Last week, I had a friend visit me from Virginia. Since it was her first visit to the Bay Area, I wanted to give her a truly authentic experience. We saw the seals at the Marina; we ate Mexican food in the Mission; we shopped in the Haight; and we rode the streetcar down Market. Then, we had a really nice weekday ahead of us, so we decided to go up to the wine country and see what that was all about. I had never been there, so it was going to be a true adventure for us both.
After hitting the Sonoma Visitor’s Center, we headed out to the Benziger Family Winery. The lady at the center had recommended it, saying that it had made the top of some list of the top wine tours because they actually took visitors out into the vineyard, and because it was so comprehensive. Plus, it had tours all day, and one starting shortly. I was sold.
We got there, bought our $10 tickets, and ran to the little tram with about a minute to spare. The tram was connected to a large tractor, which was obviously going to be pulling the tram around the property. I was a little peeved at this—what a waste of fuel, I thought. Then, the tour leader jumped into the driver’s seat and told us we were on our way.
When we got to our first stop, we all got out to look at some vines. This is when the tour guide explained what was so unique about the vineyard, and when my initial doubts dissipated. It turns out, that the Benziger Winery is the only vineyard in Napa or Sonoma with Biodynamic certification. What is that, you ask? I did too—and the answer is pretty darn amazing.
First developed in the 1920s by the creator of Waldorf education, Austrian philosopher and scientist, Rudolf Steiner, Biodynamics stresses a self-sustaining ecosystem—basically, every living thing on the estate is connected to every other living thing. The Benziger Winery is eighty-five acres of vineyards, woodlands, wetlands, cover crops, and wildlife sanctuaries, all connected and reliant upon each other. And here is the most amazing thing—nothing, and I mean NOTHING is wasted, nor is anything from the outside brought onto the property. It is totally self-contained.
Here are some of the things that they do. They showed us a little “insect garden” where they planted certain plants that would attract bugs that might normally attack the vines. Also, they planted things that would attract the natural enemies of those bugs, so they had absolutely no need for pesticides. They keep cows on the estate so they can make their own fertilizer. The lights in the visitor’s parking lot are solar powered. They have differing and rotating crops to ensure balance and sustainable farming. They built a cave for their wine cellars, so they have no need to either heat or cool the cellar to maintain the proper temperature. Remember the fuel-guzzling tractor I was so annoyed with? Well, they made their own bio-diesel fuel. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised.
The winery is absolutely committed to their principles and I was blown away by the fact that nothing is wasted. All waste is recycled through composting. They even grow indigenous yeasts and bacteria. It was truly inspiring.
After the tour, we had a little tasting, and it was really good wine. I never drink white, but I walked away with a bottle of their 2006 Reserve Chardonnay—one of the best wines I have ever tasted. It started off with a sweet apple-like flavor and ended with a crisp vanilla finish.
All the staff was friendly and knowledgeable—and seemed generally happy to be working there. All in all, it was a great experience, and a real thrill to see how green green can get.