Bokisch Vineyards has been named the Winery of the Year and Cheese Central owner Cindy Della Monica the Tourism Advocate of the Year, Visit Lodi announced on Monday.

Upon hearing that she had won the award, Della Monica was overjoyed and appreciative for the work that her staff has put into Cheese Central to make it award worthy.

“This undoubtedly was a group effort. I pride myself on the carefulness of my staff and the work that they do and to have this certainly validates our presence in the region,” Della Monica said.

Della Monica’s experience as a chef helped her create a unique destination where guests can both taste and learn about cheese.

“I focus on creating a learning environment as well as create an experience for people when they enter my store,” Della Monica said.

Della Monica says she can empathize with customers who purchase expensive products at specialty stores and feel underwhelmed by their purchase, which is why she prides herself on the personalization of the experience when customers visit Cheese Central.

“Our cheesemongers ask customers five questions to help them find the best product to purchase and to also learn about it,” Della Monica said.

There are 12 types of cheese, and each cheese has a family of cheese similar in taste but with subtle differences in flavor and texture, according to Della Monica.

The extensive product selection that is offered is meant to pair with any glass of wine or jam. Every detail that is attributed to the taste of the cheese is taken into consideration before any employee makes a recommendation.

The carefulness and consideration into each recommendation is not just something that Della Monica takes into account when pairing a wine and cheese sequence, as the same level of care goes into making a recommendation for tasting rooms as well, Della Monica said.

The meticulous care and consideration is what led to Della Monica being honored by Visit Lodi.

“Cindy is an amazing individual,” Visit Lodi CEO Nancy Beckman said. “She opened a niche business during a downturn in the economy and built Cheese Central into a successful shop that is a favorite of tourists and locals alike. She is a role model for customer service excellence, wanting all who come into her store to have a great experience and leave satisfied. Cindy works closely with wineries, restaurants and local organizations to do cheese pairings for visitors and media, creating an experience that showcases the best that Lodi has to offer as a destination.”

Like Della Monica, Markus and Liz Bokisch have built their winery’s success by focusing on the small details that make the wine stand out.

Markus Bokisch, who is from Spain, has worked to recreate the tastes of Catalonia by focusing on the integrity of the winemaking process.

“Wine is not monolithic, and we pride ourselves on the preservation of flavors in the winemaking process,” Bokisch said. “Our Albarino offers such delicate flavor because we trust the flavor of the grapes and minimize the manipulation of the grapes during the winemaking process,” Bokisch said.

Bokisch believes that the reputation of his wine is owed to winemaker Elyse Perry, whose rigorous winemaking process preserves the taste of the grapes to produce an esteemed wine that offers the authentic taste of the Spanish regions.

"Not only have Markus Bokisch and the whole Bokisch Team been making critically-acclaimed Lodi wines for decades, but they have been raising the tide for all of us winery boats,” said Visit Lodi! Chairman Jon Bjork. “They were an important early grower of higher-level, premium winegrapes, not only for their winery but also for many local wineries. They drove the establishment of Lodi's sub-appellations, helping to raise awareness for what grows best in specific areas.”

Both Bokisch and Della Monica will receive their awards on Tuesday, May 7 during the 13th annual Tourism Luncheon from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. at Wine & Roses Hotel, Restaurant & Spa. Tickets are on sale now until March 29 and are $45 per person.

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