Markus Niggli paused when posed this open-ended question: “What are you looking forward to most in the new year?”

After several moments, Niggli responded with conviction, “Diving deeper into the ancient vineyard sites.”

Niggli, owner and winemaker of Markus Wine Co. in Lodi, has resolved to continue working, resurrecting in some instances, vines aged 50 years and older that he believes make the Lodi American Viticultural Area truly special.

Since his winemaking journey brought him to Lodi two decades ago to work for Lodi boutique winery pioneer Steve Borra (Borra Vineyards), Niggli has sought to elevate Lodi’s standing in the wine world by constantly challenging the status quo. When some might say what’s the point, Niggli derives great excitement resurrecting older vineyards in need of tender loving care, as well as working with obscure grape varieties, of which all grow beautifully in Lodi’s Mediterranean climate and sandy, well-drained soils.

Niggli’s philosophy is why do what’s already been done?

Yes, he makes wines from international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, but he also crafts magnificent blends using Austrian and German varieties, such as Gewurztraminer, Kerner and Bacchus, from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyard; single-source Gruner Veltliner, the Austrian white variety, from a vineyard managed by LangeTwins; and red blends from younger vineyards, such as his petit verdot-based “Blue” from the Spenker Ranch Block planted in 2005.

“When it comes to moving forward in Lodi and showcasing what this region has to offer, I want to do something different,” Niggli said. “I want to find run-down sites and build them back up.”

New to the Swiss-born Niggli’s portfolio is the Markus Wine Co. Ancient Blocks series sourced from vineyards past their prime but still able to deliver amazing fruit when given the attention they deserve. From these old, gnarly, twisted, crusty, single-standing vines, Niggli tends meticulously to the fruit and crafts exceptional wines that speak of Lodi’s history and depth.

Niggli is excited by the prospect of working with growers to nurture vineyards back to grace, and with his time-tested winemaking skills, the results in the glass are truly extraordinary.

Lodi grower Al Nicolini approached Niggli to help his vineyard planted in 1936 and certified by the Historic Vineyard Society. The vines were in good shape and Niggli agreed to give them the tender loving care they needed. Niggli and only two others performed non-time-sensitive tasks, such as pruning, to set up the vines for the growing season, an example of the level of care and attention Niggli pays to all of his wines.

“Transformation in the vineyard, how a vineyard reacts to changes you bring into it is amazing,” Niggli said. “That’s fulfilling.”

Here is a rundown of the Markus Wine Co. Ancient Blocks series:

2021 Markus Ancient Blocks Nicolini Ranch ($41)

A pure, immensely elegant, ancient vine carignane with no blenders and no unnecessary winemaking. There are tannins but they contribute concentration, not just body. The natural acidity balances the opulent black fruit aromas and flavors.

Harvested: Sept. 17, 2021, by hand at dawn.

Fermentation: Seven days steel, native yeast, native malolactic fermentation (ML).

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 14.5%

Residual sugar (RS): .30 g/L, dry.

pH: 3.66

TA: 5.80 g/L

Released: July 2023.

2021 Markus Ancient Blocks Nicolini Ranch.

2020 Markus Wine Co. Ancient Blocks The Church ($41)

Niggli has worked this vineyard since his days with Borra, with this field blend of petite sirah, syrah, carignane, zinfandel, and alicante bouschet that earned 92 points and Editors’ Choice by Wine Enthusiast. Like with the Nicolini Ranch, Niggli strives to bring the best out of this ancient vineyard planted in 1938 and certified by the Historic Vineyard Society.

Hefty varieties petite sirah and syrah comprise much of the blend, but the wine retains a balanced finesse with cherry, and black raspberry aromas and flavors. Amply fruity with some baking spices and leather in there. (92 points Editors’ Choice Wine Enthusiast).

Harvested: Oct.5, 2020, by hand at dawn.

Fermentation: Seven days steel.

Cellar: 18 months, all neutral oak.

Cases: 50 bottled Apr. 9, 2022.

ABV: 14.6%

RS: 0.31 g/L, dry.

pH: 3.75

TA: 7.00 g/L.

Released: October 2022.

2020 Markus Ancient Blocks Bechthold (SOLD OUT!)

This was Niggli’s second and possibly last bottling of cinsault (75%), zinfandel (20%), and petite sirah (5%) from the acclaimed Bechthold Vineyard, planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker. The Bechthold Vineyard is regarded to be the oldest continuously farmed source of cinsault in the world.

Similar to pinot noir, you can easily see your fingers through the brilliantly ruby red core. Red fruit is evident on the nose (cherry, strawberry, raspberry). On the palate, the body is medium, belying the light color, with flavors of sour cherries, pomegranates, and rhubarb.

Harvested: Aug. 31, 2022, by hand at dawn.

Fermentation: 16 days steel, commercial yeast, native ML.

Cellar: 18 months, 15% once-filled French oak.

Cases: 50 cases bottled Apr. 9, 2022.

ABV: 14.1%

RS: 0.39 g/L, dry.

TA: 4.80 g/L

Released: October 2022.

Much more information about Markus Wine Co., is available at markuswine.com.

To purchase Markus Wine Co. wines, go to the web site or visit the Lodi Wine Visitor Center (2545 W. Turner Rd., Lodi).

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