By Joan Cusick
At the end of a white-knuckled drive on County Road 144 in Clarksburg, Bogle Winery offers a welcome respite from the twists and turns of the outside world. It's peaceful here: lush and welcoming.
If there's any doubt about what makes Bogle different, it's spelled out in foot-high letters on the tasting room wall: FAMILY. But that word is much more than a slogan. It's a way of life for three Bogle siblings who will oversee the farm-to-table production of an estimated 2.5 million cases of wine this year.
This is the sixth Bogle generation to farm the River Delta soil, and their roots run deep. The first two Bogle generations arrived in California in the 1870s, starting with A. J. Bogle, who came from Tennessee with his 13-year-old nephew, Samuel.
"It was the post-gold rush, and this was a booming region," said Jody Bogle VanDePol. "The whole area was this burgeoning bread-basket for San Francisco. It was just how they fed everyone. Everything went down the river."
In 1889, Samuel married Anna Meyer, who inherited a ranch on Grand Island. According to History of Sacramento by G. Walter Reed, Samuel also owned 80 acres on Sutter Island and farmed both properties.
The Bogle farms eventually passed down to the third generation—Vernon Bogle, son of Samuel and Anna. When the Great Depression hit, Vernon lost the Bogle land. He and his wife moved to Merritt Island with their teenaged son, Warren.
After graduation, Warren attended the University of California at Davis and then enlisted in the Navy, serving during World War II. He saved his money and when he returned home, Warren helped his family buy eight acres on Merritt Island—the land straight off the deck from the Bogle tasting room. It remains the Bogle home ranch.
Photo 1: The original eight-acre Bogle home ranch is just off the back lawn behind the tasting room.
Photo 2: A photo from the 1980s: The fifth and sixth generation of Bogles—Chris and Patty Bogle and their children, three of whom now run the winery.
THE FIRST WINE GRAPES
"My grandfather Warren was a seed-corn farmer," Jody said. "He was farming row crops and every year adding more acres, increasing our land holding. But it wasn't until 1968 that he decided to try something he didn't have to replant every year. He started with 10 acres of Petite Sirah and 10 acres of Chenin Blanc... There were no other wine grapes here in Clarksburg at the time, and people thought he was crazy."
Beginning in 1968, Bogle grapes were sold to other wineries. But in 1978, after a large customer chose not to buy their fruit that year, Chris Bogle—the fifth generation and father to today's winery owners—urged his father to take the fruit and make the first wine under the Bogle name. That year, Bogle produced a few hundred cases of Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah.
"I think they gave most away as Christmas presents that year," Jody said, smiling at the thought. "Whereas my grandfather was very happy to grow seed corn, harvest it, ship it off to Nebraska or wherever, my dad really liked the idea of being able to sit down with family and friends and say 'I grew this. I made this. Let's enjoy it.'"
Jody remembers the social gatherings at her grandparents' home. "All our farming friends and my dad and my grandfather's hunting friends would come over and we'd have dinner, then the kids would get put to bed in the back room while the adults played Red Dog dice. It was great fun growing up in that environment. A lot of those folks are still in our lives today."
Indeed, many longtime Delta residents come out to mingle on the back lawn and sip Bogle wines. Standing under a shade tree at a recent event was Noni Wentzel, who taught generations at Delta High School. She recalled the passed-down story of the Depression-era Bogles.
"Everyone knew Warren's family had lost everything. He only had one pair of overalls to his name," said the woman, who insisted that everyone calls her Noni. "But when Warren came to school, his overalls were always washed and pressed, even if he didn't have shoes to put on his feet."
Generations of memories linger here.
Photo 2: Warren, Jody and Ryan in the family winery.
When Warren Bogle died in 1989, Chris and his wife, Patty, took over about 600 acres of farmland and the winery operation. For nine years, the Bogles worked side-by-side to increase acreage and wine production. It was Chris who set the tone for producing high-quality wine at an affordable price. And, from the beginning, Jody recalled, "There was no separating food and wine in our minds."
