Benziger is one of Sonoma’s original family owned and operated wineries that still remains this way. Started by Michael Benziger and his wife Mary, with the help of his Dad Bruno, a New York wine and spirits importer, and Mom Helen, in the late 1970’s. Mike saw a piece of land in the majestic, and somewhat untouched, Sonoma County, CA and convinced his parents to help him buy it. With family determination and dedication soon Mom and Dad, and Mike’s youngest brother and sister, Chris and Kathy, moved to Sonoma to help with the launch of the winery, followed by Mike’s younger siblings, Bob, Jerry, Joe and Patsy. It truly is a family business, as today over 2 dozen Benzigers live around the 85 acre property, 15 of which work for the winery.
I met with Kathy Benziger the other night to learn more about this family owned and operated winery, and their how their original vision created in the 70’s and 80’s changed through the 90’s through the past decade.
Benziger sees their real start about 15 years ago when at the urging of Mike they turned their sites to becoming a Biodynamic and sustainable winery. They didn’t do this to become trendy, they did this because it was the right thing to do, and worked with Allen York to make this happen. Allen York is an international authority on Biodynamic farming and focused the Benziger efforts around a very holistic approach to creating a Biodynamic vineyard. In 2006 they brought in one of the best Chilean born winemaker Rodrigo Sotto to help with the sustainable portion of their vision.
They changed the way they plant and prune and fertilize and grown, and in 2000 became the first Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyard in Sonoma County. Of the 85 acre estate only 42 are used for growing vines, the rest feeds their biodynamic, sustainable focus with farming, insectaries, reclaimed wetlands, olive groves and gardens. With this also came a decrease in the wineries overall production, and an increase in what I found the overall quality of the wine.
Though they have re-branded themselves in some ways, their motto per say remains the same – mind the minucia, take special attention to the detail, and make the wine the best it can be. Today that is by focusing on the land and what the soil will give you through composting instead of pesticides, and ensuring their wine will have the taste and flavor of Carneros and Bodega Bay on the Sonoma Coast.
Today there are three lines of certified sustainable wines, Benziger Family Winery, Signaterra and Tribute. The Benziger Family Winery line includes one of the first wines they ever made, their Sauvignon Blanc. They entered this wine in the Sonoma County Wine Competition the first year they made it and it won, and continues to be a winner with the 2009 Orange County Fair Gold Medal. A grassy, mineral rich Sauv Blanc with lemon citrus and melon flavors. Sometimes Sauv Blancs are so acidic that they are hard to drink, this one has a good balance of acid with soft fruit flavors.
The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is also a part of the Family Winery line. A blend of juice from Carneros and Russian River, what I think have some of the best soil and growing conditions for Pinot in California. Filled with cherry and strawberry with good earthy undertones and hints of black tea, this is a beautiful representation of California Pinot, at a good price around $26. Considering what other Pinot Noirs from the region go for, this is a steal.
I wrote about their second line a few weeks ago with their Signaterra Three Blocks red blend. There is also a Sauv Blanc and Pinot Noir made a part of this line.
Their Tribute line is in tribute to their parents and in tribute to the land they have transformed through the past few years as this was the first wine to be Demeter-certified in Sonoma County. The 2006 is a blend predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Bold and hearty, with aromas of currant, cedar, chocolate and spice with appropriate tannin spread throughout every sip, instead of attacking you at the end. Berries, sweet spice and chocolate flavors fill the palate. This is a beautiful tribute to the Benziger family and vision for Sonoma County wine making.
And Kathy is a fantastic ambassador for her family, and a lover of all things Texan (including her hubby who hails from our great state.) There was a period of time that she was traveling and working in the state for her family so much that then Governor George Bush made her an honorary Texan, complete with a proclamation and a Stetson Hat.