Benziger Family Vineyards sits inside an eruption cauldron, part of Sonoma Mountain, in Glen Ellen. One beautiful early fall day, they took on a group of bloggers and showed us the VIP treatment and gave us a nice education and tasting lesson behind the scenes.
Here at Benziger, the practice of biodynamics builds up the biological capital every year. Building a closed ecosystem, the winery has created its own terroir through the careful management of the land, and the balance of nature and farming. Eliminating the use of synthetic chemicals and starting more natural methods like crop rotation, composting, and natural insect and pest control changed the ecosystem.
We started our day taking a tram tour around the property, where we had several stops where Mike Benziger, Kathy Benziger, and
Next, we wandered down to the insectary, where Colby explained how the introduction of beneficial insects helps keep the farm in balance. While in the insectary, we sipped on some 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc Paradiso de Maria, Sonoma Mountain while a Praying Mantis came to sit atop our bottle. I tasted lemons, cream, grapefruit, with a whiff of petrol on the nose, as well as chalk and hay. It had a great acidify and was lively with granny smith apple flavors. 500 cases of this wine were produces from a one acre block that was dry farmed with minimal intervention. The wine was fermented on native yeast, which I always enjoy because I think it provides such a unique factor to every barrel. It was fermented in 100% stainless steel barrels sur lie and was delicious!
After the gardens, we moved on to the compost pile. Yes, the compost pile. Unfortunately, i didnt’ have any wine with me at the time, but luckily enough, it did NOT smell like my kitchen bucket. Mike Benziger explained to us that there are no magic tricks when making great wine. Benziger vines havfe very deep root growth on the property, which in part is caused by a change in the irrigation strategy. Deep roots allow for more stability int he vines. According to Mike, biodynamics is the best fine tuning system for nature, to make the best wine. The compost piles are actually kept separate for each block, and they are put back on the land where they came from. This adds to the closed ecosystem and prevents any cross contamination from occurring.
Our next stop was the water treatment facility, which is a series of ponds that are aerated at the back of the property. This is a man made wetland, which acts as a natural filter and helps to recycles and resue 2-4 million gallons (yes kids that’s a LOT of water!) annually.
Before we moved in to the cave to taste smoe with, we stopped by the crushpad to see their new sorting table. As it was in the middle of crush, we saw the line in action. this new vibrating sorting table allows the workers to sort out the duds, so they are only having to pull out the obviosuly flawed items. The stems and unripened berries are shaken off the table automatically.
At this point I was getting pretty thirsty so I was excited to go in to cave to meet Rodrigo Soto, the newest member of the team, and the winemaker for the Signaterra line. He is also the force behidn the new sustainableity program called Farmign for Flavors, which Rodrigo envisions as a single philosphi[phy of growing for all Benziger growers. This program allows a Benziger farming philosphphy to permiate all their growing family members, and produce wine of consistant quality in a sustainable way.
Inside the cave, we were met by Rodrigo, where we tasted some of the new Signaterra lineup. Signaterra is the new flagship line from Benziger, whose mision it is to make the best wines possible from vineyards that are fully managed by Benziger. These wines are built to reflect each property, which are farmed with different philosphies, depending on the land, but inclde organic practices, biodynamics and sustainable growing.
We started with the Signaterra Shore Farm Savignon Blanc. This RRV wine was grassy and green on the nose, witkh lemon grass. I tasted grapefruit, grass, meyer lemon, and a touch of honeysuckle with floral notes. It was zesty with a slight spritz of lime., gren apple and gree pear. We also tasted the 2007 Pinot Noir, Bella Luna Vineyard. This has spicy plum, black cherry and Dr. Pepper on the nose, followed by black cherry, figs, bleu and black fruit and dark rich vanilla on the palate. It was a BIG pinot and i really enjoyed it. On the long finish, I tasetd nutmeg,and white pepper. I have reviewed this wine previously at the all pinto event, and it’s fun to see both the similariites and differences in my impressions.
As we moved in to the beautiful special events room, we stopped to sip the Tribute, 3 Blocks and de Coelo pinots but I will need to decypher my notes to tell you about those. My suggestion is, go see for yourself! Kathy, Mike, Colby, Rodrigo and Jessica outdid themselves. On this, my 2nd visit this year, and 2nd visit in over 10 years, I remain impressed and delighted by the wines.
Head up to Glen Ellen, enjoy a tour and a bottle!
Wine, tour, and lunch were provided by Benziger. No bloggers were hurt in the writing of this article, except maybe David H’s pride by this lovely Brokeback Vineyards pose. Cheers!