Changes coming to Borra Vineyards

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.”


Steve Borra, left, and Markus Niggli have collaborated at Borra Vineyards in Lodi since 2006.

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

“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.”


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Crack open some crab and some bottles

It’s crab feed season in these parts.

Many civic organizations raise funds by throwing shin-digs with tasty Dungeness crab cracked and ready to be consumed.

At most of the crab feeds I’ve attended over the years, the star attraction is marinated, usually in olive oil, garlic, lemon and parsley. Sometimes, Dungeness in its good-old, plain, unadorned glory is offered, which is my preference. I’ve seen people bring rice cookers, lemon wedges, vinegar, sterno butter pots and other gadgets to enhance the cracking, flavorful fun. Me? I usually bring a bottle — or two or three — of wine to share with the group, if permitted by the organizers of the crab feed.

I have some personal favorites, but I also asked other wine/crab-feed aficionados for their picks. As you’ll see, everyone’s palate is different, so the lesson here is: drink what you like.

Markus Niggli's Nativo is a blend of German varietals grown by the Koth family at Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

My picks include the 2015 Markus Wine Company Nativo, Lodi ($19). Winemaker Markus Niggli’s intriguing array of off-the-grid blends includes his vibrant Nativo made from Kerner, Riesling, Bacchus and Gewurztraminer all grown at the Koth family’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyard. Fermented in stainless steel using native yeast and no malolactic fermentation, there’s lychee, peach, lemon and lime zest, honeysuckle and bright acidity.

I also like the 2014 Ginglinger-Fix Gewurztraminer, Vin d’Alsace AOC ($25). From the Alsace region of France, this aromatic and versatile food wine with floral notes, orange peel, baking spices, and honey is medium bodied with nice acid.

Ginglinger-Fix Gewurztraminer is from the Alsace region in northeast France. BOB HIGHFILL/THE RECORD

Mark Ellis, owner of Madison Wine Company in Stockton, said an un-oaked chardonnay or sauvignon blanc is the way to go.

“There’s a popular, new style of chardonnay called ‘no oak’ chardonnay with no barrel fermentation,” he said. “It’s just real clean and fruit forward. That’s what I’d take to crab feeds. That would be the style that I would pick.”

Ellis’ pick is the 2014 Morgan Metallico Chardonnay ($22) made with fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco and Monterey appellations. Metallico is un-oaked and does not go through malolactic fermentation. The grapes are whole-cluster pressed, cold-tanked fermented and aged five months in stainless steel. Perfect with shellfish and light summer fare.

Randy Caparoso is a sommelier and writer for the Lodi Winegrape Commission and other outlets. COURTESY

Randy Caporoso, sommelier and wine writer for the Lodi Winegrape Commission and other outlets, said any white wine with high, lemony acid and moderate alcohol in the 12.5 to 13.9 percent range is ideal.

Randy’s picks include the German blends by the aforementioned Markus Wine Company, as well as Borra Vineyards, Susan Tipton’s Picpoul from Acquiesce Winery, Grenache Blanc from Fields Family Wines, Bokisch Vineyards’ Garnacha Blanca and most Vermentinos, including those made by Uvaggio and Prie. These wineries are in the Lodi AVA or source fruit (Uvaggio) from Lodi and range in price from the high-teens to the high-20s.

Peter Bourget and Nancy Brazil, authors of the must-read wine blog, suggest pairing a crab feast with wines from the western Loire Valley of France. Muscadet Sevre et Maine is an appellation southeast of Nantes near the Atlantic Ocean. Its wines – comprised of Melon de Bourgogne (Muscat) – are floral, fruity, flinty and high in acid. Peter and Nancy also like sparkling wine that isn’t sweet with crab. In the sparkling wine department, Caporoso suggests the LVVR Sparking Cellars Brut ($20) or the LVVR Blanc de Blancs ($20), two outstanding sparkling wines crafted in the Methode Champenoise by Ohio transplant Eric Donaldson at Tuscan Wine Village in Lockeford. Both are dry and nutty, crisp and palate-cleansing.

Time to get cracking.

