“Drink a glass of wine after your soup and you steal a ruble from your doctor.”
………………..Russian Proverb

Bottom of sign reads "Demeter Certified Biodynamic Farm"
One of the more unusual tours I enjoyed in Sonoma was at the Benziger Winery.  But I hadn’t met with either the winemaker or the owners, which had been my routine.  Instead, before joining a Benziger public tour, I met privately with the Purchasing Manager. That’s what made the day unusual, and so rewarding. Among other things, I observed that the culture of biodiversity runs deep at the vineyard.  So deep, you might say it had deep roots; deep enough to permeate all departments and employees at the vineyard. Carrie, the Purchasing Manager, for example, took pride in explaining the Benziger family’s commitment to sustainable, organic and biodiverse agricultural practices. As a Master Gardener (since 1992), I found this interesting.  But it was even more interesting to note how much Carrie knew about these practices in her role as a Purchasing Agent, never having been involved in growing the grapes or making the wine.
No need for temperature modification in
their cellar. Temperatures remain even.
Saves energy & good for the wine.
 Biodiversity – the other “B” word at Benziger – is not a fad.  It started at the winery in the mid 1990s. In 2000, they became Napa and Sonoma county’s first such certified winery.   Benziger also earned the Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Green Growing Award” for water stewardship. Benziger’s commitment to biodiversity was initiated by a genuine sense that sustainable agriculture was good practice; a respect for the earth and a belief that such practices ultimately make for better product – that healthy vineyards make better wine.  While touring the grounds, I observed several different insectaries, areas in which plants of varying color and texture are grown to attract and retain good bugs (defined simply as those which prey on the bad ones).  Habitats are maintained to create welcoming areas for birds and owls. This is better appreciated as a wine drinker when you understand that, as a result, no chemical pesticides are used anywhere.  No poisons go on the grapes that eventually become the wine that you drink. No chemical soap is needed. No weed-killing herbicides are used that are absorbed into the soil that could be absorbed by the vines that nourish the grapes that make your wine.
One of the habitats. I call them "zones."

Sheep graze on weeds and cover crops and push nutrients like nitrogen into the soil. Their natural deposits are composted as are stems, leaves and other vegetative matter.  Compost is amended into the soil as organic fertilizer, or applied as “tea.”  If my notes are accurate, the vegetative matter alone amounts to 130 tons per year. Water is recycled through recycling ponds and wetlands instead of being wasted, saving 2 million gallons a year. The vineyards support colonies of bees, chickens, and even Scottish Highlander cattle all forming in harmony a self contained and self-sustaining ecosystem. 

Nonetheless, I drink wine, after all, for the enjoyment of it as I suppose you do. And bad wine made in a good way is not what I’m after. So how does Benziger taste?

Another "zone" with wetland area
Wine & Spirits magazine called their 2009 “Tribute” the “best cab blend in America.”   The same wine was awarded 93 points in December 2011.  Wine Enthusiast awarded 93 points to their 2008 “Tribute.” Their 2007 Tribute (consistency ranks high with the “Mizer”) also earned 92 points from Wine & Spirits saying, “Tribute has become one of Sonoma’s top cabernet blends.”  Wine & Spirits also awarded 93 points for their 2009 “Quintus,” referring to it as the year’s best Pinot Noir.  Their 2008 “Quintus De Coelo” Pinot Noir scored 92 points from Wine & Spirits (there’s that consistency thing again), and was named “Best of Class” by the San Francisco Chronicle. And their 2008 “Terra Neuma De Coelo” Pinot Noir earned 94 points from Wine Enthusiast. Four of Benziger’s wines were awarded Platinum in the 2011 San Diego International Wine Competition, earning them “Winery of the Year.”  Benziger’s 2007 Merlot, 2008 Signaterra Bella Luna Pinot Noir and 2009 Sauvignon Blanc also took Gold Medals in January 2011 at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Vineyard with "zone" lower left and  other vegetation front
I could continue, but, hopefully, you get the point.  Perhaps a point you are missing though is how all this recycling and responsible farming influences price. Corks, I learned from Carrie, add $1 to each bottle’s price. I also learned that Benziger’s corks are carefully selected to contain .01% or less TCA. (Corks used in Europe are often in the .04% to .05% range.  High levels of TCA in corks can result in spoiled wine). Corks and labeling also add significant costs to production. I was also surprised at how much can be spent designing a label. But one of the benefits of biodiversity is that it helps control cost over time.  And regardless of which wine you choose from Benziger’s large offering - from their entry-level offerings to their “starship” wines - you are assured that the grapes from which your wine were made carry a third party certification of green farming practices.

That’s important to me because winemaking today has evolved so technologically that wines can be manipulated, their taste becoming a deception of their grape’s natural character.  Having tasted some of Benziger’s wines, I enjoyed recognizing the natural characteristic of the grape in each wine. If you like wine, you have to respect the grape that made it, and Benziger does.

In the months ahead, I’ll be posting individual reviews of Benziger’s wines as well as those made by other wineries I visited in Sonoma.  In the meantime

Cheers! (and stay tuned)  
……………………………………………. Jim
* Visit for mini-tips on wine & food

               Shout Outs and Thanks to Carrie Duffield at Benziger                                                                                                                    
               and Cailyn McCaulay of                                                                                
Benziger Family Winery                                                                   
1883 London Ranch Rd
Glen Ellyn, CA     95442
(707) 935-3000


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