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2014 BEST Chardonnay: Benziger Family Winery

Once the estate found its balance, the wines did too.

The Benziger family has been growing grapes on Sonoma Mountain for close to 30 years. In the beginning, it farmed the same way as everyone else in the area: spraying to keep the weeds in check, to keep the bugs away and to increase yield per vine. It worked for a little while, and the wines were decent. But after a few years, the earth didn’t look as rich as it once had—things seemed drier, harder and quieter.
In the mid-1990s, Mike Benziger befriended a man named Alan York, one of the leading international experts on biodynamic farming. With Alan’s help, the family learned which flowers attracted the bugs needed to keep pest populations in control. Habitats were created for birds and owls, and they brought cows, sheep and chickens to live on the property.
Once the estate found its balance, the wines did too. As they tasted the wines grown from such a healthy and vibrant place, the family realized that the distinctiveness and authenticity it had been lacking before was right in the glass. Healing the land had led to an amazing new caliber of wines. This prompted the family to begin applying the lessons learned on the estate to all the vineyards it worked with.
Around 2001, Mark Burningham, vice president of winegrowing and the only non-Benziger partner in the company, put together a sustainable farming program for all of its growers. He created protocols and metrics and guidelines that would help a farmer tailor a sustainability plan to his or her specific vineyard, one that would require progress each year toward an ultimate goal of organic or biodynamic certification. Since 2007, Stellar Certification Services has audited Benziger’s program and inspects all the vineyards that hold its certification. Today, with more than 12 Benzigers active in the winery, the family is committed to this philosophy now and for generations to come. 
Today, the entire portfolio of Benziger wine is certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic. Not because it wants to be known as “the green winery,” but because it understands great wine has green values. In its pursuit of fine wine, the family follows agricultural, winemaking and business practices that are good for the earth and the vine, good for the farmworker and farmer, and good for its colleagues and customers. And Benziger carries the same attention to detail from the vineyard down into the cellar.
Its 2011 Sonoma County Chardonnay is a medium-bodied wine with fragrant honeysuckle and pineapple aromas that add depth. Fruit forward flavors of stone fruit, pear and sweet citrus caress the palate with a soft approach. The 2012 Signaterra Chardonnay, West Rows opens with mouth-watering apricot and peach aromas. Bright, beautiful tropical fruit and apple flavors flow over the tongue, enhanced by a subtle minerality within the mid-palate.
If you’re interested in biodynamic farming—or just great Sonoma Valley wine—a trip to Benziger is in order. The winery offers a few different touring options, each of which is entertaining as well as informative. Walk-ups are welcome, but reservations are recommended.



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