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Lodi wineries take home the hardware

Many Lodi wineries started 2017 on a positive note by garnering big awards at prestigious competitions.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition early last month included some 7,000 entries from wineries in 28 states. Wineries from the Lodi American Viticultural Area or wineries with fruit from Lodi took home 245 medals, including eight that were awarded Best of Class (for a complete listing of winners, go to

• 2015 Bokisch Vineyards, Terra-Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills-Lodi Albarino

• 2014 Bokisch Vineyards, Lodi, Tempranillo

• 2013 Jessie’s Grove, Lodi, Ancient Vine Carignane

• 2014 Loma Prieta, Lodi, Petite Sirah

• 2015 Macchia, Mischievous, Lodi Zinfandel

• 2014 Oak Farm, Lodi, Petit Verdot

• 2014 OZV, Lodi, Zinfandel (Oak Ridge)

• 2014 Lodi Zynthesis, Lodi, Zinfandel

Here are highlights on two of the Best of Class winners:

2014 Oak Farm, Lodi, Petit Verdot ($34)

Sourced from the Elk Vineyard in the Borden Ranch American Viticultural Area of Lodi, where the soils just begin to turn red at slight elevation in the Sierra Foothills, Oak Farm owner Dan Panella said he and winemaker Chad Joseph did little to influence the wine and instead let the fruit speak for itself. Panella said Cabernet Sauvignon aficionados would appreciate his Petit Verdot, which is big but approachable.

“Even though it’s big, it’s very pleasant, not overbearing,” Panella said. “It strikes a nice balance of being bold and at the same time, it’s elegant.”

2013 Jessie’s Grove, Lodi, Ancient Vine Carignane (NA)

Fruit from a five-acre, 128-year-old plot and an eight-acre, 117-year-old plot comes into play in this deep and complex wine.

“It’s the age of the vine that makes the difference,” said Jessie Grove’s owner, grower and winemaker Greg Burns, who was a judge at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. “It has such an antiquity to it. It creates some uniqueness in the flavor profile with that age. Ancient vine carries an intrinsic value of depth and complexity.”

At the 10th annual American Fine Wine Competition last month in Dade County, Florida, only 800 wines from around the country were entered. Why? The AFWC is invitation-only. Its organizers combed Lodi last September looking for wines worthy of being entered. It’s a tough cut and Lodi more than held its own.

Just more than half of the entrants, 461, received Best of Show, Best of Class, Double Gold, Gold or Gold medal honors. Of those, 18 came from Lodi, a good haul considering only about 2 percent of the total entries were from Lodi.

Lodi’s lone Best of Class winner was the 2014 Oak Farm, Lodi, Grenache. Double Gold recognition went to the 2013 Bokisch, Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills, Lodi, Garnacha.

Gold medals went to three Lodi zinfandels: the 2014 Earthquake by Michael David Winery, the 2013 Klinker Brick Marisa Vineyard and the 2013 Lust by Michael David.

In the crowded Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon categories, the 2015 Harney Lane Winery emerged with Gold, as did with 2014 Michael David Chardonnay. Both wines retail for $25 and $16, respectively, a mere pittance compared to entries from Napa and Sonoma. Michael David’s 2014 Lodi Cabernet Franc ($35) earned Double Gold against heavy hitters from Napa and Sonoma whose wines cost more than twice as much.

Overall, Lodi’s producers have much to be proud of, as their wines continue to garner recognition in some of the most respected competitions in the nation.

Wine & Chocolate Weekend

The Lodi Wine & Chocolate Weekend is celebrating its 20th year with a nod to the Roaring 20s.

Some 50 wineries in the Lodi AVA are taking part Saturday and Sunday. Many wineries will offer special wine tastings, chocolate treats, as well as small bites and live music.

This year, participants are encouraged to dress in outfits from the days of speakeasies, Prohibition and Al Capone. Organizers are sponsoring a costume contest on Instagram with one lucky winner taking home a prize package.

Tickets are $55 in advance and $65 the days of the event. Wine club members can receive a $10 discount through their winery. Tickets are good both days. Designated drivers are free. Information:

– Lodi Wine Commission writer and blogger Randy Caparoso contributed to this story

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Prime Table Steakhouse has prime time wine list

The magical interplay between food and wine when brilliantly executed can be a memorable experience.

Arezou Soleimani and Lauren O’Leary are passionate wine enthusiasts and foodies who took great care in developing the wine list for the new Prime Table Steakhouse in Lincoln Center with the hope of delivering a memorable food and wine experience.

