Wine Time: Benziger Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma County

COST: $15-17

 

WHAT: When you look at the label on a Benziger wine you might think this is just another trendy winery jumping on the organic bandwagon. But after success as a large-batch producer, the family has been working with sustainable growing practices for more than 20 years.

They took a step back from pouring fertilizers and pesticides into the vineyards to improve quality and took steps to preserve the land for future generations. The rise in quality has been dramatic.

This Chardonnay is a beautiful example of how to make superb wine that reflects where it was grown. Many wineries produce great wine, but to sell it at this price point is amazing. If you ever wonder why wine makers go to all the trouble they do to produce natural wines, one sip of this wine will explain it all.

The wine is a beautiful pale yellow in the glass, with mild citrus aromas. A variety of flavors flood your palate with the first sip, and crisp acidity makes this a great wine with food. At various times I picked up flavors of apricot, pear, apple and citrus, with a long, creamy finish. It is a thoroughly delightful wine.

I have had this wine many times over the past several years, and each vintage it seems like the wine is better, despite the drought that has been plaguing California. The Benzigers would tell you this is the result of their hard work to revitalize their vineyards, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with them.

“Our sustainable philosophy promotes natural vineyard management, restoration of the land and biodiversity on the estate,” said partner and winemaker Mike Benziger. “We believe these practices result in wines that reflect the authentic flavors, aromas and character of the vineyard.”

The label depicts the symbols for earth, air, fire (sun) and water, the natural elements the winery tries to keep in proper balance. They say this creates memorable wines. Their Benziger Family Chardonnay certainly is one of them.

WINERY: The Benzinger family started producing wine when they bought the historic Wegener Ranch on Sonoma Mountain in 1980. They sold a lot of wine, but they worried about what all the intense farming was doing to the soil because they wanted to keep the winery going for generations.

So they learned about sustainable farming, about growing crops with natural methods. By 2000, the estate was certified a biodynamic farm and they released their first biodynamic wine in 2001. By 2006, all their wines were certified biodynamic, organic or sustainable.

Working with suppliers they also created the “Farming for Flavors” program to encourage growers to farm more responsibly. The plan is to keep the land producing for generations to come. Along the way they realized the wines were getting better and better.

The Benzigers were among the pioneers in sustainable farming, and they jumped into the movement with enthusiasm. They hired experts from around the world and learned everything they could about keeping the land healthy. They took satellite photos and dug scores of trenches to determine soil types throughout their vineyards.

Led by Mike Benziger, the family ripped out vines that weren’t suited to a particular soil and planted fewer vines so they could thrive. Eventually Mike discovered the Biodynamics movement, the peak of the natural growing movement.

The family stopped using pesticides and planted special gardens to attract “good” insects that naturally eliminate insects harmful to the vines. They planted a variety of crops and raise animals to create the best environment for grapes.

The family wastes nothing. Even water is recycled, going through a series of holding ponds to purify it. The goal with all these efforts is to let the character of the land show through in their wines.

In the process of rebuilding the winery, the family realized they had a good story to tell and created a fascinating experience for visitors. There is a tram tour that takes visitors through the vineyards with a guide explaining how they are preserving 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.

They also offer Estate Wines, Signaterra and deCoelo labels. A related winery, Imagery, is run by Joe Benziger and at first featured labels designed by a local artist. Now artists from all over the world contribute to the labels.

The winery began as a way to feature special sites on the estate when Benziger was producing big batch wines. It is especially known for featuring lesser known grapes such as Barbera, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre and Viognier.

GOES WITH: We had this inviting Chardonnay with a weeknight meal of steamed shrimp and salads. It was a great wine for the shrimp.

Crisp acidity and lively citrus flavors brought out the best in the simple meal and made it a more special evening. The creamy texture of the wine is a nice counterbalance to the acidity. With the relatively mild flavor of the shrimp (even with cocktail sauce), it is even more important to have a wine with a complex flavor profile, such as this one. We could pick up different flavors with each sip and bite.

This is a great wine for the warm evenings coming up. You can sip it by itself, but the complexity and acidity make it perfect for meals. You could pair it with a roasted Dijon chicken, turkey, crab cakes, grilled mahi-mahi, chicken soup, or cheeses and nuts.

 WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY, APRIL 2

Wine and tapas tasting, 5 p.m. until closing, La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; four wines and three tapas, $25; (706) 722-4805

APRIL 3-4

Wine and beer tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, 2-6 p.m Saturday, Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

FRIDAY, APRIL 3

Wine tasting, 5-7 p.m., Whole Foods, 2907 Washington Road; five wines and snacks; $5; get tickets at the service counter; (762) 333-0260

 

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