Jack Niven pioneered winegrape planting with his Paragon Vineyard in the Edna Valley about forty years ago. His descendants, along with winemaker Christian Roguenant, have carried that same spirit forward by continually evolving the vineyard. They have been exploring and experimenting with white varietals in the Edna Valley for years. Success with Tangent, Zocker’s sister winery, was realized with varietals such as Albariño, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. As their Paragon Vineyard delivers fruit that produces wines of high acid and minerality, both traits of the racy style of Grüner Veltliner, it seemed an obvious next choice.
Zocker is an American winery that produces wines made exclusively from the white varietals of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. The grapes are grown on the Niven family’s famed Paragon Vineyard in the Edna Valley on the Central Coast of California. The wines are made by veteran French winemaker Christian Roguenant, whose remarkable career has led him to make wine on five continents. This project is truly international.
The terroir of the Niven’s Paragon Vineyard in the Edna Valley has proven to be spot-on for growing these racy white varietals. The best comparison is to northern Austria, where exemplary Grüner Veltliner is grown and made. The area on the north bank of the Danube has water-retaining loess soils, a long growing season, and produces wines of the heftier, baroque style. At Paragon, the Pacific Ocean provides a cooling influence, soils are mostly clay loam in the blocks planted to these varietals, the growing season is arguably one of the longest in California, and the wines are looking to be of similar style as well.
Grüner Veltliner is very rare domestically, but is the single most popular white wine in its native Austria. And for good reason; it is truly the most food-friendly wine in the world. It even works with vegetables notoriously difficult to pair with like artichokes and asparagus. Signature Grüner characteristics are crisp, light-to-medium body, spice notes, clean minerality, and a bit of white pepper in the finish. It is simply a delicious wine, whether it is served with food or merely on its own.
Riesling is not quite as rare in the U.S. but is made at so many different sugar levels that it has been difficult for many consumers to pin down. Zocker Riesling is made in an off-dry style, with an emphasis on balance between minerality and acid. It is also a great wine with many foods, especially those with a little spice.
The latest project of Niven Family Wine Estates, Zocker (Austrian word for Gambler) is likely their riskiest venture yet, as these varietals are far from conventional.