Becoming Bogle: How a 2-million-case Winery Keeps that Family Feeling

As a kid growing up in a California winemaking family, Jody Bogle had the opportunity to learn the business from the ground up—literally—sometimes getting out of bed at first light to work the fields during the long, hot summers.

She hated it.

“It’s just not what a 13-year-old girl wants to be doing,” Bogle says now with a laugh.

That’s changed.

Bogle_FamilyToday, Bogle couldn’t be happier to be director of public relations for the winery, working alongside brothers Warren, president and vineyard director, and Ryan, vice president and chief financial officer. Each has their own niche, but all have the same goal: keeping the business true to their family values.

“We never set a number. Our growth has been very organic,” says Bogle. “We’ve been amazingly blessed by the fact that folks have sought out our wine, have enjoyed it, and have shared it with friends. The word-of-mouth marketing of our wines has been amazing and is really the reason for the growth over the years.”

A Commitment to Sustainability

Bogle is known for quality at reasonable prices—the 2013 Bogle Pinot Noir, for instance, is a classic, nuanced interpretation with layers of cherry and strawberry, and can be found for around $11.

What may be less known is the company’s commitment to sustainability. All 1,600 of the company vineyards are certified sustainable under the stringent “Lodi Rules” regulations and, in an unusual extra step, the company pays a bonus to growers they source from who meet the same standard. Since Lodi Rules only cover vineyards, the winery is certified under the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

And a Commitment to Quality

Eric2012-01A big reason for Bogle’s success? “We have a stellar team,” says Bogle. That includes Eric Aafedt, the director of winemaking who has been with the company for 22 years and “is like my third brother.” Despite their size (they’re on track to make 2 million cases this year), Bogle makes wine in small batches, keeping individual fields separate throughout the process to get a better idea of what’s going on with the grapes and to give Aafedt room to experiment with different techniques on things like barrel programs or yeast types. If an innovation works, he may try the same thing on a larger scale at the next harvest.

Further, growers are brought in to blind taste vintages in process and learn what the winemaking team thinks, i.e., does this particular field of Monterey Chardonnay have the type of characteristics the team is expecting? “It puts a little pressure on them,” Bogle notes. “Certainly, you don’t want to be the grower that has the stinker in the group.”

The Potato Connection

The Bogle family has been farming in the Sacramento Delta since the 1870s. But seed corn was the main crop until Bogle’s grandfather, Warren Bogle, started looking for something that wouldn’t have to be replanted every year. According to family legend, he tried potatoes, which flopped and when he called in an expert to find out why, the expert looked around and said, “I don’t know about your potatoes but you should plant wine grapes.”

In 1968, the family took that advice and began growing fruit for other wineries such as Charles Krug and Wente. In 1978 they started bottling under their own name, making a couple hundred cases each of Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah, both hallmarks of the Clarksburg AVA.

Having that farming start is important.

“So much of the strength of our organization has come from the fact that we had farming roots,” says Bogle. “We wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t farm 1,600 acres of our own fruit. I think that grounds you—knowing that there’s a lot you can control, but there’s a whole heck of a lot that you can’t.”

Bogle didn’t always know she would end up working at the winery, but the pull became stronger over the years and she ultimately decided to rejoin the family business. She started out by working the winery’s newly opened tasting room—no sailing in as the heiress apparent—which turned out to be a good opportunity to learn and try new things. For instance, after weekend visitors asked, “Why don’t you have a wine club?” Bogle worked to create one, which today has more than 3,000 members.

Consistency, Yes. Complacency, No.

Bogle’s calling card is consistent wines at a good price, and that consistency is derived mainly in the vineyard. “We don’t want it to vary, but if we can make better wine we don’t hold back just because it would not conform with last year’s vintage,” says Aafedt. “What keeps us consistent is our grape growing.” With direct control over their own estate grapes and a very close relationship with other growers—two viticulturists are assigned full-time to be out in the fields working with growers—“we have a consistent supply of grapes grown the way we want them.”

Running a family business is challenging, all the more so when it’s a good-sized business. One way the Bogles handle that is by staying structurally lean. “It’s rare to see a company this large where you have family members in the day-to-day really getting their hands dirty,” Bogle points out.

Like most families, the siblings don’t agree on everything, but they’re in sync on their mission.

“We have, from the beginning, wanted to produce the absolute best bottle of wine at the price we’re producing and so we want our wines to be delicious and varietally correct,” says Bogle. “We want them to be well balanced and enjoyable, not just for a special occasion but for takeout on Wednesday as well.”

Achieving that goal “has been a lot of hard work and a lot of lessons learned and a lot of trial and error, but we’ve been really blessed and I’m so lucky to get to still work here today,” she says.

Early morning starts and all.

(By the way, the name is BOH-gul, not Boggle, although the family doesn’t mind how you pronounce it “as long as you enjoy it.”)

About the Author

Michelle Locke is a writer, photographer and editor based in the San Francisco Bay area. A news reporter for many yeras, she now writes about food, drink and travel, producing stories that appear in newspapers and magazines nationwide. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

  1. Yes, it ‘s a big even huge industry but Jody, Ryan and Warren have kept the “heart ” in this great family business. Old world values in a fast moving world. My hat’s off to them.

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