For some businesses, "green" is just a hook for a faster buck. Not so with Benziger Winery. They aren't green as a gimmick; they're green because it makes fantastic wine.
And this family-owned and operated Sonoma winery in the town of Glen Ellen goes beyond simply eliminating the chemicals that other wineries use for weed and bug control. Their biodynamic wines are fully integrated into the natural cycle of the earth. For those who think this sounds like California hippy hogwash, consider this: do you really want Ortho in your glass of zinfandel...?
Benziger Vineyards — Photo courtesy of Benziger
The beauty of biodynamics - and what makes a trip to Benziger winery so memorable - boils down to this: take care of the land, and the land will take care of you. When the Benziger family started this vineyard in 1985, they followed the industry practice of squeezing every drop of wine out of every square inch of available land. They eventually bucked that trend and went for quality over quantity; today, only 41 out of the estate's 85 acres are devoted to vineyards. The rest of the land is used for the insectary, the recycling ponds and the composting area. And its these three features that make Benziger so unique.
Once you decide not to use insecticides to protect your vines, the bugs don't simply walk (or fly or crawl) away. In order to protect their vines but respect nature, Benziger grows plants that attract birds that feed on insects harmful to their vines. It takes years to develop this healthy predator/prey balance, just one of the many investments this vineyard has taken to produce truly natural wine.
Insectary — Photo courtesy of Benziger
The Recycling Ponds
Finding a pure and sustainable water source is a real challenge anywhere in California. Instead of shipping in water or diverting natural resources from elsewhere, Benziger has a series of recycling ponds that naturally refine and purify the water they use.
Recycling ponds — Photo courtesy of Benziger
The Composting Area
Finally, in order to control the very microbes that help produce the wine you'll drink, Benziger has its own herd of Scottish highlander cattle that produces incredibly rich fertilizer for its vines.
Newborn calf — Photo courtesy of Benziger
If this seems radical, it's radical in the original, best sense of the word: getting back to the root of things. A visit to Benziger winery, and a taste of their 29 diverse and eclectic wines, will reveal how everyone benefits when the land is truly respected. Or, as winegrower and general manager Mike Benziger puts it, "Our job is to take this beautiful scenery, fold it up into a bottle, and serve it to our guests."
Benziger family — Photo courtesy of Benziger