Soleimani is the beverage director at Prime Table and Market Tavern, also in Lincoln Center, and O’Leary is owner of Nipote Wine Imports and a wine educator and restaurant consultant. They spent some nine months compiling Prime Table’s wine list, which includes several domestic and international selections to go with the restaurant’s steak, prime rib, salmon and vegetarian entrée selections.

Prime Table offers wines by the glass, half-bottle and full-bottle formats from familiar regions in California, including Lodi, Napa and Sonoma, as well as imports from Italy, France, Spain and Argentina — wines not commonly offered on area restaurant wine lists.

“The goal with such a strong international wine list as this is to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone when it comes to wine,” Soleimani said. “The goal is to get people to start a conversation about wine and understand that there is more to life than a rib eye and a Napa cab.”

Lauren O'Leary, left, sommelier and wine consultant, and Arezou Soleimani, beverage director sit at the bar at Prime Table Market and Tavern. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD PHOTO

Soleimani and O’Leary enjoy exposing people to something unexpected; blowing their minds with wines they’ve never tried or ever heard of before. They want to challenge their diners without being pretentious or intimidating. Wine should be enjoyed, they said, not stressed over.

“We don’t want to be those people who talk down to a table and they are intimidated,” said Soleimani, who used to work at Papapavlo’s restaurant in Lincoln Center. “Our service here is so approachable that anybody can pull us out and talk to a table about some different stuff.”

For instance, Soleimani might suggest the Doña Paula Estate, Torrontès, Valle de Cafayate, Salta, Argentina, 2011 ($32, full bottle) as an aperitif or with Prime Table’s French onion soup, griddled thick-cut bacon or wild shrimp cocktail instead of chardonnay, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. Foods with fat, like the griddled thick-cut bacon, or salinity, such as the shrimp cocktail or most any type of seafood, pair well with Torrontès, the most popular white wine in Argentina. Grown at a higher altitude, this light-gold colored wine from the Salta region has medium-high acidity, minerality, tropical fruit, such as lychee and pineapple, floral perfume and a hint of petrol, similar to Riesling.

“For me, the hopes of bringing on a wine like this in a city like Stockton is wine education,” O’Leary said. “We could definitely say there are some serious wine drinkers in Stockton, but to get people to open up their palates and minds to something like this is the end-all goal for me.”

The Chateau Teyessier, Pezat, Bordeaux Superieur, 2012 ($45, full bottle) is an entry-level Bordeaux at an approachable price point. This is the style of red wine Soleimani drank when visiting family in the South of France. Classic terroir-driven, earthy mushroom nose with blue fruit, plums, anise and a hint of French oak. It’s a nice alternative to cabernet sauvignon or merlot with red meat.

“This was the approachable import that both of us were hoping to put on a wine list like this,” Soleimani said. “People who are going to take a risk on a $45 bottle of Bordeaux, I would think, wouldn’t be disappointed by this.”

Among the big hitters on the list, The Arena, Amarone DOCG, 2008 ($75, full bottle) is a dry, rich red wine from Valpolicella in the Veneto region of Italy. Made from Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes that have been picked late and partially dried in the sun to concentrate the flavors and sugars, Amarone has complexity, elegance, power and finesse. The Arena from Tony Sasa is full-bodied with aromas of dried flowers, chocolate-covered raisins, tar and tobacco. It’s a powerhouse with a velvety texture.

“I love this wine,” O’Leary said. “This is the definition of complexity. You’ll get salt, you’ll get chocolate, you’ll get soy sauce, you’ll get brown sugar, you’ll get fermented flavors. This is a fun wine to pair with red meat.”

Prime Table Steakhouse offers a memorable food and wine experience, and a wonderful opportunity to try something different.

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Exuberance in a bottle

ACAMPO – Cassandra Durst wakes up every day believing it will be the best day of her life.

Her infectious optimism and exuberance are big reasons why her winery on Acampo Road has fast become a fan favorite and a must visit on the Lodi wine trail since it opened in 2014.

When you visit Durst Winery and Estate, expect to be welcomed by the wine dogs, Jack and Gracie, before you taste her wines and stroll the beautiful grounds. Chances are you’ll get a hug from her and feel like part of the family before you leave.

