This is the first post in the Quick Weekend Getaway to Napa / Sonoma Series. It's also the 13th post of the 31 Posts in 31 Days Series.
This trip did not start out on a good foot.
Our original plan had been to leave early Friday morning from San Francisco, head to the rental car agency, and then drive to Sonoma in time for a 12pm tour of Benzinger Family Winery. After a pleasant picnic lunch, we would head out to Jack London State Park for a refreshing hike.
We knew things looked bad when we arrived at the rental car agency. The line wrapped around and around, and our name wasn't on the board (which means even though we had pre-reserved a car, they no longer had one for us). The gorgeous weather that weekend had caused a spike in last minute rentals. The agency had "oversold" its cars and now there were lots of angry people in line.
I won't belabor the details of what happened. Suffice it to say that Bryan held his ground and fought hard for us and won. After TWO hours (I kid you not), we finally drove out of the rental car agency with the convertible that Bryan had booked (plus free gas, one day free, and lots of free points for future rentals).
Amazingly, we actually made good time. We had to completely rearrange our afternoon schedule but it ended up working out.
We arrived at Benzinger Family Winery, one of only six biodynamic wineries in all of Sonoma, right in time for their 2PM Partners Tour.
There are two types of tours that are available: the Tram tour and the Partners Tour. The Tram tour is 45 minutes long, costs $25, and runs every half hour. You ride around the vineyard in a large tram and visit the fermentation facility, crush pad, and the barrel caves.
The Partners tour is similar but longer and a bit more intimate. It's closer to an hour and a half and involves more behind the scene stories and also includes a seated wine tasting. You ride in a small electric open-air golf cart which can access places the tram cannot . . .
. . . such as this little area on the hill where you see views like this.
The views were beautiful, and the wine was tasty.
What I found most interesting, however, was learning about what biodynamic really means.
Biodynamic farming is an organic farming method that also incorporate sustainable practices. It takes a holistic approach to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem. A biodynamic farm sets aside a large portion of its land for cows (manure / natural fertilizer), fruit trees, and other plants to create a habitat for animals and insects that would be beneficial to the ecosystem. It's a higher standard that organic or sustainable since it incorporates both and more.
Our tour guide made an excellent point when he said, "knowing the cost of land here in Sonoma, it truly takes a huge amount of commitment to give up more than half of that land in order to create a habitat for biodynamic farming."
He has a point. Land here is crazy expensive. It's eye opening to know that Benzinger sets aside 50 acres of land for the habitat, while only reserving 35 acres for grape growing.
With the exception of sewage, all water is recycled. Pictured above is a pond that holds this water.
After seeing the vineyard, our next stop was the fermentation facility.
Because it's not harvest season yet, there's really nothing going on in the fermentation department right now, so we just saw photos of what the process looks like. We learned that workers actually hand sort the grapes to pick out the bad ones.
They also use the grape's own native yeast (from the skin of the grapes) for fermentation instead of adding extra yeast. Though it's less efficient to make wine this way, the resultant wine has more character in its flavor.
Finally, our third stop was to visit the wine cave.
Inside the cave, temperature and humidity are pretty constant all year round, which is important for wines as they barrel age.
Inside the wine cave, we sat down in their tasting room to try four different wines:
2011 Signaterra Bella Luna pinot noir (Russian River Valley)
2010 Signaterra Three Blocks Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley)
2011 Obsidian Point (Sonoma Mountain Estate)
2008 Port from Sonoma County
We also had a chance to try one of the wines in a barrel tasting. We were told to expect it to taste young and less complex, since it wasn't done "aging" yet. It was fun to compare the difference in flavors.
Our final stop was back at the Visitor's Center where there were lots of people milling around. We entered yet another tasting room and had a chance to try even more wines. Seriously, for $40 this tour is starting to look like a pretty good value.
Here's our second flight:
2012 Paradiso de Maria sauvignon blanc (Sonoma Mountain)
2012 Signaterra West Rows charonnay (Carneros)
2012 de Coelo Quintus Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
2011 Tribute Bordeaux blend (Sonoma Valley)
The wines were delicious. We both especially liked the Tribute.
We liked it so much, in fact, on the last day of our trip we came back to pick up one special bottle to enjoy with our Michelin starred multi-course tasting dinner. In Sonoma and Napa BYOB is widely practiced, so we thought it would be fun to bring our own bottle.
The 2009 vintage scores exceptionally well, so we paid a bit extra to get the older vintage. It was most certainly not a bad way to enjoy our last meal in wine country.
Disclaimer: Benzinger covered the cost of the tour tickets. We purchased the wine on our own.
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