Dunne on Wine

Dunne on Wine: Clarksburg’s Bogle goes big, bold

Six generations of the Bogle family have farmed in the Delta.
Six generations of the Bogle family have farmed in the Delta.

Sacramento wine buffs accustomed to visiting Bogle Vineyards just outside Clarksburg in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta know what to expect at the tasting room.

There’s the ragged and narrow levee road leading up to the place, the small parking apron next to the vineyard, and the calm and cozy picnic area below the deck. Inside, the labels and the wines on the counter look pretty much as they always have. Over the years, not much has changed.

What visitors might not know is that a few miles due west is another branch of Bogle Vineyards. The atmosphere there is all business on an industrial scale. There’s no tasting room, but the sprawling facility has everything else the modern winery needs, and a whole lot of it.

We’re talking a forest of 138 fermentation and storage tanks, six of them 32 feet tall and capable of holding 129,000 gallons of wine each; six massive Italian bladder presses, and a 200,000-square-foot structure with 80,000 oak barrels and room for 20,000 more. The Bogles crushed 33,000 tons of grapes at the winery this past harvest. They expect to crush 38,000 tons this fall.

Construction of the $60 million complex began in 2009. The first crush on the site was in 2011. And they aren’t finished. Tanks continue to be assembled, barrels continue to arrive. An entirely separate warehouse in West Sacramento is in the works.

“We were making so much wine outside (the home winery) that the business wasn’t sustainable. We had to decide whether to stay in the business and build a winery, or get out,” says Warren Bogle, the winery president and vineyard manager.

He’s a member of the sixth generation of Bogles to farm the Delta, overseeing 1,700 acres of wine grapes that began with 10 acres each of petite sirah and chenin blanc planted by his grandfather and father, then still in high school, in 1968, when the region still ran largely to pears, asparagus and sugar beets.

Early on, the Bogle brand became recognized for varietal wines true to type and of high quality at value prices, a heritage that the current generation of Bogles is keen to preserve. They have the vineyards and the winemaking acumen to create a cabernet sauvignon that could sell for $100 a bottle, but that category isn’t tempting them.

“I don’t see us coming out with a $50 Bogle wine,” says Warren Bogle. “We want to continue to make a $10 wine that tastes like a $20 wine, or an $18 wine that tastes like a $40 wine.”

In addition to Warren Bogle, the siblings who run the winery are Jody Bogle VanDePol, in charge of international sales and consumer affairs, and Ryan Bogle, vice president.

While they are guarded in talking of the winery’s growth and success, they acknowledge that yearly production now tops 2 million cases, that no winery in the country produces more petite sirah (approaching 200,000 cases), and that chardonnay is their most popular varietal wine, accounting for almost a quarter of their sales. They make around 500,000 cases of chardonnay each harvest, and it’s become the sixth-most popular chardonnay in the country as measured by sales principally in grocery stores.

In January, the trade magazine Wine Business Monthly listed Bogle as the nation’s 12th-most-productive winery, up from 22nd a decade earlier. The growth came fast. Before the new winery, Chris Smith, director of wine growing, and Eric Aafedt, director of winemaking, traveled frantically about Northern California each harvest, overseeing production at leased quarters in seven other wineries.

The new plant largely has eliminated that scramble, though Smith still travels extensively as he keeps in touch with more than 100 farmers in the 14 California counties where the Bogles buy grapes.

The close ties that the family and Smith keep with growers is a key factor in maintaining the consistency that is crucial to the winery’s continued relevance and prosperity, says Warren Bogle.

Another factor, says Smith, is Bogle’s barrel program. Bogle virtually stands alone as a producer that continues to age $10 wines in oak barrels. Other operators in that price niche frequently opt for barrel substitutes such as oak chips.

The Bogles can afford it because they believe in American oak, barrels of which cost a third of what coopers ask for French oak barrels, says Aafedt. But his preference for American oak is driven by aesthetics as much as economics.

No longer are wineries limited to leftover barrels of American oak from the whiskey trade, he says. Instead, American coopers have improved their craftsmanship and have adapted to the particular desires of the country’s vintners.

In Bogle’s case, that means fine-grained oak barrels that have been only slowly and lightly toasted, not charred. Compared with customary French oak barrels, the American barrels bring softer tannins and more subtle notes of smoke, spice and vanilla to wines, preserving the fresh and forward fruit flavors that define the Bogle style.

While the Bogles continue to stand for direct and accessible interpretations of mainstream varietal wines, they aren’t averse to shaking up their portfolio on occasion. They are traditionalists in that they believe in getting grapes from sites where the fruit has been shown to shine, then delivering wines that are friendly and understandable. Their philosophy has run more to craftsmanship than marketing.

