When Markus Niggli, owner of Markus Wine Co., emigrated to California from Switzerland in 2005, the Swiss-born winemaker brought with him a European-style of winemaking. Carrying with him the popular European philosophy that wine should always pair with food, Markus sought out vineyards where he could replicate the fresh, acidic white and age-able red varietals popular in his home country, as well as some of the other northern countries in Europe.
“If you picture Lodi or California wine and you taste my wines, they are not matching,” Markus says.
Making Swiss-style wines, where the elevation is high and the climate quite cool, in a warm-hot California region isn’t an easy task. Markus first had to seek out vineyards that offered cooler nights and mornings, which is why many of the grapes he buys are planted on or near the Mokelumne River AVA and Clements Hill AVA, both parts of the larger Lodi AVA. Here, along the river, cooler temperatures allow for a closer match to European-grown white wines and the nearby fields are perfect for growing red varietals like the syrah and merlot that Switzerland is known for producing. Markus says the 40-45 degree daily difference in temperature during the summer months is a perfect playing field for any European grape varietal, especially the whites, and while they are not a perfect match, they are close.
Producing wines that are high in acid and low in alcohol—Markus’ wines fall between 11.5-13.5 percent ABV—is also a European trait. It can be hard because getting that bright acidity requires early picking of the grapes, but Markus is a pro. “I know how they should taste,” he says. “I have the direct comparison to back home.”
It’s not about being better, just different. Overall, wines produced by Markus Wine Co. are crisper, lighter, and more refreshing, he says. The reds are elegant and balanced, a strong opposition to big, bold New World California wines. Markus’ whites, however, still possess the citrus aromatics common of many whites, with subtle flavors of stone fruit present in many varietals.
Instead of opening a Lodi tasting room, Markus has paired with local businesses to make his wines accessible. His bounty can be tasted at the Lodi Visitors Center, as well as by the glass or bottle at local spots like Towne House Restaurant, The Butcher Shoppe, and Bordeaux Inn. They are also, of course, available direct-to-consumer online.