement in the wine trade they are expanding their portfolio to include several upscale wines, including the most expensive wine they’ve ever released.
That would be the lush and warm non-vintage Bogle Vineyards Clarksburg Quick Ranch 50 Years Reserve Petite Sirah ($42), with the “Bogle” on the bottle etched in a font based on Warren V. Bogle’s signature. (The wine is available only at the Bogle tasting room in Clarksburg.)
For the first time, they also are introducing an entirely new brand, Juggernaut, a name inspired by the surge in growth at the winery over the past decade. (While the Bogle tasting room remains small and homey at the family’s original spread, their wine is made mostly at a massive newer facility a few miles to the west, large enough to accommodate Bogle’s 90,000 oak barrels and a veritable forest of fermentation tanks.)
“Juggernaut” will be used to represent new styles of wine in the Bogle lineup which recognize the American wine consumer’s willingness to embrace more expensive wines — especially when they are tied to a more precisely defined site than the appellation “California” customarily on their labels.
“Bogle” will remain the signature brand, continuing to stand for value and for a straight-forward interpretation of varietal integrity, said Jody Bogle, the winery’s director of public relations. She, her brother Warren Bogle, the winery’s president and vineyard director, and their brother Ryan Bogle, the winery’s vice president and chief financial officer, represent the sixth generation of Bogles to run the ranch. (Their parents, Chris and Patty Bogle, who guided the winery through its crucial early years, are deceased.)
Their first wine under the new brand is the lean, sharp, spicy and refreshingly fruity Juggernaut 2015 California Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon ($20), which runs to the cherry end of cabernet’s flavor spectrum. Though the wine bears a “California” appellation, most of the fruit that goes into it came from the old Indian Spring vineyard at Penn Valley in Nevada County, a 200-acre development the Bogles long have tapped for grapes and which they bought this spring.
Bogle Vineyards is evolving in several other ways. While the Bogles have been partial to American oak for their barrels, they’ve begun to exploit French oak, principally for the fermenting and aging of a chardonnay released under their Phantom label. The Phantom 2017 Clarksburg Chardonnay ($18), to be released Monday, seizes with joy and equilibrium the force, amplification and endurance that defines California chardonnay at its most flamboyant.
Chardonnay, their top-selling varietal wine, accounts for more than half of Bogle’s estate vineyards and about a quarter of its sales. The family releases three versions. In addition to the Phantom, they make a basic entry-level chardonnay priced in the $9 neighborhood and an oakier, heftier, more complex interpretation, the current version of which is the Bogle 2016 Clarksburg Reserve Chardonnay ($20). In contrast to the similarly styled Phantom, the Bogle Reserve is aged in American rather than French oak, giving it a spicier aroma and more suggestions of brown pie spices in the flavor.
Other wines to represent their push into higher plateaus of the premium market include the husky and expansive Bogle 2015 Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir ($25) and the Bogle 2014 California Reverence Red Wine ($25), a Bordeaux-inspired blend with the fine bones of a European wine and the sunny fruit of a California wine.
Despite the winery’s staggering growth since its founding in 1978, Bogle still projects an image of being a small, relaxed, family enterprise. The tasting room’s bucolic setting just off a narrow levee road deep in the Delta and the winery’s generally demure labels reinforce that perspective. People who go to work for Bogle tend to stick around as if also members of the family. Chris Smith, director of winegrowing, joined Bogle in 1992. Eric Aafedt, director of winemaking, came aboard in 1994.
The Bogles, first and foremost, are farmers, subscribing enthusiastically to a program of sustainable farming that costs them a $25 bonus for each ton of certified grapes they process annually, says Warren Bogle. The program — “California Rules,” a spin-off of Lodi’s pioneering “Lodi Rules” — requires participants to adhere to water, soil, pest and other management standards intended to balance environmental and social values with economic values.
But the family is hip to modern marketing, however restrained they generally go about promoting themselves. Last year, they planted three rows of cabernet sauvignon overlooking right field at Raley Field in West Sacramento, creating what is believed to be the first vineyard at a professional sports stadium in the country. The first commercial crop off the vines is to be harvested a year from now, but whether the fruit will go into a “River Cats Red” or some other wine remains to be seen.
The family’s wine events are customarily low key — small concerts and old-time movie nights, for example. They have, however, restyled their longtime tasting room. They’ve moved it downstairs, and done up the new space strikingly, largely by using staves from 84 oak barrels to create an intricate weave across walls. That clears the way for the upstairs quarters to be converted into “The Family Room,” where guests can reserve a table for a guided tasting. It is expected to open next spring.
And with next week’s release of the Phantom 2017 Clarksburg Chardonnay, they will jump into “augmented reality” wine marketing, whereby consumers with an appropriate app can direct it at the bottle for an animated story about the wine. That kind of story telling also is to be available with the Bogle Phantom Red, a blended wine based on petite sirah.
In addition to reaching the 50th-anniversary milestone, this has been a year of recognition for the Bogles. For one, they were one of two recipients of the California State Fair’s lifetime achievement award. (The other recipient was the Greg Boeger family of Boeger Winery in El Dorado County.)
Secondly, Bogle Winery is one of five wineries contending for American Winery of the Year, to be bestowed by the consumer magazine Wine Enthusiast in January.
In recent years, corporate wine companies have bought several similarly successful family wineries, but Jody Bogle says their massive new winery and their sustainable farming practices are meant to keep the operation in the family “for future generations.” On the flip side, she says the family has no plans of their own to acquire other wineries, “but we aren’t necessarily opposed if the right opportunity came along.”
In the meantime, they aren’t making a particularly big deal of the family’s half century in farming wine grapes. They will mark the anniversary the weekend of Oct. 6 and 7 with tastings, “small bites” and talks by family members and winery staff through the weekend at the Clarksburg tasting room. General admission is $20.
Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at email@example.com.