Minutes into a recent visit, Durst had me drive her to a tiny vineyard just more than a mile from her estate where she and Tom Hoffman, owner of Heritage Oak Winery, source Charbono grapes. As we drove on North Tretheway Road past gnarly head-trained vines on one side and neatly trellised vines on the other, Durst explained the mysterious history of the Charbono vineyard.

Story goes the vines are either Inglenook cuttings planted by a young suitor courting a young woman in the 1940s, or they simply were planted by the property owners in the 1970s.

“The young couple story just seems to make sense,” said Durst, “because I want it to.”

In any case, the vineyard had been neglected for many years before it was brought back to life. Now, the tiny parcel on what Durst described as potting soil is responsible for the rare treat that is Charbono, the second most popular red wine grape in Argentina behind Malbec but a virtual unknown in this country.

After taking some photos of the vineyard, we returned to the winery which rests behind Cassandra’s and husband Dan’s gorgeous two-story Santa Barbara Spanish revival house, which they renovated in the late 1990s.

Before we sampled the Charbono, tasting room manager Danielle Zoller brought out a chilled glass of Durst’s Amada Mia White made from the Symphony grape. In 1948, UC Davis grape scientist Dr. Harold Olmo crossed Muscat of Alexandria with Grenache Gris to create a white wine grape that would flourish in Lodi. The grape sat on the shelf for decades before the Kautz family, owners of Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, planted Symphony on Victor Road in Lodi.

Durst’s Amada Mia has tropical and stone fruit on the nose with orange peel and an enticing floral component on the palate. The flavor is not overly sweet and the medium-high acid strikes a nice balance. Think about pairing this wine with gooey cheeses or with food that has sweetness and/or chili heat, such as Indian, Thai or Mexican food. It also would be great as an aperitif.

“It’s very unique, in that, it’s not uber sweet,” Durst said. “It’s just off-dry. There is the slightest bit of residual sugar. I intentionally went into it as a dry wine and got just a little bit of sweetness there. And so every single year, we do it the same way.”

Cassandra and I then sampled her Charbono. The color was dark and inky. Blueberry pie, blackberries, plums and a savory, meaty aroma that made me think of bacon were on the nose. The body was surprisingly light given the intense, dark color that suggested it would have a much heavier mouth feel. The flavors had medium intensity and were consistent with the nose. The high acid and tannins give the wine considerable aging potential. This would pair with cheeses, grilled Portobello mushrooms, steaks, stews, and pastas with tomato-based sauces. Durst also suggested chilling her Charbono to about 60 degrees before sipping it on its own.

“It’s not big flavors. It’s rather delicate,” she said. “It’s totally unique. You just can’t compare it with anything else.”

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New director has great stories to tell

Wendy Brannen is the new executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD PHOTO

LODI – Early in her professional career, after a short stint in banking, Wendy Brannen was a television news anchor and reporter.
Her favorite stories were those that helped people, brought interesting subjects to light or had a nostalgic flair.
Though her career path has changed, the Georgia native who loves college football Saturdays in the fall still is telling stories that touch on the elements she holds dear.
In early November, Brannen officially took the reins as Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, which represents 85 wineries and some 750 growers who manage more than 100,000 acres in the Lodi American Viticultural Area. Among her myriad duties is relaying to the public near and far the stories of Lodi’s growers and winemakers.
“I always feel like what I do in this iteration of my career is very similar to what I did in the news industry, because you are still telling stories,” Brannen said. “And with farmers and these unique crops or products, there are so many good stories. Just looking at Lodi, we have so many fifth-generation families and back stories.
“You can just name off the top of your head dozens of great, unique Lodi stories, so it is very fun for me to be able to continue to tell great interesting stories in a way that helps the people I’m working for and that’s very much like my history in TV news.”
Brannen is the commission’s third executive director, following outgoing Lodi mayor Mark Chandler, who headed the body for more than 20 years, and Camron King, who resigned last April to become president of the National Grape and Wine Initiative based in Sacramento. King now is president of Sterling Caviar based in Elverta.
In addition to marketing and promoting Lodi wines, Brannen’s functions include grower relations and overseeing the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center tasting room.
“It’s a tough bill to fill because you are trying to help experts,” Brannen said. “Nobody knows how to grow a wine grape better than a wine grape grower. But if there’s something that we can do to bring in an expert to talk about better ways to file their taxes or are there better disease management alternatives, are there people that we can connect them with who can help them with government or regulatory issues, that’s another big function of what we do more than the public relations and marketing.”
Brannen comes to Lodi from the U.S. Apple Association in Washington, D.C., where she was the Director of Consumer Health and Public Relations. She spent the prior seven years as Executive Director of the Vidalia Onion Committee in Vidalia, Georgia, near where she grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Both jobs appealed to Brannen’s creative and inquisitive nature, and allowed her talents in marketing and public relations to flourish. In Washington, Brannen also learned about lobbying and government affairs and regulatory components.
“I got to pick up more knowledge about this whole world of association management and working for commodities,” she said. “So, that kind of brings me to today.”
Brannen said she wasn’t looking for a new job, but the opportunity in Lodi intrigued her. She said the people she met during her interviews convinced her to make the move.
“There are friendly people everywhere, but Lodi as a whole seems to have an inordinate amount of people who care and go out of their way,” said Brannen, “and that translates over to the growers and the wineries.”
Brannen wants to build on the successes of her predecessors, such as the establishment of the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Grape Growing in 2005 and Wine Enthusiast naming Lodi Wine Region of the Year in 2015, and move Lodi forward with those who stand beside her today.
“I’m very hopeful that together we can go on a positive trajectory,” Brannen said. “And I think we are set up to do that.”

