Benziger - Leading the way on Sonoma Mountain



When you visit the Benziger Estate vineyards you know something special is going on. The sight of so many vineyard blocks carefully eased into each contour of this beautiful slice of Sonoma Valley, just west of the hamlet of Glen Ellen, is only the first indication of how much thought and care is going into the cultivation of these grapes.

What sets Benziger apart?

Family Owned
There is one simple reason for all this care and deliberation: Benziger remains a family owned and operated winery. From the first day Mike and Mary Benziger drove up London Ranch Road and discovered the overgrown land that was to be transformed into the Benziger Estate on Sonoma Mountain, to the present day, the family has remained intimately involved with the day-to-day operations of the winery.

The fact is that three generations of Benzigers have worked to make the winery what it is today. The youngest, embodied by Mike and Mary’s daughter Erinn, is as determined as any to continue to curate this land to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the natural beauty of Sonoma Mountain and make wines that will live up to the proud reputation that the currant generations have established for the Benziger Family Winery.

Biodynamic Farming
Mike Benziger was one of the pioneering winemakers in California’s biodynamic movement. Biodynamics is a philosophy that treats all parts of an agricultural enterprise like elements of a single living, breathing entity. The theory posits that by fostering the health of the environment one can increase the vibrancy and quality of the production of that environment.

In many ways a return to a simpler, more intuitive style of farming that abandons much of the commercial “progress” of the past century in favor of traditional methods that deliver unique, site-specific flavors, and more importantly, are sustainable.

Gone, for example, are the monoculture vineyards, replaced by vines inter-planted with species that foster the development of vibrant populations of beneficial, predatory animals. These outposts are linked via pathways to allow these animals free access to all of the estate. Simple changes such as the re-introduction of these natural predators can have profound effects on the landscape that extends beyond the immediate benefits of crop diversification.

To help further attract these beneficial predators, owl boxes and bat houses where placed within these oasis creating wildlife sanctuaries. The combined effect of harnessing these symbiotic animals and their ferocious appetite was the elimination of commercial pesticides, yet another tenet of Biodynamics.

Adhering to the principles of Biodynamics requires the elimination of commercial fertilizers. The Benzigers use composted materials from the farm, grape canes from annual pruning, pomace from the previous years harvest, as well as manure from the farm’s goats and cattle, to replace nutrients that have pulled from the ground.

This effort to “close the loop” extends to the estate’s water management system as well. Waste water from the wineries operations is captured and feed through a series of reclamation ponds were the water is filtered so that it can be used for irrigation, lowering the impact the winery makes on it’s surrounding.

While much of Biodynamics is focused on maintaining the health of the estate as a distinct entity, the Benziger family is well aware of the impact they may have on the world around them and are working to limit that impact.

While much of the fruit used to produce Benziger wines comes from the Estate, the family also relies on contract growers to supply fruit. In an effort to extend their impact beyond the confines of the Sonoma Mountain Estate the Benziger family has helped myriad growers move away from commercial farming techniques by incentivizing a switch to less impactful farming methods.

Sustainable and Organic
Benziger encourages its partner growers to move gradually from commercial farming to sustainable farming through a program they call Farming for Flavors™. The hope and goal is that each grower will eventually adopt the ever more stringent rules of organic and ultimately biodynamic farming.

While the environmental impact is always at the forefront of these efforts, the simple fact is that the quality of the fruit improves as growers move away from commercial techniques. That exceptional grape quality makes the effort profitable, thus attracting and motivating growers to participate in the program.

While this may extend beyond the recognized principles of Biodynamics, the effort to move people away from chemical pesticides and commercial fertilizers embodies the spirit of Biodynamics and illustrates the commitment the family has to the impact their winemaking leaves on the world around them.

Winemaking plays its part
The Benziger philosophy starts, not surprisingly, in the vineyards. Their faith in Biodynamics not only represents their belief that it is better for the soil, but also their belief that as a farming system it produces better, more site specific wines.

