When Katie asked me to write a piece about wine for her blog I immediately thought about Benziger Family Winery. Katie and her husband joined me on a tasting tour around California wine country last summer and this was our unanimous favorite winery. Benziger is a small production Sonoma wine-maker that has been at the forefront of eco friendly wine making. All of their estate vineyards are certified biodynamic and their non-estate wines are produced from grapes grown in either certified organic or sustainable vineyards.
I was unfamiliar with the distinctions between biodynamic, organic, and sustainable wines until I saw a television program about it a couple of years ago. Sustainable farming is the most basic of these and emphasizes environmentally responsible growing practices which include consideration of soil fertility, pollution of water and soil, soil erosion, the use of pesticides, and, of course, the quality of the grapes. Wines produced from sustainable vines may or may not be organic. Organic wines are produced from vines that have been farmed without the use systemic fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. Biodynamic farming is the highest level of holistic viticulture. The concept of biodynamics focuses on transforming the land and the vines into a self-nourishing and self-regulating system to grow grapes. The Benziger estate utilizes “good” insects as a natural insecticide to fight the insects that eat the grapes, sheep in place of herbicides, and cows to produce organic fertilizers.
Now onto the fun stuff, the wine! Whether you care about eco friendly vine growing or not, if you are an appreciator of good wine then you are bound to enjoy what Benziger produces. They offer a range of wines, both red and white, that can fit most budgets and even their lower end wines are more than satisfactory for any occasion. Being a small production winery, their estate wines are unfortunately sold only through Benziger. Fortunately for those of us not lucky enough to live in Sonoma, they have a wine club through which you can access their amazing catalogue of wines. I have chosen a few of my favorites in varying price ranges.
1. Tribute (certified biodynamic, $80): This is a predominantly cabernet red blend. Tribute ranks at the top of my list of spectacular reds that I have been lucky enough to sample in my life. This is a monster red without being harsh or overwhelming with tannins (the element of grape skins and stems which give wine its dry texture and flavor). If you like really big, complex, sophisticated reds then you will love this one.
2. Signaterra “West Rows” Chardonnay (certified organic, $32): I am not a drinker of chardonnay. I find them to mostly be too sweet and buttery and generally unpleasant, so I like to think it says something that this is the only bottle of chardonnay I came back with from California wine country. It is light and fruity without being too sweet or dense.
3. Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon (certified sustainable, $20): Benziger makes this cab as well as a certified sustainable merlot ($18) which are more affordable and very easily accessible. I can even pick them up at my local wine shop in the middle of nowhere and I have seen them at every Whole Foods I have been to. While neither is as impressive as some of their more pricey wines, they are both great examples of what a basic cabernet or merlot should be. These are my go-to wines when I feel like something a bit nicer than I would normally drink but don’t want to blow a huge amount of money on a single bottle.
Benziger was also featured on James May and Oz Clarke’s BBC program Oz and James’s Big Wine Adventure. It is a highly entertaining and delightfully British show that I HIGHLY recommend to anybody interested in learning more about wine while laughing at two hilarious, middle-aged English blokes.
You can find the Benziger episode on YouTube, as well as the full first and second seasons of the program.
If you are interested in learning more about Benziger and biodynamic farming or signing up for their wine club, I recommend visiting their website at www.benziger.com.