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Introducing the Viney awards

The calendar is about to set on 2016.

In what I’ll call the first annual Viney Awards, here’s are some of the best wines I tasted this year:

• 2013 Rall White ($29)

Even my non-white wine drinking friends enjoyed this delightfully crisp and elegant blend of chenin blanc, viognier, chardonnay and verdelho from Swartland and Stellenbosch in South Africa. The wine has a mineral core from the chenin blanc with delicious floral notes from the verdelho and viognier. Great with seafood and as an aperitif.

• 2016 LangeTwins Nouveau ($18)

Winemaker David Akiyoshi’s clever treatment of fresh-picked zinfandel in a manner similar to nouveau Beaujolais produced a wine that bridges the gap between rose and red. It’s not a lightweight but it won’t knock your block off either. Gorgeous rose petals, strawberries and watermelon flavors and aromas are what you’ll find with this beauty.

• 2014 Bokisch Monastrell ($23)

The last vintage from the Belle Colline vineyard is 100 percent monastrell, crafted by winemaker Elyse Perry. The wine has some of the earthy elements consistent with the grape’s French variation, mouvedre, but it also possesses beautiful red fruit, such as raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate. The Belle Colline vineyard is being replanted to a different variety. Markus and Liz Bokisch have planted monastrell in the Sheldon Hills Vineyard in the Sloughouse sub-AVA, but it might take a few years before the vines have sufficiently matured.

• 2015 Heritage Oak Sauvignon Blanc ($18)

Tom Hoffman made his 2015 sauvignon blanc from his estate fruit in Acampo the same way he’s always made it. But the nose on the 2015 blew him away: “Grapefruit just screams out at you,” he said. The flavors are citrusy and tropical with great acid balance.

• 2015 Acquiesce Viognier ($24)

If you want to try this magnificent white wine at owner Susan Tipton’s tasting room just off Peltier Road in Lodi, you’ll have to wait until March. That’s what happens when you craft tiny lots of glorious wine – you sell out, which she did earlier this month. In March, she’ll re-open and offer her new releases. If you love something, you’d be wise to purchase it right then and there.

• 2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon ($55)

This is like saying oxygen is my favorite element. You don’t need Jordan cabernet to survive, but it sure helps. Rob Davis, the only winemaker Jordan ever has had (and that’s going back more than 40 years) has been quoted to say the 2012 is his favorite vintage: “2012 was truly a phenomenal growing season – every winemaker’s dream – which shines through as one of the most complex Jordan cabernet sauvignons to date.”

• 2013 Harney Lane Cabernet Sauvignon ($35)

So, you think Lodi is only good for big, jammy zinfandels, right? Harney Lane’s Kyle Lerner would like to change your mind and his first proprietary cabernet sauvignon might just do the trick. There are components to this wine a Bordeaux drinker would appreciate: good structure, nice acid balance, solid fruit, light oak, nothing over the top. Winemaker Chad Joseph calls it a cab with “true varietal character.”