They strive to capture this specificity, or terroir as it is frequently referred to, by practicing a low impact form of winemaking that begins among the vines. Grapes are harvested early in the day while still cool, and sorted before being crushed.

Each block of the vineyard is fermented separately and with it’s own natural yeasts, a further allowing each site to fully express its unique traits.

These individual lots are then aged and eventually blended to produce the wines that define the Benziger Estate style: Bold yet balanced, complex and elegant expressions of a people, a place and a time captured and to be shared with friends and, above all, family.

Great Wines, Better pricing

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time at Benziger during my recent visit to Sonoma, and got the opportunity to taste through several of their wines with winemaker Rodrigo Soto. Rodrigo is a recent addition to the Benziger team charged with further developing their Farming for Flavors™ program. His passion for wine was as obvious as his commitment to improving the program that has established Benziger as a leader in the return to intelligent, sustainable, low impact farming.

If you are not familiar with Benziger this is your chance to get to know them. They should not only be admired for their efforts at improving the health of their vineyards, and the world around them, but also for the wines they produce. For a limited time they are extending fantastic discounts to Snooth members. I urge you to take advantage of this compelling offer.

As a further incentive Benziger will upgrade your shipping from ground to 2nd day air when you buy a case of wines, 12 bottles solid or mixed. This deal expires Saturday, September 26, 2009 so make sure and get your order in before then and enjoy great saving and that free upgrade to 2nd day air shipping. It’s a deal that can’t be beat!

2005 Benziger Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
Normally: $49.00
Exclusive Snooth pricing: $24.50
Distinctly ripe on the nose with a light overlay of subtle oak and spicy, licorice nuances. This is full bodied and chunky in the mouth with a jammy, blackberry core and light notes of vanilla and cedary spice adding complexity. 89pts
View Details

2006 San Remo Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Normally: $49.00
Exclusive Snooth pricing: $34.00
With lovely red fruits on the nose edged with cola, balsamic and dried meat tones this is open knit and attractively perfumed. Very fresh in the mouth with a soft texture that is so perfectly balanced by the slightly candied cranberry fruit tones that this fairly slides down the throat. There are nice nuances of sassafras and Mexican chocolate spice tones on the finish. This is perfect for current consumption and while it may not be the biggest, baddest Pinot on the block it makes up for it by being a simply delicious and fresh bottle. 91pts
View Details

2005 Benziger 'Oonapais' Estate Sonoma Mountain Red, Sonoma Mountain
Normally: $50.00
Exclusive Snooth pricing: $30.00
Initially revealing subtle smoky scents over sweet, dark, earthy fruit lightly threaded with woodspice, green herb, and seaweed tones this gains intensity that follows through on the palate. Big and polished in the mouth with a deep, velvety texture that features well-integrated acids contributing volume in the mouth. Rich and very fruity with notes of coffee, pine, and earth framing the dark wild berry fruits that lead to a great, mouthwatering finish full of dark cherry flavors and edged with cedar and spicy peppery nuances. This is a great value. It includes some of the wine that was intended to be part of Benziger’s top of the line bottling, Tribute, but just didn’t make the final cut. Already drinking very well this has definite upside potential over the next 3-5 years. 93pts
View Details

2006 Benziger 'Obsidian Point' Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Mountain
Normally: $65.00
Exclusive Snooth pricing: $49.00
Clear and high toned aromatics greet the nose with well integrated oak tones juxtaposed against complex green coffee bean, herb, cocoa tones with a light suggest of underbrush. This is seamless in the mouth with superb ripe tannins and plenty of acidity to add brightness to the dark, spicy fruit on the palate. The purity of the black currant fruit is admirable with a really well defined mineral note that powers through the back end and leads to a tapering, long finish. This is wonderfully balanced and really transparent if a little tight at this point. Better to leave this for 2-3 years allowing it to blossom and fulfill all it’s potential. 94pts
View Details


Summer Shipping Alert

Due to warm weather across the nation, Benziger will upgrade all orders of 12 bottles or more to 2-Day Air shipping for no extra charge. (Except orders within Calif.)

