The Benziger name is one you likely associate with wine in Sonoma County. You might even know the Benziger family made a commitment to sustainable, organic and biodynamic viticultural practices in Sonoma long before the ideas were fashionable. Today we are tasting two Benziger Estate wines that are Demeter-certified Biodynamic® and celebrate the family’s dedication to biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. We received both wines as tasting samples.
The Benziger family’s wine journey in Sonoma County dates back to 1980 when Mike Benziger and his father Bruno purchased Wegener Ranch on Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen. Glen Ellen was the first wine brand the family developed and sold after only a few years.
The family subsequently developed the Benziger Family Winery brand that focused on sustainable farming practices. In 1995 the Benzigers began the conversion from conventional farming on their Sonoma Mountain Estate to organic and biodynamic farming. The estate was Demeter-certified Biodynamic® in 2000.
In 2015 the Benziger family sold the Benziger Family Winery and the 85-acre Sonoma Mountain Estate to Wine Group, who have continued the Benziger’s commitment to biodynamic farming and certification.
2018 Benziger Estate Paradiso de Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Mountain — pale yellow in the glass with aromas of dried hay and herbs. Flavors follow the aromas with dried oat hay, grilled pineapple, gravely minerality and citrus zest. The finish is bright, clean and moderate in length. 13.5% abv. SRP $36
The Sauvignon Blanc has complexity and depth. Critically, for me at least, it has more than green, herbal flavors that are overtly grassy.
2016 Benziger Estate Oonapais, Sonoma Valley — bright ruby in the glass with generous ripe blackberry and blueberry aromas. Flavors of plums, berry bramble, ripe blackberries combine with drying tannins for a dense and chewy wine. The finish is moderate in length. The longer this wine was open, the more we enjoyed it. Give it some time to unwind its stocky limbs. 14.5% abv. SRP $49
This blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot and 15% Malbec is a food wine that just begs to be paired with braised short ribs, beef Bourgogne or lamb chops.
Following organic farming practices takes commitment. Synthetic herbicides and pesticides are not allowed and all inputs must be certified organic. Similarly, biodynamic farming principles, which are built upon on organic principles, include another level of commitment to farming by using manures, making compost, compost teas and biodynamic preparations (numbered 500 to 508) that are applied to the soil and vines to build soil complexity and vine strength.
Some grape growers choose to embrace biodynamic viticultural practices but are not certified as such. Certification requires not only using but also documenting these specific farming practices and having those practices inspected and certified. It’s an extra level of commitment and expense.
Similarly, if winemakers want their wines to be certified biodynamic on the bottle the grapes must be 100% certified and winemaking process must also be certified. This is also an extra level of commitment and expense. Please note: both of these wines are Demeter-certified Biodynamic® as evidenced by the Demeter seal on the back labels.
The Benziger family has long viewed their property as their best asset and been eager to share their commitment to sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming with their guests. In 1995 they began offering their Biodynamic Tram Tour as a way to share that commitment. This past September Benziger celebrated the 25th anniversary of that tour. I’m betting this tour, which includes a tour of the winemaking facility, wine cave and wine tasting, is a fun and informative way to learn about biodynamic farming principles.