LODI — Steve Borra opened Lodi’s first bonded boutique winery in 1975 on property along Armstrong Road near where his mother was born.
Borra’s wife, Beverly Bowman, was born across the street from where the winery stands today.
Plenty of joy, sweat and tears have been invested by the family in building Borra Vineyards into a respected purveyor of fine wines. Changes are coming to the company. And though change almost never is easy, in the wine industry, it’s the norm.
That might explain why Borra didn’t sound sentimental that his label is going away, at least temporarily. Rather, the 74-year-old Lodi wine grape grower and winemaking pioneer seemed pragmatic about the future of his brand during a recent telephone conversation.
“We won’t see the Borra label for a while,” Borra said. “Right now, we’re changing the focus on making wine under different labels for other wineries, which has become rather profitable. As a tasting room, it just never was profitable.”
Borra’s tasting room is somewhat isolated on Armstrong Road just east of Lower Sacramento Road. The tasting room hasn’t attracted enough wine-buying customers to be profitable. So, Borra will instead focus on selling wine in bulk to out-of-state wineries to meet their growing demand.
“Now, the wine leaves by the pallet rather than the bottle,” he said. “When it leaves by the bottle, there are a lot of costs involved.”
Borra will continue to manage his vineyards in the Lodi American Viticultural Area, but his current and pending releases will be the last to carry the Borra label unless someone in his family takes on the business.
“I’m kind of winding down, retiring until someone else in my family decides to do it,” he said. “The winery’s not going away. I’ve got grandkids coming up, and if someone wants to do it, it’ll be there for them.”
Markus Niggli, 43, has been making wine for Borra Vineyards since he joined the company 11 years ago. He will continue to make wine for Borra’s clients as well as for his own label, Markus Wine Company, at Borra’s facility.
“Markus is being allowed to produce his label at my facility temporarily until he finds his own spot,” Borra said. “Nothing changes in the vineyards and a little will change in the winery, but not a lot. We’re going to allow him to do his own label, too, until he can find a place.”
Niggli started Markus Wine Company about four years ago. His new lineup will include syrah, old vine carignane, a petite sirah blend and an old vine zinfandel or petit verdot, as well as white blends and standalones using German and Austrian varietals grown by the Koth family in Lodi. He also makes a blend made with torrontes from Ron Silva in the Lodi AVA and traminette from a winery in North Carolina. Last year, he sourced gewürztraminer from Clarksburg.
Niggli, who is Swiss-born, makes dry wines with beautiful aromatics and crisp acidity. He’s helping showcase Lodi’s diversity as a winegrowing region.
“You don’t get rich off this stuff, but I think you can make a difference,” Niggli said. “Lodi is a region with diversity in it. All of these different varietals out there we can grow here. Being different is the key. You can lead or follow and as a region we have to lead. We have the capability here.”
Borra Vineyards’ tasting room at 1301 E. Armstrong Road is open the last weekend of each month. Spring releases will be available for tasting from noon to 5 p.m. March 24-26. Markus’ new releases will be offered from noon to 5 p.m. April 28-30. Private tastings with Niggli can be scheduled at borravineyards.com.
“It’s a little deeper, more information, a little more detail oriented,” said Niggli, describing the private tasting experience. “I think that’s what people are looking for.”