• 2014 Balo Anderson Valley Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir ($40)

Balo’s first attempt at bottling a single clone pinot has an interesting story behind it. This controversial pinot droit clone was smuggled into the country from Burgundy many years ago by a famous Oregon winery. Its vigorous growth profile has raised questions about its origins. Great story, but is the wine any good? Yep. It tastes like a pinot noir that’s in a relationship with Beaujolais. It’s a beautifully nuanced wine.

Those are just several of my favorites this year – the first annual Vineys. Tell me about the wines you tried this year that were your favorites. Shoot me an email. Happy New Year.

– Contact reporter Bob Highill at (209) 546-8282 or Follow him at and on Twitter @BobHighfill

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Berghold is a winter wine-derland

Berghold Estate Winery has an amazing Christmas display inside its tasting room that will put you in the holiday spirit faster than you can say Kris Kringle.

Year round beneath the pitched ceiling inside Berghold’s elegant barn-style chateau off Cherry Road is perhaps the most impressive collection of antiques anywhere in the country. But come holiday time, the rare furniture, woodwork and sculptures share space with an overwhelming treasury of Santa Clauses, decorated Christmas trees, sparkling ornaments, and other dazzling objects.

“We get calls in July asking when the décor is going up,” said Julia Berghold, general manager of the family-run operation. “We put some decorations up the first year just to make it look festive, but then after that, every year it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

This year, the display went up in early October and will stay up through January.

The Christmas display has been Julia’s passion project since the winery opened its doors in 2005. She used to spend up to 20 hours a day for more than a week by herself putting everything out. She’s grateful for the help she’s received the past four years from a small team of dedicated ladies.

Julia always is on the lookout for items to add to the display, and she said the hard work has been worth the effort based on the visitors’ reactions.

“I’m looking for unusual things,” she said. “There’s no point in carrying something that everyone else is carrying, and that’s one of the things people say most when they come in here – the uniqueness of the items.”

Six life-sized, old world Father Christmases stand in the tasting room, with long white beards flowing over their chubby cheeks beneath their tiny spectacles. Each 6-foot tall work of art is unique and painstakingly hand made from top to bottom by Kay Berghold, whose husband Joe Berghold owns the winery and is a world-renowned antiques collector. Kay makes the clothing, dressing each Father Christmas differently in colorful fabrics with decorative glass accents. Some are draped in furs donated by friends and visitors.

Julia said her favorite item changes every year. This year, she’s particularly fond of a hand-carved, hand-painted white peacock perched on a regal stand with gold embellishment and brilliant feathers. The sculpture and more than a dozen other pieces rest atop a 103-year-old piano designed by Stieff, an East Coast piano maker that competed with Steinway but didn’t survive the Great Depression.

Near the peacock sits a tiny carriage that resembles a Faberge egg — perhaps something a Russian czar might have commissioned — with a nutcracker doll standing guard on either side.

With every turn, another interesting, fun piece of décor catches the eye.

“People come in and they love it,” Julia said. “It instantly puts them in the mood for the holidays.”

Setting the mood is an important aspect of Joe Berghold’s business philosophy. Berghold made his fortune in corporate finance and helped turn around companies like Levi Straus and Six Flags. Berghold headed Levi’s European children’s clothing division out of France, where his dream of some day owning a winery was born. While with Six Flags, Berghold gained an appreciation for creating an unbeatable customer experience. In 1986, Berghold set out to achieve his dream by purchasing 85 acres and two homes from three different parties in Lodi. After replanting his acreage in the late 1980s with marketable wine grape varieties, Berghold sold his fruit to outside clients while he and Kay lived in Portola Valley. In 2000, Joe and Kay moved to Lodi and started their winery, enlisting their son, Miles Berghold, as the winemaker and his wife, Julia, as the general manager.

In order to create an unbeatable customer experience and satisfy one of his passions, Joe accented his spacious tasting room with antiques from the American Victorian period (1880-1900), including many valuable pieces from the Philadelphia area where he grew up the son of an antiques collector. Joe, who also restores antiques, has developed a relationship with the family of noted craftsman Daniel Pabst and has in his collection some of Pabst’s most important pieces, including a remarkable, perfectly restored mantel built in the 1880s that once stood in a mansion in downtown Philadelphia that had a renowned art gallery.

