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2016 BEST Sauvignon Blanc: Benziger Family Winery

Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2016 Issue

"It's not just about being 'green.' We truly believe it affects the character and complexity of the wine." —Jessica LaBounty

 

Benziger Family Winery has been on the forefront of the sustainable and biodynamic farming movement since 1995, when its Sonoma Mountain Estate transitioned from conventional to biodynamic farming. In 2000, the estate was officially certified as a Biodynamic Farm by the Demeter Association. Senior Director of Marketing Jessica LaBounty explains: “‘Biodynamic’ incorporates ‘organic,’ but adds in biodiversity—ecosystem development, habitat restoration, all natural composting and water recycling. It’s a self-contained, holistic system.”

“We’re a pioneering part of the green movement,” says LaBounty. “Our estate fruit is biodynamically farmed, and all the vineyards we source from are certified either organic or sustainable. The Sauvignon Blanc vineyard where we source fruit is sustainably farmed. It’s not just about being ‘green.’ We truly believe it affects the character and complexity of the wine.”

Benziger makes three distinct Sauvignon Blancs. Its flagship, Paradiso de Maria, is named for family matriarch Mary Benziger, who discovered the now-winery property with her husband, Mike, and daughter Erinn, in 1979 and personally selected the site to produce her dream wine. The certified biodynamic wine is bursting with aromas of fresh cut hay, honeysuckle and apple blossom. It has weight and minerality on the palate and a long, bright finish.

“We have style statements for each wine,” says LaBounty. “We want our Sauvignon Blanc to be refreshing, crisp and bright. It’s fermented in stainless steel to retain freshness and we use a screwcap closure for the same reason. We want to celebrate varietal characteristics and find balance. I think it’s a fantastic summer wine.”

Winemaker Lisa Amaroli is in charge of the Sauvignon Blancs, which, in addition to the Paradiso de Maria, include one from Frank Johnson Vineyard and a North Coast blend. Located in Dry Creek Valley, the Frank Johnson Vineyard produces fruit with intense aromatics; the wine is deep and fresh, with layers of lemon, grapefruit and cut grass. The North Coast Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from multiple vineyards, each of which contributes to the wine’s complexity. This Old World-style Sauvignon Blanc starts with citrus and floral aromas that give way to subtle minerality, notes of grapefruit and lime, and an elegant softness.

A visit to Benziger is both educational and entertaining. It offers various tasting and tour options, with my favorite being the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour, a close-up look at the vineyards, fermentation facility, crush pad and barrel caves. You’ll learn about biodynamic practices, including the animals (sheep, cattle, birds and more) and beneficial gardens (including an insectory), and how they play an important part in keeping the entire property in balance.

In 2015, the Benziger family announced it had sold the business (and its nearby sister winery, Imagery) to The Wine Group, the world’s third-largest wine company. “The Wine Group only has a few direct-t-consumer properties, so we’re actually treated as unique,” says LaBounty. “They let us be us—they aren’t trying to change who we are.”

She explains, “We had seven or eight family partners, and some were ready to retire. It was time to restructure so some of the earlier generation could move on. But since the sale, we’ve actually had three more young Benzigers join the company. We’re all working for a place we love.”

The tasting room was recently updated, and LaBounty invites the North Bay (and beyond) to come experience the changes. And to NorthBay biz readers, she says, “We’re very appreciative. It’s fantastic to have the support and good will of our community.”

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