Every once and a while I have to take an afternoon and ground myself in biodynamic wine making at the Benziger Family Ranch Winery outside of Glen Ellen in Sonoma Valley California. Two weeks ago, Barney Barnett, Geoff Bock and I travelled from San Jose, CA up to the ranch to have Barney introduce Geoff to biodynamic wine grape growing and taste the Tribute series of biodynamic wines.
Benziger’s Mike Benziger and Alan York were the cover subjects of a great series of articles on biodynamic wines in the Wine Spectator Magazine.
In the above picture, Barney is explaining to Geoff the finer points of how the vines are pruned to get quality rather than quantity for better tasting wine. The Benzigers have a great tour of the vineyards to show all of the aspects of biodynamics and farming for flavors.
The new addition on this visit was a gaggle of sheep to aid with natural care taking of the vineyard. As Mike Benziger explained to us later in the day: “One of the worst things that can happen in the vineyard is to compact the soil around the vines. That is exactly what happens if you have to use a tractor to mow the grass. With these sheep and the Scottish cows that we also have in the vineyard three great things happen. The animals keep the grass “mowed”. The animals with their running around and their movement in the vineyard are automatically “tilling” the soil. And finally they all “poop” on a regular basis which provides needed fertilizer to the vines. What a wonderfully natural system.”
Over the course of the next couple of hours we moved from the top of the vineyard, down to the crush pad and the barrel cellars cut back into the hillside, and then followed the flow of water to the holding ponds. The holding ponds are designed to recycle all of the water that hits the Benziger ranch back on to the vines. For that water that does leave the ranch it is cleaner than when it fell from the sky as rain.
As we walked back up to the tasting room, the Scottish cows came strolling by. From a biodynamic viewpoint, these cows have the cleanest and most fertile “poop” of any cow due to the length of their intestines.
By the time we hit the tasting room we were ready to sample the results of this commitment to the highest state of biodynamic certification. Unfortunately, all of the Tribute Bordeau blend had been sold. So we had to settle for the rest of what was being poured. We were fortunate to taste some of Joacquin’s Inferno which is some Zinfandel planted at the very top of the vineyard. While only 70 cases were produced, I was able to snag six bottles. The real treat for me this day was the Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon. Rarely have I tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon that was not a blend with other varietals. This part of the vineyard is on the lower part of the bowl and closest to the Jack London State Park. These vines have a high concentration of obsidian in the soils. I couldn’t resist giving myself a New Year’s treat of six bottles.
If you are ever in the Sonoma Valley, I would heartily recommend spending an afternoon really understanding biodynamic wine making the Benziger way. This way of creating wines shows off what the French call terroir. The Benzigers are committed to producing wines that reflect the best of the terroir rather than trying to imitate what the popular wine reviewers rate homogeneous wines that could be grown anywhere.