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Benovia Celebrates Tenth Anniversary with Exceptional Offerings

I have followed the emergence of Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa since its origins and I have tasted every wine from this winery over the past eight years beginning with the first commercially released wines from the 2005 vintage. Winemaker and viticulturist extraordinaire, Michael Sullivan, had to make do initially with an aged winery and equipment and primarily purchased grapes. The limited amount of estate vineyard sources needed considerable revitalization. Undaunted, he continued to adapt and reshape his winemaking and viticultural goals. Today, Benovia Winery has a modern new winemaking facility dedicated to Pinot Noir and is transitioning to all estate grown wines. The Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the 2012 vintage were stunning examples of persistence and dedication, and the equally stellar 2013 wines celebrate the winery’s tenth anniversary and remarkable advances achieved over a relatively short span of time.

The idea for Benovia Winery was first launched in 2002 when Joe Anderson and his spouse Mary Dewane, former CEO’s in the healthcare industry, bought the Cohn Vineyard located in the far western reaches of the Russian River Valley. The property included a home which allowed Joe and Mary, who lived in Arizona, to spend time in Sonoma County and pursue their winery aspirations.

In 2005, they bought an 18-acre ranch located in the Laguna de Santa Rosa subregion of the Russian River Valley from Cecil DeLoach. The modest Hartman Road Vineyards and Winery property (where Merry Edwards made wine at one time under the Merry Vintners label) included a dated winery and 13.5 acres of Pinot Noir.

The name, Benovia, was chosen as a merger of the first names of Mary Dewane’s father, Ben, with Joe Anderson’s father, Novian. The property’s vineyard was named Martaella for the mothers, Martha (Joe’s), and Eleanor (Mary’s). Winemaker Michael Sullivan, who had made many brilliant Pinot Noirs at Hartford Family Winery, joined as a partner to lead the winemaking, vineyard development and management of the winery. At the beginning Michael stated his goals: “I joined Benovia to make wines that transcend varietal correctness. I want to create bottlings that meld the grape, climate and topography into something unique and special.” Humbled by the challenge, Michael noted, “What I love about winemaking is that perfection is unattainable.”

The owners committed significant financial resources to achieve their goal of making extraordinary wines. The old vine Pinot Noir and Zinfandel vineyard known as the Cohn Vineyard (18 planted acres located just outside the Russian River Valley AVA so designated Sonoma County AVA), soon underwent revitalization including a commitment to organic farming. Originally planted in 1970, the Cohn fruit had been sourced by Kosta Browne and Williams Selyem for exceptional Pinot Noir bottlings. The dry-farmed Pinot Noir at Cohn Vineyard is planted to a massale selection, most likely Martini and Pommard clones. For extensive reading on this vineyard visit

A 40-acre horse ranch parcel adjacent the winery belonging to the Erbs family was acquired increasing the Benovia Winery property to 58 acres. The original 13.5 acre estate vineyard adjacent the winery was expanded to 41.87 acres after the Erbs property acquisition and was named Martaella Vineyard. The new plantings included 9 clones and heirloom selections of Pinot Noir, and 4 clones of Chardonnay including a suitcase selection from Montrachet Vineyard in Burgundy, established in a very high density configuration of between 2200 and 2722 vines per acre. A map of Martaella Vineyard and its three parcels is below.

A 16-acre site near Freestone known as Tilton Hill Vineyard, was acquired, and 12 acres of Pinot Noir vines developed. Tilton Hill is the coldest estate vineyard located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Vines were planted here at very high density in 2009 using Dijon selections of Pinot Noir on a very low vigor 420A rootstock. Benovia Winery now has 71 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel vines in three distinctive locations across the Russian River Valley AVA, the Sonoma Coast AVA, and the Sonoma County AVA. The three estate vineyards can be located on the map below.

An old ranch house on the property was converted into a tasting room, a horse barn became the new red wine winery (photo below), and the original winery was transitioned to white wine production (photo above with balloons overhead).

I recently tasted through the lineup of Benovia Winery wines from the 2013 vintage. The Pinot Noirs were particularly charming in this vintage, offering a more forward elegance than the boisterous 2012 Pinot Noirs. They are all superbly balanced. The 2013 vintage was not too hot and not too cold with an abundance of sunshine and temperatures that rarely spiked above 90º F. Ripening was uniform and almost perfect weather at harvest produced grapes with ideal ripeness and balance. All Benovia Pinot Noirs are also available in magnum format.

Pinot Noir winemaking is as follows. The grapes are gently de-stemmed after hand sorting. A small amount of whole cluster was included in the ferments in the following 2013 Pinot Noirs: La Pommeraie 12%, Martaella 22%, and Tilton Hill 5%. After a cold soak of 5 to 8 days, indigenous yeast completes primary fermentation. The must is moved to French oak barrels and inoculated for malolactic fermentation with weekly lees stirring. The wines are typically aged 14 to 16 months in roughly one-third new French oak barrels.