Also while the warm weather persists, Benziger will only ship wines on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Benziger ships to the following states: AK, CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, KS, MN, MO, NC, ND, NE, NH, NM, NV, NY, OR, SC, TX, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY

For shipping to CT, IN, LA & MI, please call Benziger's offices at: 800-989-8890

The offer also includes free upgraded from UPS Ground to 2nd Day air on Case purchases (can be mixed). This special promotion expires September 26, 2009

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: D9sus4
    163476 316

    This is a Great wine! I had some recently at the winery and bought a bottle at full retail. But, your lead page says $30.00 for the 2005 Oonapais Cabernet, but when you click on the details link, the price is $35.00? So which is it supposed to be?

    Sep 01, 2009 at 9:43 PM

  • Snooth User: StockBoy
    188562 78

    With all due respect to the "Save-The-Earth" crowd, many vinyards practice organic-like farming, but every wine I have ever tasted that advertised themselves as "organic" rate very, very poor (45 out of 100 Wine Spectator scale). Benziger is no different. I toured their vinyards in June. The "organic" faming is wonderfull and praise-worthy. However the wine is poor at best. I poured out every one of the 8 wines they poured for me. After a long conversation with one of the Benziger Sons (it's a big family), he admitted the problem - quality of the wine is not their first priority. Sadly it shows/tastes.

    Sep 01, 2009 at 10:24 PM

  • Snooth User: D9sus4
    163476 316

    Stockboy, I'm not sure what planet you're from, but I buy wine by "taste", not by "Save the Earth" considerations. Perhaps if you had spent the extra $$ to sample the reserve wines at Benziger instead of their more generic wines, you would understand this. Their $60.+/per bottle 2006 Tribute, for example, I would put up against almost any Bordeaux blend I have ever tasted, be it French or American. There are, in fact, a growing number of world class wineries (Grgich Hills for one) moving to "Green" growing practices as it is less damaging to their $100-250,000.00/acre land than the old chemical-dependent methods which can render the soil useless for years. The fact that this practice is also less damaging to the environment is just a bonus, and if it's better for my planet (Earth), that suits me just fine. But perhaps it is the taste of the pesticides and herbicides that you prefer in the wine you drink, not the taste of the grapes?

    Sep 02, 2009 at 12:13 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Wine Spectators scale doesnt have a 45, it goes from 50-100.

    Sep 02, 2009 at 9:58 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Well I have said it before and I'll say it again.

    Farming techniques affect grapes.

    Winemaking is a distinct endeavor.

    Whether a winemaker makes wine well or not is one point of discussion. Benziger makes wines well.

    Whether Benziger makes wine you like is an entirely different discussion on no one but yourself can answer that.

    Just as an aside Seghesio practices sustainable farming including many of the aspects mentioned in the Benziger article and Sebastiani has begun to move in that direction as well, starting with natural yeast fermentations.

    I think you might be surprised by who is doing what in the wine world.

    Sep 02, 2009 at 10:15 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748


    We were told by Benziger that the price was $30 a bottle.

    The error is on their part and I am sure they will honor the lower price once it's brought to their attention.

    Sep 02, 2009 at 10:17 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    The price has been corrected on Benziger's site.

    Sep 02, 2009 at 11:56 AM

  • Snooth User: D9sus4
    163476 316

    Gregory, thanks for correcting the pricing issue before I ordered the wine.

    I live in St.Louis, and just returned from a week in Napa/Sonoma on a wine tasting/buying trip. I sampled these wines at Benziger and they are all spectacular. Bought a few bottles there at full retail.

    Liked your comments regarding sustainable farming and personal taste. Two other major label wineries that I visited are also employing biodynamic principles: Grgich Hills and Rubicon. Both of these wineries produce wines that score in the 90+ Wine Spectator scale. Amazing that there are still people who think one can't produce great wine responsibly.

    Sep 04, 2009 at 1:26 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I just tasted with Felton Road yesterday. Another winery making the switch to Biodynamic farming. The early indication are promising to say the least. It's a global movement.

    Sep 09, 2009 at 3:07 PM

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network