Tasting Fee: $30 (Fee waived with purchase of two or more bottles per guest)
Wines Offered: 2014 La Pommeraie Chardonnay, 2015 Three Sisters Chardonnay, 2014 Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2014 Martaella Pinot Noir, 2014 Tilton Hill Pinot Noir
Reservations: All Tasting By Appointment Only
Picnics: Members Only
Did You Know? The historic Cohn vineyard, located off Westside Road outside of Healdsburg was planted in 1970, making it one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in the Russian River area. Over the years, the ranch had been farmed commercially and was depleted, but that changed when Benovia acquired the property. “The vineyard wasn’t getting the attention it needed,” says Mike Sullivan, winemaker and co-owner. “We brought back what it was missing.” Today, Benovia farms nearly nine acres of heirloom-clone Pinot Noir and almost nine acres of Zinfandel at Cohn.
Driving through the entrance of Benovia Winery on a warm autumn afternoon after the wildfires, you’d never guess this part of the country was making news around the globe 15 days earlier. The sky is wide and blue, the grapevines lush and golden, and the sweet smell of harvest lingers in the air.
The last of the 2017 vintage was harvested a week before wildfires, and the three proprietors of Benovia are grateful for that, but this harvest season was bittersweet. “The fires remind us what is important, and we’re blessed that the Benovia team and their families are safe,” says Mary Dewane, co-owner. “At the same time, we’re heartbroken that our community has suffered, including four members of our team, who lost their homes.” Currently, those staff members and their families are living in Benovia’s vineyard cottages.
The tasting room offers a tranquil setting to sample Benovia wines and enjoy sweeping views of the vineyards, Mount Saint Helena and the Mayacama Mountains. On this Tuesday afternoon, the tasting room is quiet, but spirits are high for the three proprietors and staff at Benovia Winery. “Business is down 23 percent for the month of October,” says Joe Anderson, co-owner. “But it will come back.”
The Benovia story began in [the ’90s?] when the husband-wife team, Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane, visited Sonoma County. “It started with bicycles,” says Anderson with a smile. They visited during crush season and fell in love with the lifestyle. “We thought maybe one day, we’d buy a little place,” he adds, though both worked in the health care industry. In 2005, they left health care, purchased the winery as well as 15 acres of Pinot Noir and began searching for a winemaker. In 2006, Mike Sullivan joined Benovia.
Sullivan grew up in the Russian River Valley and began working in the industry as an intern at Chateau St. Jean. He studied fermentation science at Fresno State University and along the way developed a passion for Pinot Noir. In 2004, Robert Parker named Sullivan “Wine Personality of the Year.” When it comes to winemaking, Sullivan’s philosophy is about capturing the essence of place and time, which begins in the vineyard. “Farming is important,” says Sullivan, co-owner and winemaker. “Wine is an expression of the vineyard and its place. It’s about allowing the flavors to shine through.” Sullivan lost his home the night of the wildfires and drove to the winery to keep watch over the vineyard on Hartman Lane.
We begin with the 2014 La Pommeraie Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. In French, La Pommeraie means apple orchard, a nod to the Martinelli family, since the fruit is sourced from their ranch on Frei Road. “This is one of our signature Chardonnays,” says Sullivan. “We’ve been making it since 2006.” A distinctive wine, this Chardonnay offers a natural acidity and beautiful notes of pineapple, green papaya and melon.
Next, we try the 2015 Three Sisters Chardonnay. This Chardonnay is aromatic and floral with notes of white peach, and offers a bright acidity and more layered mouth-feel. “This wine is about optimizing flavors when the fruit is ripe to bring out the best of the vineyard character,” says Sullivan.
We move to the Pinot Noirs. No other wine reflects its place and time more than Pinot Noir, says Sullivan. The 2014 Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir is sourced from fruit at the historic Cohn vineyard. Silky, seamless and elegant in texture, this Pinot Noir is delightfully complex with notes of rose petals, dark cherries and raspberries. “The Cohn ranch, known for its red, rocky soil, produces fruit with a unique flavor,” says Anderson.
Next we try the 2014 Martaella Pinot Noir, from the Russian River Valley. This estate wine is named “Martaella,” a tribute to Anderson and Dewane’s mothers, Martha and Eleanor. “It has an immediate brightness, and starts talking to you right away, just as my mother did,” says Anderson. This Pinot Noir is spicy with hints of dark berry, rosemary, herbs and flowers.
Last, we finish with the 2014 Tilton Hill Pinot Noir, which is made with fruit sourced from the Sonoma Coast. This wine is influenced by the cool maritime climate, and offers beautiful notes of dark fruit, plums and blackberries, fiddlehead ferns and forest floor, says Sullivan. This wine is distinctive and earthy.
Parker once wrote this about Sullivan, “…he seems to have the brilliant ability to convert Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel into wines of considerable character and individuality.” Next time, you’re planning a day of wine tasting, make a reservation for a seated tasting at Benovia, where the wines are expressive, unique and elegant. And while the losses have been great for four staff members at Benovia, their passion for winemaking remains. “We’re open for business,” says Anderson. “And the wine is delicious.” Says Sullivan, “Discover Benovia.”
Located at 1410 Neotomas Ave. in Santa Rosa,NorthBay biz magazine is a monthly business-to-business publication covering Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties. This year, the magazine is celebrating 43 years of continuous operation. It originally hit the stands in 1975, when it was called Sonoma Business, and only covered Sonoma County. Norm and Joni Rosinski and John Dennis, acquired it in 2000 and changed its name to cover an expanded market. Today, the magazine is part of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group. More here..