Markus Niggli: Dazzling in Red

Markus Niggli is an artist and the wine glass is his canvas. He finds comfort in the unusual, challenging us to open our minds to something new. After years of success following this formula as winemaker at Lodi’s Borra Vineyards, Markus launched his own label – Markus Wine Co., with an eclectic offering of white wines. On the heels of the success of those wines, Markus is back with four red wines that dazzle and delight.

Lodi, 2016

My introduction to Markus came a few years ago when I first tasted his white wines – insieme, nativo, nimmo, and nuvola. It was evident then Markus was not just making wine, he was crafting art in a glass. Later I had the pleasure of enjoying many of his Borra Vineyards wines. (Many of these wines have been featured in articles on Rockin Red Blog in the past – check archives for further reading.)

Lodi, 2016

A few months ago I received a box with four new Markus Wine Co wines. Immediately I am struck once again by the artistry on the labels.  Below are my thoughts on the wines; however, first, I want to take a moment for us to get to know Markus Niggli.

Q: You were born in Switzerland and you are making wine in Lodi; how did your life’s journey take you from Switzerland to Lodi? What stops did you have along the way?

Markus: I decided to take my passion, enjoying wine, and turn it into my profession. I left Switzerland at the age of 30 and my journey took me to Perth, Australia for my viticulture studies. My girlfriend (now wife) wanted me a little closer. She was living in Santa Barbara at the time, we decided to move to Santa Rosa to be closer to the wine regions. (there were just more options to work in Northern CA vs on the coast) I worked a season in Napa before I got the opportunity to work in Lodi. The possibilities were just endless here [in Lodi].

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a winemaker? How did you realize this dream?

Markus: I realized it by the age of 28 when I started to collect wine bottles – also all the trips to the wine countries around the world made me hungry to explore more. There is so much more than just wine tastings. The making of it, growing the grapes and selling the product was all fascinating to me.

Q: Would you please tell us about your journey from making wines at Borra Vineyards to starting your own label, Markus Wine Co?

Markus: Borra Vineyards is the oldest boutique winery in Lodi. Well, to increase traffic in the tasting room, I started to buy some unknown grapes in Lodi like Kerner, Bacchus, Gewuerztraminer, etc. to make some interesting white wines. (all these grapes are grown here) – It was successful and the wines sold fast. Visitors in our tasting room started to ask Steve about these new white wines but he couldn’t give any answers about these wines. He asked me to start using my own labels so it would be clear to everybody. That was the start of markus wine co.

Q: Borra Vineyards has closed. Are you now focusing full time on Markus Wine Co?

Markus: The tasting room at Borra Vineyards has closed. I am in progress of moving tanks and inventory to a new location. To start it will only be a production warehouse, no tasting room yet. That will follow later in the year. Steve will keep the paperwork for the winery up to date. You never know if his grandkids will take it over one day.

Q: You are still in relationship with Steve Borra through vineyard operations. Would you please tell us about the Borra vineyards you are using in your red wines?

Markus: Correct, I am selling all his wine grapes, organizing harvest and get trucking lined up. A very complicated procedure with many loose ends. But after 10 harvests, I have found a good system and it seems to work just fine. Up to today, I believe that Steve is growing some of the best grapes in Lodi. The quality is great and you can produce incredible wines with it. Our sol and zeitlos, both wines made out of Steve’s grapes, scored 94 points in the Wine Enthusiast Magazine. I am working with Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from his vineyards.

Q: If I am not mistaken you launched Markus Wine Co with a focus on white varietals. I am a huge fan of these wines. What led you to add red wines to your portfolio?

Markus: Several people were inquiring about red wines. Especially during fall and winter the number of white wines sold drops and people are ready for some red blends.

Q: Each of your new red wines are blends. Please share with us your inspiration for Blue, Domo, Sol, and Zeitlos.

Markus: I blend the wines to make them better. Every component does add something extra to the final blend. Carignane, PV and PS are great blending wines. My job is to make the best possible wine from these grapes, even if I have to blend with all of them. Complexity is the key element.

Q: Would you please tell us a bit about your winemaking style?

Markus: Straight forward with almost no manipulations. Wild yeast ferment, long cold soak, no pressing of the skins, free run juice only. The best expressions are coming from the vineyard.

Disclaimer: media samples; thoughts & opinions my own.

My tasting notes:

2015 Markus Wine Co “blue” Lodi USA ($39): 80% Zinfandel from Borra Vineyards Gill Creek Ranch, 10% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Verdot from Spenker Ranch; and 5% Petite Sirah from Borra Vineyards Church Block; deep ruby with inky purple hues; medium aromas of bramble berry, raspberry, black plums, dried herbs, spice, dusty earth, black pepper, licorice; rich and round with medium tannins, acidity, and body; elegant yet earthy; long on the finish

2015 Markus Wine Co “sol” Lodi USA ($39): 42% Petite Sirah from Borra Vineyards Church Block, 37% Syrah Clone 877 from Borra Vineyards Gill Ranch Creek; and 21% Mourvedre from Silvaspoons Vineyards; medium+ ruby; medium+ aromas of dark berries and fruit, clean not baked or jammy; baking spice, leather, dusty cocoa, anise, fresh tobacco leaf, trailing vanilla; well-structured, medium+ tannins/acidity; robust but not overpowering, a lighter hand that delivers with subtly; medium+ body, long finish

2015 Markus Wine Co “zeitlos” Lodi USA ($39): 76% Syrah Clone 877 and 4% Viognier from Borra Vineyards Gill Creek Ranch, and 12% Carignane, 8% Petite Sirah from Borra Vineyards Church Block; deep ruby; medium+ aromas of pour me a cup of Christmas, tart red fruit, black berries, Christmas baking spice – allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, dried red floral notes, dusty earth, and a hint of juniper berries; warm and inviting on the palate, medium tannins/acidity, balanced, medium body, elegant and earthy; truly delicious

2015 Markus Wine Co “domo” Lodi USA ($39): 75% Carignane from Borra Vineyard Church Block; 15% Petite Sirah and 10% Syrah Clone 470 from Borra Vineyards Gill Creek Ranch; medium+ ruby; medium aromas of red fruit, baking spice, dried savory herbs, worn leather, white pepper, cedar, trailing vanilla; elegant delivery on the palate, balanced medium tannins/acidity, body and finish, smooth and juicy with a nice earth finish

These are ideal year round wines. As reds they deliver with an abundance of flavor but due to restrained wine making techniques they are not extracted, concentrated, or too weighty on the palate. As the weather warms, consider pairings of burgers, BBQ, brisket, ribs, pizza, and steak. In fall and winter these wines pair beautifully with wild boar ragu, beef stew, braised short ribs, Bolognese, Beef Bourgogne. Although the tannins are restrained and integrated these are wines that will enjoy some fat in the food to round out a delicious meal.

Many of you still resist purchasing wines online or direct from wineries. If all you ever drink are wines readily available at your local wine retailer you are truly missing out on a world of wine. Many great producers just don’t make enough wine for mass distribution. This is a good thing! If shipping fees are an issue invite several friends to share a shipment and share the fees. Currently Markus Wine Co wines are available online at markuswine.com or at the Lodi Vine and Visitor center. There is a flat $15 shipping fee for however many bottles you purchase so stock up for the year on wine. It is so worth it!

Markus: Thank you so much for supporting the small producers.

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