Benziger Leads The Way in Organics

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Benziger uses natural pests to keep vineyards healthy.

I remember, back in the day, when organics were “just stuff for aging hippies.” Whether it was organic food or wine, the average guy believed it was a bunch of  mumbo-jumbo, and even if it was better for you, organic stuff sure wouldn’t taste as good as our  factory-made, chemically-enhanced stuff.

There were a few wineries experimenting with organic farming, but they didn’t promote it. In fact, I had to beg a rep from a good-sized Oregon winery to put “Organic” somewhere on the label, in a type size big enough to actually read it. Their marketing people were afraid wine shoppers would avoid their wine if they “admitted” they used organic practices.

Meanwhile, there was a winery in California’s Sonoma County. At Benziger Winery, they started out growing grapes the way everyone else did, with chemical pesticides and fertilizers. It took a few years for one of the brothers, Mike Benziger, to decide that he was seeing changes in the vineyards, and they weren’t good. He wanted to revitalize the vineyards, and the fruit they produced, by using more natural methods.

“We learned which flowers attracted the bugs we needed to keep pest populations in control. Habitats were created for birds and owls, and we brought cows, sheep and chickens to live on the property.

Once the estate found its balance, the wines did too. As we tasted the wines grown from such a healthy and vibrant place, we realized that the distinctiveness and authenticity we were lacking before was right in the glass. Healing the land had led to an amazing new caliber of wines and we knew we had to begin applying the lessons learned on our estate to all the vineyards we worked with.”

That was the beginning of Benziger’s industry-leading conversion to Sustainable/Organic/Biodynamic winemaking. They and all the growers they buy from are certified at one of those levels. And in case you’re not sure what those words mean, here’s a quick primer (thanks to Benziger’s very informative website).

Sustainable Farming “emphasizes environmentally sound growing methods, such as biodiversity, soil revitalization and Integrated Pest Management, and shows growers how to cultivate grapes with more character, flavors and aromas with the goal of making better, genuinely distinctive wines.”

Organic certification is more stringent. “It avoids the use of synthetic chemicals and uses natural methods like crop rotation, tillage and natural composts to maintain soil health as well as natural methods to control weeds, insects and other pests.”

Biodynamics “is the highest level of organic farming. Instead of bagged fertilizer, weed killer and pesticides we rely on composting, natural predator-prey relationships, cover crops, and the animals that live on our estate, to keep our vineyard healthy and balanced.”

Do you get it now? There’s no mumbo-jumbo at all. It’s a very common-sense approach, and it’s designed to make better wine for you. Here’s a final quote from Chris Benziger:

“We don’t just farm this way because we think caring for the land is the right thing to do, it also happens to be the best way to make distinctive, authentic wines. By treating our vineyards the best way we know how, we’re making wines we’re really proud of. And that is good for, well, everybody.”

So it’s really all about what’s in the bottle. Benziger makes several families of wines, from different varietals and at different price points. I’ll be tasting some of those tonight in a live Twitter Tasting. These events are great — I’ll be able to taste the wines and talk (by Internet) to Mike Banziger himself.

Tomorrow I’ll start reporting on the wines and our online tasting. Stay tuned! Same Bat time, same Bat channel… Cheers!

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