“It’s probably the most famous fireplace in American history,” Joe Berghold said. “It’s all hand carved by Daniel Pabst. This is a Pabst piece. It’s one of his most famous pieces, and it’s all Pennsylvania black walnut.”

The antique collection is not meant to overshadow the wine. Berghold Estate Winery truly is an estate winery with all of the fruit coming from their three contiguous vineyards encompassing 85 acres that are planted to syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel and viognier. Recently, sangiovese, Grenache, petite sirah, mouvedre and cabernet franc were planted. About 30 percent of the yield goes into Berghold wine, the rest is contracted to other wineries. Total production hovers around 5,000 cases and all of it is sold directly through their web site, tasting room and wine club.

“There’s a lot here,” Joe said. “Julia does a great job with the Christmas stuff, so we have the Christmas stuff. But during most of the year, we don’t camouflage the antiques. It’s a family deal and we’re successful as a winery. As a small, estate winery, this is the way to go.”

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Winter’s chill means it’s time for reds

When winter’s chill begins to bite, it only seems natural to break out the red wines you’ve had stocked away and pair them with heartier fare consistent with the season.

I’ve tried a few recently that I want to tell you about:

  • 2013 Emblem Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35)

The Oso Vineyard provides the central character and structure, while the balance of fruit from the valley floor contributes to the roundness and complexity. Produced by the Michael Mondavi Family Estate, there is concentrated blue and black fruit and a hint of torched crème brulee in this cab-dominated blend, which also has petite sirah (8 percent), petit verdot (5 percent), syrah (4.5 percent), zinfandel (2 percent) and merlot (1.5 percent).

  • 2015 St.-Cosme Cotes du Rhone ($13)

My recent trip to New Orleans included a remarkable dinner at uptown hot spot Gautreau’s. This splendid syrah-based wine went beautifully with duck confit, red meat dishes and hearty fish ordered by our party. Blueberry and boysenberry flavors came to the forefront, with anise and floral notes, maybe violets, on the back end. Truly a memorable experience.

  • 2013 Osvaldo Viberti Langhe Nebbiolo ($20)

Nebbiolo is the primary grape variety behind the prized red wines of Piedmont in northwest Italy, most notably Barolo and Barbaresco, wines distinguished by their strong tannins and high acidity. But this Nebbiolo from Langhe exhibited tremendous finesse and softness, with beautiful red cherry flavors and aromas, making it a stunning pairing with pizza, grilled red snapper and pappardelle with spicy lamb ragut.



  • The 2014 Sojourn Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Gap’s Crown Vineyard ($40)

Rated 35th on the Wine Spectator Top 100, Sojourn has been my personal favorite for many years. Owner Craig Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley have consistently delivered beautiful pinots, sourcing from some of the most celebrated vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties. About the 2014 Gap’s Crown, the Spectator writes “lightly aromatic, but rich and layered, this offers excellent density and depth, with fine-grained tannic grip and a long, persistent finish that keeps flashing the core flavors. Drink now through 2020.” Information:

Here are a couple important dates to sock away for next year:

  • The annual Lodi Wine and Chocolate Weekend is turning 20 next year and will be on Feb. 11-12 at more than 50 participating wineries. Each will have plenty of offerings to tempt your taste buds with handcrafted Lodi wines and sweet and savory bites. In addition, more than 100 prizes will be hidden within complimentary chocolate treats upon check in, including one special “golden ticket” good for a getaway for two in Lodi wine country.

Always a popular event, tickets are $55 in advance, $65 the day(s) of the event and are available at or at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center at 2545 W. Turner Road.

  • Another must-do event is ZinFest, which will celebrate its 13th year from Friday, May 19 to Sunday, May 21 at Lodi Lake. Sip, swirl & savor from a selection of 200 handcrafted wines from 40-plus Lodi wineries. Enjoy local food, the ZinFest Wine and Cooking Schools, or relax along the beautiful Mokelumne River to an eclectic mix of live music. There is no better way to celebrate the fantastic wines of Lodi Wine Country. Information:

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2016 another bumper year for Lodi

Lodi had another bumper year in the wine industry.

Still basking in the glow of being named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast, Lodi continued to make a name for itself by hosting the Wine Bloggers Conference, winning prestigious awards and expanding its offerings.

