Benziger Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma County
What: There are some wines that just grow on you. The more you drink them, the better they get. Benziger Family wines are like that.
It could be that I’m just getting to know the wines better, but I also think it’s because the Benziger wines themselves are getting better.
Back 2001 the Benzigers decided they had to improve the quality of their wines, so they adopted an all natural program. No pesticides. No herbicides. No artificial fertilizers. They pulled up vines, dug into the earth to see what the soil was like. This remarkable commitment to sustainable growing practices has paid off with some outstanding wine.
The Sonoma County Chardonnay is a great example of that. The wine is bright, refreshing and inexpensive. It has a beautiful citrus nose, followed by flavors of pear, lemon and apricot, with a smooth, creamy finish. It’s a refreshing summer wine, but one that also will go with fall and winter foods.
The cool climate vineyards allowed for long hang times for the grapes and provided the wine with good natural acidity. It was fermented and aged in Hungarian oak barrels for six months. The lees were stirred in the barrels (called batonnage) to integrate flavors and build body texture.
The result is an amazing wine at this price.
Winery: The Benziger Family has been growing grapes on Sonoma Mountain for 30 years, but since 2001 they have been working on a sustainable vineyard program. They enlisted environmental experts, tested their vineyards and made a number of changes.
The resulting program was called “Farming for Flavors.” It encourages growers to farm more responsibly and is one of the most thorough quality programs around. The family chose to go that route because they believe sustainable practices produce wines that reflect the characteristics of the vineyards.
The change came when the family noticed that spraying to keep weeds and bugs down and fertilizing to keep the grape yield up didn’t appear to help the vines. They didn’t look as hardy as they once did and the soil didn’t look as rich.
Many wineries are embracing sustainable farming practices, but the Benzigers jumped into it with a take-no-prisoners attitude.
Mike Benziger started pushing for greener practices, eventually discovering Biodynamics, an ultra-organic approach. They pulled up vines that weren’t suited to the soil they were in and planted fewer vines so they could thrive. They promote natural vineyard management and biodiversity, planting special gardens to attract “good” insects that naturally eliminate the pests.
Now the family grows all kinds of fruit and vegetables on their land and raises animals as well. Water is recycled and purified naturally. They go to extraordinary lengths to let the character of the land show through in their wines.
They also have a beautiful tasting room with a tour that shows visitors how they grow grapes in a way to preserve the land for future generations.
The winery produces many varietals at several price points. The Benziger Family wines, such as this one, are the least expensive. Considering the high quality of the wines, they are terrific bargains.
Goes with: I tried a new recipe for grilled shrimp and it was wonderful with this wine. I put the shrimp on skewers with tomatoes, onions and red peppers. Then I sprinkled everything with a mixture of oregano, rosemary, thyme, pepper and sea salt before grilling. These are like kebabs you find in one of the many Greek restaurants of the Latin Quarter in Paris.
The food was good, and my wife Teri agreed that the wine made it all much better. The crisp citrus and apricot flavors really matched the herbs and shrimp. We added wild rice, a salad and corn on the cob and had a great summer feast.
This wine would go well with a number of seafood dishes, chicken, pork and all kinds of cheeses. I think it also would go well with the Thanksgiving turkey.