2014 Benovia Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.34, TA 0.71, 230 cases, $24 (sold out). Released April 2015. Martaella and Zio Tony vineyards. Whole cluster pressed and blended with a small amount of saignée, barrel fermented in neutral barrels. “Weeping tears of Pinot Noir.” · Moderate pinkish red color in the glass. Lovely aromas of strawberry, cherry, blood orange, peach and bay leaf. The flavors echo the nose in a fresh, bright, and silky style of rosé with quenching acidity. A perfect aperitif or food wine. Score: 89

2013 Benovia Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.60, 2,200 cases, $36. Released April 2015. Heirloom clones and Dijon “828” and 943 from Martaella, Cohn, Martinelli and Tilton Hill vineyards. Aged in 37% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of Bing cherry, blueberry, spice and smoky oak. Darker fruited on the palate, with flavors of black cherry, boysenberry, and plum, with a subtle oak overlay. Silky tannins and impressive balance make for forward drinking. Not typical flavor profile for a Russian River Valley AVA bottling because of contribution of vineyards outside the Russian River Valley. Score: 89

2013 Benovia Martaella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.60, 446 cases, $56. Released September 2015. Heirloom clones only. Aged in 34% new French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Clean, pleasing berry fruits that are shy upon pouring. The nose was considerably more expressive the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. A welcome charge of mid weight blue, purple and black berries are framed by silky tannins. Ephemeral in nature and very giving on the palate with satisfying balance. Score: 92

2013 Benovia Tilton Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.61, 492 cases, $56. Released September 2015. Aged in 38% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Very fragrant perfume of blackberry, sage, and sous-bois. Elegantly styled, with soft tannins caressing a mid weight core of blue and black berry fruits. Slightly feral with an iron thread running through. Plenty of length on the finish. Even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle when the wine was more aromatic and flavorful. This is a wine that has somewhere to go over the coming years. Score: 93

2013 Benovia Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.56, 350 cases, $70. Released September 2015. Aged in 40% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Intriguing aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, white pepper and a hint of oak. Refined and elegant on the palate, with layered flavors of black cherry and dark red berries and the slightest oak compliment. A haunting wine that finishes with plenty of spice and quenching acidity. This wine is more about nuance than power. Score: 92

2013 Benovia La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.57, 300 cases, $56. Released September 2015. George Martinelli Frei Road Vineyard farmed by the Martinelli Family. Name of wine pays homage to the history of the site which was once an apple orchard. Dijon clones 777 and “828.” 10-day cold soak, indigenous yeast fermentation lasted for almost 3 weeks. Aged 16 months in 33% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. This is a real crowd pleaser with intoxicating aromas of dark berry jam, toasty oak and rose petal. The mid weight plus core of showy and gorgeous purple and black fruits literally explode on the palate. The ripe tannins are well matched and there is enough juicy acidity to keep the wine vibrant. A bombastic but gentle wine that displays the hallmark of a great Pinot Noir. This wine will part your hair!. Score: 94

2012 Benovia La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.38, TA 0.71, 380 cases, $48. Released September 2015. Vines planted at very high density of 2420 vines per acre to Dijon clone 548 and 95. Located at edge of Green Valley AVA. Whole cluster pressed, indigenous yeast fermentation, weekly lees stirring. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Lovely aromas of citrus blossom and lemon peel lead to a crisp attack of fresh pear and lemon flavors. Creamy in the mouth, yet offering a crispness of flavor and a mouthwatering finish. Score: 92

2013 Benovia Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.35, TA 0.69, 1,580 cases, $36. Released April 2015. Primarily from Martaella Estate Vineyard with some contribution from Zio Tony Ranch. Whole cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeast. Aged in 30% new French oak barrels. · Very light golden yellow color in the glass. Similar to the La Pommeraie offering but offering tighter acidity and less fruit generosity. The aromas and flavors feature Granny Smith apple and lemon with a complimentary note of nutty oak. Score: 89

2013 Benovia Fort Ross-Sea View Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.58, 340 cases, $48. Released April 2015. Charles Vineyard located on third coastal ridge from the ocean. Dijon clones 76, 95 and 96. Whole cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeast. Aged in 24% new French oak barrels. · Very light golden yellow color in the glass. Intense and penetrating aromas of lemon curd, pear, nutty oak and saline minerality. Exceptional presence in the mouth with bright flavors of lemon, white peach and vanilla creme. Crisp and lively with a finish that perks up the senses. This special wine has noteworthy elegance and balance. Score: 94

2013 Benovia Sonoma County Zinfandel

15.2% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.61, 322 cases, $38. Released September 2015. De-stemmed, fermented in open-top fermenters, aged in thin-staved, 30% new Bordeaux barrels on fine lees without racking. I tasted plenty of Zinfandel in my early wine enthusiast years and this wine stands up to many of the best. · Moderately dark purple color in the glass. The nose leads with a mash of fresh berries and cedary spice. Luscious dark fruits engulf the palate, but hold a discreet presence. Beautifully balanced, with a sustained finish that sports a modest wave of dry tannins. A Burgundian-fashioned Zin. Score: 90

Seated, detailed tastings are available by appointment only daily from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (a charge of $20 per person is waived with the purchase of one or more bottles of Benovia wine). Phone 707-921-1040 or visit the website at The entry to the tasting room and hospitality center is pictured below.

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