Her father used to say that people would spend more for wine on anniversaries and birthdays, but what were they going to drink every other day of the year? Chris aimed to fill that gap.
In 1997, Chris Bogle died at age 45. His 21-year-old son Warren—named for his grandfather—was just shy of college graduation, but he came home to farm the Bogle land. At the time, Jody was a teacher in Oregon, and she also returned home. With their mother, Patty, the sixth generation of Bogles began work in the family business, alongside key employees who remain with the firm today.
Patty Bogle battled leukemia for four years, and passed away in 2011. That was when the third sibling, Ryan, returned to Clarksburg to take over accounting duties.
"We didn't have to come back and say 'We're going to change this,'" Jody said. "We had this team of people who really seamlessly made the transition from fifth to sixth generation working with us. I think that's because the goals and values of the company have not changed. The overarching philosophy of the company hasn't changed since the beginning, and that's really to create the best bottle of wine at a value price.
"We make wines in the $8 to $10 range, and we want them to taste like they're $18 to $20."
The tasting room, which overlooks one of the Bogle vineyards.
TODAY'S BOGLE WINES
For three generations—ever since the elder Warren returned home after World War II—the Bogle family business has continued to grow, from the original eight-acre home ranch to about 1,600 acres today. But the Bogles keep their exact numbers to themselves.
Recent industry reports reveal that the Bogle brand had volume growth of 13.8% in 2014, surpassing the 2-million-case mark. In the first half of 2015, volume growth accelerated to 19% and Bogle is expected to reach about 2.5 million cases by the end of the year. Its wines are sold in 50 states and in 35 countries.
According to wine expert and author Rick Kushman, those numbers rank Bogle as the 14th largest U.S. winery and possibly the largest family-owned single brand in America.
Bogle's core lineup includes nine wines with a median price of about $10, including its best-selling Chardonnay and the fast-growing red blend Essential Red. Bogle also bottles a Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, old-vine Zinfandel and the Phantom red blend.
"Bogle is in the heart of the market," Kushman said, referring to mid-priced wines. "The vast majority of wine—somewhere around 80%—is bought in supermarkets or the equivalent of supermarkets. Those wines fall into the $8 to $20 range, and that's where Bogle lives."
Kushman cited Bogle's consistency, quality control and knowledge of vineyards—not just the Bogle land, but the many farms they buy fruit from. As a result, Bogle wines "definitely over-deliver," Kushman said. He's seen the Bogle Chardonnay on the wine list at "many of the cool restaurants in New York," which often resist serving California wines. And the relatively new Essential Red is riding the red-blend trend, ranking among the top three in its category.
But even in the highly competitive wine industry, the Bogle name means "family."
"When you mention Bogle, people in the wine business will say, 'Oh yeah, I love those guys,'" Kushman said. "The sensibility of them in the wine world is they're nice people. And they're absolutely honest when they call themselves a family winery."
Photo 1: Petite Sirah is one of the nine core wines in the Bogle lineup.
Photo 2: Sue Wyman pours a Bogle Chardonnay during a recent wine tasting on the Bogle lawn, which is a stone's throw from the original eight-acre home ranch.
Photo 3: Wine barrels line the Bogle driveway.
THE NEXT GENERATION
When Jody and her brothers look to the future, they see the seventh generation of Bogles staring back at them. Jody has two daughters. Warren has two sons. Ryan has his first child on the way.
"Would I love for our kids to want to work at the winery? For sure," Jody said. "But it was never an automatic assumption that we would join the family business, and we wouldn't put those assumptions on our children either.
"They love each other, and they love to play, and they love to be together. They're going to have this shared childhood. So if they do end up, at some point, sitting across the boardroom table from each other, they have that.
"Hopefully they have the love that my brothers and I have carried into this business as well. That's the best you can hope for, right?"