Get to Know a Vintner: Markus Niggli of Borra Vineyards

Borra Vineyards   With more than 85 wineries, Lodi offers an exceptional, world-class portfolio of wines, from herbaceous, dry Sauvignon Blancs to fruit-forward, medium-bodied Merlots.   With its commitment to quality and value, and passion for tradition combined with progressive viticultural practices, Borra Vineyards represents the very best of the Lodi Wine Appellation. Their roots trace back three generations to a tiny town in Italy. More than 100 years later and with the help of a talented staff and dedicated community, the beloved boutique winery is still producing some of the region's best-tasting wines.   Hailing from Switzerland, Markus Niggli came to Borra Vineyards in 2006 and has been instrumental in maintaining their top-selling wines and inventive varietals. We had the chance to speak with Niggli and learn more about his creative process and why Borra Vineyards produces some of the most "contemporary" wines in the Lodi region.  

Following His Passion

Niggli wasn’t always in the wine industry; in fact, he spent a decade working in the tourism sector before switching career paths. “I began reading a lot about grape growing and quickly found myself fascinated by drinking all the different styles of wine,” he said. Instead of sticking to his home of Switzerland, Niggli took a big leap... and by big leap, we mean a one-way ticket to Australia!   While in Australia, Niggli studied viticulture, the science of grape growing. For Niggli, learning the ins and outs of the craft was essential. “I’m a firm believer that you need to understand what is going on in the field,” he said. From there, he jetted off to Santa Rosa to work in Napa Valley during harvest as a viticulture technician. Like many in his industry, he started at the bottom and worked his way up... way, way up.  

Quality Over Quantity

Niggli is now a vintner at Borra Vineyards, which sells 2,500 to 3,000 cases per year. Any property that produces fewer than 10,000 cases is considered boutique. Niggli views this as a perk, because without the added pressure of producing thousands of cases, they have more freedom to experiment with different varietals. “We are really focused on quality and aim to be different and enjoy growing varietals that are very unique,” he said.   Yet, with over 4,000 wineries in California alone, Borra Vineyards still manages to stand out among the crowd. A whopping 95 percent of their sales are direct to consumer. “We grow over 800 tons of grapes each year and we sell about 60 percent to the East Coast,” Niggli said. (For some perspective, 1 ton is about 60 to 70 cases of wine.)   With its $5 tasting fee, Borra Vineyards is a hit with locals and visitors, too. The cozy tasting room, surrounded by idyllic vines, serves as the perfect base to sample luscious reds and crisp whites to take home.  

Learning the Lodi Land

While Switzerland and Australia certainly produce some great-tasting wines, Niggli is quite content calling Lodi home. “We are the biggest grape-growing area in California and many of our vineyards support and provide grapes to Napa, Sonoma and other regions,” Niggli said. Compared to Napa Valley and Sonoma County, Lodi is sometimes overlooked, but Niggli sees the silver lining: “Wines from Lodi tend to be less expensive than those from other regions and we see this as a good thing for our customers.”   Besides an appealing wine bottle price tag, Lodi has weather on its side. The dry climate works in Niggli’s favor. During the night, temperatures drop and the cool Delta Breeze helps the growing process. The soil flourishes due to the region’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean as well as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Temperatures tend to rise in the Central Valley, but with the help of the Delta Breeze, Lodi maintains a mild Mediterranean climate year-round. For these reasons alone, Lodi's distinctive climate has allowed wine grapes to grow for over a century.  

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Now comes the fun part—pairings! Borra Vineyards has no shortage of creative varietals; from Spanish and Italian to German, there’s something for everyone. That said, most of their wines are dry, light and refreshing thanks to the ideal climate conditions of California. “The eucalyptus flavors in our Field Blend or Barbera pair very well with salmon garnished with herbs,” Niggli said.   As for their most popular varietals, their bestseller is their Fusion Series, which features a 2014 Fusion White and a 2012 Fusion Red. Their 2012 Old Vine Barbera mentioned above is another popular wine because it’s a very European-style white wine. Feeling adventurous? Try their 2014 Markus Nuvola (a dry take on the German classic) or their flavorful Argentinian white. “We cannot compete with quantity, but we try to compete with quality,” Niggli said. Cheers to creativity!     Borra Vineyards is one of many incredible Lodi wineries -- click here for an extensive list and start planning your Lodi Wine Country getaway today!     Published: March 2016 By Guest Blogger Megan Eileen McDonough