Eden in Sonoma: A Trip to the Biodynamic Benziger Family Winery
If you enjoy wine, you've heard the French term "terroir", which is the sum of environmental factors that contribute to the uniqueness of wines. On our recent trip to Sonoma Valley in northern California, we experienced the garden of Eden-like biodynamic terroir at Benziger Family Winery.
If you've watched the wine documentary film Mondovino (2004), you might associate Californian wines with Robert Mondavi's industrial grandeur, and might think that "terroir" is now only championed by small, independent, aging wine growers in the French countryside.
Which is why you should visit Napa and Sonoma in person, and definitely pay a visit to Benziger Family Winery to gain a different perspective and form a second opinion of Californian wines. Furthermore, Benziger provides one of the most family-friendly winery tours in a tram, so kids and grandparents alike can sit back and relax while touring the scenic winery.
A great way to start the visit is to take the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour which lasts around 45 minutes. The tram tour takes you to the vineyards, the fermentation tanks, crush pads, and then you get a walking tour inside the barrel cellars before heading to the tasting room. With our friendly guide that commentated throughout the tour and told insider stories of the Benziger family's winery operations, we learned fascinating facts about winemaking, especially the biodynamic green farming practices championed by the winery.
My kid was very amused by the tram's tractor that had wheels taller than him.
Benziger Family Winery's main property is set inside a bowl-like valley amidst the Sonoma Valley hills. Sonoma Valley, adjacent to Napa Valley, has a generally cooler climate because it's closer to the ocean and gets quite a lot of cool coastal fog. Because of its hilly terrain, there are many micro terroirs around the valley that get different exposure to that Californian sunshine and different levels of drainage from the volcanic soil. Benziger sits right in the foothills of the Sonoma Mountain Range, and gets a perfectly balanced terroirs portfolio.
Ideal micro terroirs aside, Benziger Family Winery has adopted the biodynamic green farming practice since 1995. It's one of only a handful of wineries with the official Demeter biodynamic certification. In a nutshell, biodynamic farming is a step up from organic and sustainable farming practices. Biodynamics views the vineyard as one whole organism, uses plant-animal symbiosis (cover crops, pest-eating insects, weed-grazing sheep) to replace the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weed killers. This high level of respect for nature creates ultra-healthy soil which nourishes healthy vines and healthy grapes. Pushing the practices further than organic farming, biodynamics principles even demands that the winery grinds up amethyst crystals and mixing the powder into a homeopathic "tea" that will later be sprayed on the vines to help capture more sunlight and enhance growth!
Afterwards, we got off the tram and learned about the grape selection and crushing processes, as well as the different fermentation methods (even the grape skins were recycled to be used as compost). We then ventured into the barrel cave to learn about influences of different oaks on the wines' final tastes, as well as the art of barrel-making by specialized coopers.
The Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour finishes by wine-tasting at the boutique.
We sampled the wines, with images of the Eden-like vineyards in our minds. As we tasted, the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir tickled our nostrils and soothed our palates. Somehow, we could hear the bees hum and the birds chirp, and feel the warm sunshine and the ocean fog dance an intricate biodynamic waltz in our glasses.
We savored the terroirs.