“We should tell you the potato story,” Warren Bogle chuckles. “Grandpa planted potatoes on our Home Ranch, and they were all dying. He got a farmer to come up and take a look and find out why. He came up, looked at the soil, and said, well, I’m not sure, but maybe you should try wine grapes.” The memory of that farmer, Skinny, stays with Warren and was the catalyst for Bogle Winery’s pivot to winegrowing back in 1968, changing the landscape of the Clarksburg region of California, and solidifying Bogle’s legacy in the area—one that continues to thrive today.
The winery has achieved national and global name recognition while still staying within generations of the family. In the current age of winespeak, buzzwords like small allocation, unicorn wine, and family production are all the rage. But its limiting connotations leave us missing out on the wines that can boast history, family legacy, and quality along with growth and success in sustainability practices and sales.
The Clarksburg AVA was established in 1984, long after the Bogle family settled there in the 1870s and is located south of Sacramento and spans Sacramento, Yolo, and Solano counties. The region covers close to 68,000 acres, influenced by its location within the Sacramento Delta. Bogle can boast witness to the region’s birth and evolution of its winegrowing reputation while simultaneously placing it firmly into the winery’s identity.
The Bogle family started with property that included row crops that stayed in the rotation—albeit neighboring new vines—up to 1989. Clarksburg was first known for its abundance of Chenin Blanc, but the Bogle Family was able to adapt to a growing market by planting some of the region’s almost 35 varieties, including Chardonnay and Petite Sirah, the latter being one of the first planted for Bogle in 1968. Chris Bogle had a goal to hit 1,000 acres of vineyards, which he achieved just a year or so before he passed away.
Since then, the winery has grown exponentially in the hands of this new generation, Jody, Ryan, and Warren W., who grew up watching the family business. Jody reminisces, “I’m the oldest of us, and when we were kids, the business was small, the offices were in our home, we had a winemaker, one salesperson, and we had our mom and dad.”
The wine grapes were initially used to showcase and sell for other wineries. But the siblings’ parents, Chris and Patty, were integral in taking these acres of wine grapes and turning it into a viable business, pushing to make, bottle, and age their wines—even if it meant using other wineries.
Warren spent his childhood working in the fields, recalling, “I loved working with my dad driving the tractor or in the vineyards on the weekend. It was always something I knew I was going to do.” Patty eventually handed him the reins at the young age of 21, after the untimely death of their father Chris. Jody quit her teaching job in Oregon to move back to circle the wagons and Ryan joined them several years later. Jody explains, “Since the three of us have come into the management role after our mother had to step away and then passed away in 2011, we have stayed laser-focused on the wine industry.” Today, the Bogle family operates more than 1,900 estate vineyards and works with wine grape partner growers all across the state.
Eric Aafedt is the Vice-President of winemaking and was hired by Bogle just out of college almost 27 years ago. He’s witnessed the change in the company and has never looked back. “When I started, we were probably at about 60,000 cases, and there was a significant amount of white Zinfandel in there, some one-liter Chardonnay; we were pretty small. We were making all of the wine at our old winery, and we were on a shoestring budget. We’ve come from Chris, Julio, and me as the only people making wine to having a hundred people here.”
Under new management, Bogle built a state-of-the-art winery in the heart of Clarksburg, which was a gamechanger for the winemaking team. “I was on the road all the time at five or six different wineries. Now every single grape is crushed here, bottled here, and under our full control.” Warren adds, “We needed to decide our destiny. We’re in-house; we barrel it, bottle it, and warehouse it. It was a major change, but it was a commitment to stay in the business.”
After more than 50 years in the industry, Bogle has grown to over 140 employees, but treating staff as an extended family gives “small-family owned” a new meaning. It’s not about the number; it’s about the culture.
Aafedt says, “Of course, we have corporate leanings in our policy, but as far as having direct access to ownership, it’s every day. That’s a great way for us to be interactive and efficient, where we know they have support, support me, and support the winemaking team. I know they appreciate what we do. It’s a great business to be in, especially with this kind of autonomy that we’re allowed.”
The growth has also allowed for more efficiency and quality control in the winery. Aafedt laughs, “As far as the work environment, it’s much better now because 25 years ago, we didn’t have a mechanic. We didn’t have anything. So if it broke, I had to fix it. Now we can focus on the winemaking.”
A familial environment has been essential for management as well. Jody says, “We still have a core group of people that have been with us for ten, 20, 30 years. I just got an email from our cellar master, who has been with us since he was 18-years-old, and he just became a grandfather. That was something to celebrate. We’ve had these people be a part of our family for decades, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
Bogle manages a heavy presence in the retail space. But with growth, they have been able to forge ahead with on-premise partners and offer experimental bottlings and innovative experiments. They have an online shop to purchase their higher-end and reserve wines. Unlike other house name California brands, they manage to keep everything affordable—something important to the Bogle name. Jody chuckles, “In 1979, did we sit around and say we would be a 2 million case winery? Never in a million years. I think our growth has always been meeting the needs of the consumers out there. For many people, we are their house wine, so our goal has always been to make a wine that over-delivers at every price point. We want our $10 Chardonnay to taste like a $20 Chard and our $20 Reserve Malbec to taste like a $40 Malbec, and that goal has remained unwavering since the beginning. It’s something they rely on, something they enjoy, and something they’ve made a part of their lifestyle. We have to be realistic about the cost of goods and cost of production, but we certainly know that Bogle has become for many a family name that they trust and appreciate because they’re getting value for their dollar.” You may wonder how this could be possible. But, by building their own winery and keeping everything within the estate and their staff, they’ve enabled substantial ownership and control over the growing and winemaking. And even those they purchase from; long-term contracts with partners are sturdy and reliable from decades of comradery.
So how to keep up with it all? By keeping an eye on how to keep the business burgeoning for the next generation. One of these ways is by keeping sustainability in mind, paying homage to what generations did before them, and paving the way for the future generations.
Aafedt, a witness to the efforts, explains, “Warren has certified all the vineyards that he grows as sustainable. By building this brand new winery, all the equipment we have is the most efficient. All the refrigeration is the best you can get. We have automated barrel cleaning that recycles the wash cycle twice. We get six minutes of washing a barrel for two minutes of water by recycling the water from each station. Most of it is in the vineyard where we see our sustainability. But it’s also your water usage; it’s your employee welfare, the longevity of employees in your company, and how you treat your employees. It’s a kind of full, comprehensive program.”
Bogle has dedicated itself to this initiative by becoming completely compliant with the California Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. Warren explains, “Our family has been following sustainable winegrowing practices for generations, but we had to make just a few small tweaks to play a part in the program. We didn’t have to change much of our farming practices at all. It’s more documentation, auditing, and getting certified. The program extends to the grower partners as well.” He continues, “We pay a bonus to our growers to help them get certified. It’s important for us to get our grower partners on board with our sustainability goals as well.”
Jody explains how important this is for the longevity of the winery. “It permeates everything we do daily. We’re always looking at how we can be more green, environmentally-conscious, and give back as best we can in that way. When we have a new package or new design, we look at sustainably-sourced papers or we look at different options for glass. When we have new equipment for any of our properties, we look at how that can be the most environmentally-conscious decision; it’s a mindset that we try to focus on in its entirety.”
She continues, “We know that if we want the business to stay strong and to be sustainable, these are the things we have to do. We watch as our kids are growing up here, and that seventh generation is a blink of an eye away.”