Wine Bloggers Conference

Rachel Von Sturmer came all the way to Lodi for the ninth Wine Bloggers Conference from Vancouver, British Columbia. Her thoughts about the four-day social media blitz in mid-August that attracted close to 300 wine writers and bloggers from around the county and the world would have been music to the organizers’ ears.

“I’ll be a bit of an evangelist when I go home and talk to people,” said Von Sturmer, an independent wine writer, whose blog is at “I’ll be mentioning Lodi and writing about it and blogging about it, just trying to show people it’s not all about zinfandel, although the zinfandel is fantastic.”

The Lodi Winegrape Commission, a group composed of more than 750 growers who manage more than 100,000 acres of wine grapes, hosted the event for the first time. The hope was the increasingly influential community of wine writers, bloggers and social media and public relations experts would increase awareness about California’s largest winegrape growing region.

Lodi’s wineries, growers and winemakers opened their doors and hearts, and provided a glimpse into their lives and the passion they have for their craft. The conference included seminars led by industry giants and tastings at Hutchins Street Square, plus excursions to some of the outstanding wineries and vineyards in the area.

Stuart Spencer, owner and winemaker at St. Amant and program manager for the Lodi Winegrape Commission, hoped the writers and bloggers would spread the word once they returned home.

“It’s been a fantastic conference to host,” Spencer said. “I’ve been extremely happy with the quality of the audience and their interest in our area and wines. They seem to be having a great time, taking in the whole Lodi experience. Hopefully, they will go back and evangelize about Lodi and its delicious wines and great people.”

Taking home the hardware

  • More than 230 different wines from the Lodi AVA earned at least a bronze medal at the 2016 California State Fair Wine Competition.

Among those that brought home some hardware were two that hit the Mother Lode: The 2015 Acquiesce Viognier and St. Amant’s 2014 The Road Less Traveled Tempranillo.

  • Susan Tipton’s Viognier from her estate vineyard in Acampo scored 98 points and earned double gold, Best of California and Best of Class of Region.

When you visit Acquiesce, you will be offered small bites of food to go with Tipton’s fabulous lineup of white Rhone varietals and blends. During a recent visit, she paired her Viognier with a mango chutney from France spiked with Sichuan pepper on a bagel chip.

“The mango really brings out the peachy aromas in the Viognier,” she said. “Viognier here in Lodi is a very easy grape to grow. There are about 3,000 acres of Viognier in Lodi.”

  • Spencer’s Road Less Traveled Tempranillo pays homage to his late father, Tim.

The bottle has a pair of old work boots on the label, like the boots Tim Spencer wore when he worked his vineyard in Amador County. Tim Spencer almost always chose the road less traveled in his business practices. He opened one of Lodi’s first boutique wineries and grew and made wine from strange Portuguese and Spanish varieties in the late 1970s when Lodi wasn’t a well-known or well-respected wine region.

“It was set up for a fairly difficult path, but we persevered,” said Spencer, whose father passed away in 2006. “So, to me, that wine kind of embodied that and getting that recognition has kind of been an endorsement of what we’ve been trying to do the last 35 years, and it’s nice to get those things.”

Breaking new ground

  • Scotto Cellars made a splash this year by releasing its Masthead wine – a 100 percent Sangiovese blended from two different oak barrels by noted wine writers Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget of Stockton, Cindy Rynning from Chicago and Melanie Ofenlach from Dallas. The wine was released to great fanfare at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi.

But that wasn’t all for the Scotto Family. In mid-October, they opened their brand-new tasting room School Street in downtown Lodi.

  • Harney Lane Winery in Lodi released its first Cabernet Sauvignon in the summer, and it was one of my favorite wines of the year. Owner Kyle Lerner handled the fruit and Chad Joseph crafted a beautifully nuanced wine from the 2013 vintage.

Lerner set out to prove a point about Lodi which grows lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and sells most of it to outside wineries to blend or extend their programs.

“We are not just that one-pony show here, that one varietal show that we’re known for,” Lerner said. “This is part of what we’re trying to expose consumers to, is the fact that this is a region that can manage a lot of varieties very well, very successfully.”

Said Joseph, “I was really happy. It represents the potential of Lodi. The thing I’m happiest about is the varietal character. It has true varietal character.”

In 2016, Lodi showed its character yet again. And 2017 promises to be another great year.

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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