With the vintage of 2009, however, the winemaking side of the winery yielded to the marketing side and agreed to create a wine that would tap into one of trade’s fast-growing segments: blended red wines. “It’s a wine by committee,” says Jody Bogle VanDePol. “There won’t be a second time.”

Her words read more rueful than they sounded, and she just might be persuaded to change her mind given the huge success of the wine-by-committee. Indeed, she oversaw the filming of an eight-minute video to document the collaborative effort. It captures with wit, insight and sensitivity the tension that can exist between a winery’s winemaking and wine-marketing branches.

The salespeople wanted the blend sweet, but the winemakers argued that a sweet wine in their largely dry lineup would confuse and possibly upset Bogle’s core customers.

They also kicked around scores of potential names for the blend, including Heritage Red, Sentinel Red, The Maverick, The Stranger, The Devoted, The Boss and Foursome, the latter inspired by the four grapes to go into the wine – petite sirah, zinfandel, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.

They settled on Essential Red. After just three vintages, it became the winery’s third-most popular wine (it trails chardonnay and merlot in sales). Sometimes something created by committee works.

The Bogle team jokes about other potential new products.

“I want to make a gin,” says Smith.

“A Bogle bourbon would be perfect,” adds Warren Bogle.

Chances are, however, they won’t go down that road anytime soon. They have their hands full with the wine business, which remains highly competitive – more than 8,000 wineries are spread about the United States – and the segment they occupy is especially intense, with consumers showing new eagerness to trade up.

“We have to keep over-delivering (in quality for value),” says Smith.

“Our new winery gives us an edge,” says Aafedt. “Our wines keep getting better.”

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 mikedunne@winegigs.com.

BOGLE VINEYARDS

The tasting room is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends at 37783 County Road 144, Clarksburg. Driving directions are at the Bogle website,

www.boglewinery.com.

Roughly 70 percent of the grapes in Bogle wines are grown in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta and Lodi, but they also bring in fruit from such outlying districts as Russian River Valley, Monterey County and Amador County.

Here are my impressions of several current and pending Bogle releases, customarily priced $9 to $12 per bottle:

▪ Bogle 2013 California Sauvignon Blanc: The first Bogle wine to be packaged entirely in a screw-cap bottle, the 2013 is clearly modeled on New Zealand’s success with the varietal, delivering brisk suggestions of lime against a zesty backdrop of refreshing acidity.

▪ Bogle 2013 California Chardonnay: Half fermented in new barrels of American oak, half in stainless steel, the chardonnay is unusually rich and complex for the $9 price bracket.

▪ Bogle 2014 Clarksburg Chenin Blanc: Though it’s the varietal that most distinguishes the terroir of Clarksburg, chenin blanc is a tough sell, at least in the U.S. The Bogles, however, have no trouble selling their version in the United Kingdom, Finland and Japan. What do wine enthusiasts there like about the wine? Must be its lean build, delicate pear flavor, refreshing acidity and slight sweetness. “I refuse to let it die,” says Jody Bogle VanDePol about chenin blanc.

▪ Bogle 2013 California Pinot Noir: About 40 percent of the fruit in the 2013 was grown in Russian River Valley, arguably the highest regarded appellation for pinot noir in California. When coupled with grapes from Monterey County and Clarksburg, the wine delivers a brilliant, flavorful, slightly smoky and easily drinkable take on the varietal.

▪ Bogle 2013 California Old Vine Zinfandel: The sleeper in the Bogle stable, which isn’t widely recognized for zinfandel. By its concentrated and sunny boysenberry fruit and dashes of spice, however, the wine shows off its proud heritage – head-trained, dry-farmed vines averaging 60 years old in Amador County and Lodi.

▪ Bogle 2012 California Cabernet Sauvignon: The grapes came from all over, including Sonoma County and Lodi, but the wine is a seamless and lingering expression of sweet fruit, reserved oak and gentle tannins.

▪ Bogle 2013 California Petite Sirah: Petite sirah is meant to be densely colored and firm with tannins, and this is – though the chewiness of the tannins is balanced by an alluring floral aroma and the jamminess of ripe berries in flavor.

▪ Bogle 2011 California Phantom: At $18, Phantom is one of the pricier entries in the Bogle lineup. The 2011 Phantom is a pomegranate-laced, cedar-kissed, crisply refreshing blend of petite sirah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and mourvedre. It sells out quickly at the winery each vintage, but some still can be found in markets; the 2012 is to be released in July.

▪ Bogle 2013 California Essential Red: The official wine of National Pizza Month last October, Essential Red is a ripe, juicy, balanced and eucalyptus-accented blend of petite sirah, zinfandel, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.

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