Benziger: Proudly Devoted to Biodynamic Winegrowing
Your next winery touring plans to Northern California should include the Benziger Family Winery, tucked inside
an extinct volcanic caldera shaped like a bowl sitting in a valley 800 feet above sea level. Situated just outside
the quaint town of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County, you will definitely enjoy the picturesque setting with majestic
vineyards perched among the property’s diverse topography. However, it is the emphasis here on sustainable
winegrowing, and in particular biodynamic farming, that will capture your interest.
Every wine in the Benziger portfolio carries a third party certification of green farming practices, but it is the
emphasis on biodynamics that sets Benziger apart from many wineries. All four of the estate vineyards are
Demeter-certified Biodynamic, among the very few Demeter certified-Biodynamic vineyards in North America.
Rudolph Steiner had a far-reaching influence in many areas of philosophy, education and anthroposophical medicine.
Among wine circles, he is most famous as the father of the theories of biodynamic agriculture. The basic tenant of
biodynamic farming is the so-called self-contained “farm organism.” The farm is viewed as a self-nourishing organism
and none or few outside materials are brought onto the farm.
According to the Demeter organization (Biodynamic® is a registered trademark of the Demeter association of
Biodynamic® farmers), “Biodynamic® agriculture views the farm as a self-contained, self-sustaining ecosystem
responsible for creating and maintaining its individual health and vitality without any external or unnatural additions.”
Replacement of nutrients is allowed and the use of compost is encouraged, with some restricted external sources of
compost allowed. “Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, soil
maintenance, and the health and well-being of the animals, the farmer, the farm, and the earth: all are integral parts that
make up the whole.” The Demeter organization also recommends the use of nine preparations. “Preparations are
utilized in field sprays and compost inoculants applied in minute doses.” Finally, Demeter recommends the use of the
astronomical calendar “when planning activities such as pruning, cultivating, harvesting and spray preparations.
Winegrowers who believe in Biodynamic® agriculture, use the astronomical calendar to determine when to harvest,
when to bottle and when to engage in other wine processing decisions.
There is no scientific way to prove or disprove whether Biodynamic® agriculture is valid because alternatives cannot be
used in the Biodynamic® farm to make a scientific comparison.
For more information, consult the website, www.biodynamics.com. or www.demeter-usa.org.
When I recently visited Benziger Family Winery, I spent some time in the vineyards with winemaker Rodrigo
Soto who works closely with Alan York. York is a recognized international expert on Biodynamic® farming. He
came to Sonoma Mountain to collaborate with Mike Benziger in 1997, and has overseen Biodynamic farming
on Benziger’s four certified Biodynamic vineyard estates ever since. Soto also brings extensive international
winegrowing experience with Biodynamic and organic wineries.
At Benziger, there is a self-guided Biodynamic® Discovery Trail that gives the visitor all the scoop. Below are
photos of the Trail Tour, the compost and compost tea that are an integral part of Biodynamic farming.
I tasted some individual 2008 clonal barrel samples from de Coelo Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast
(www.princeofpinot.com/article/921/). The grapes were picked at about 23° Brix and finished fermentation at
about 12.8% alcohol. I am fascinated with this vineyard as it produces wines of layered nuance and the first
vintages in 2006 and 2007 were remarkably interesting wines reflective of a unique terroir. For comparison, we
tasted the 2006 Kistler Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvée Elizabeth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir which is
sourced from a vineyard adjacent the de Coelo Vineyard. This wine, which received a score of 96-98 from the
Wine Advocate, and now sells on the secondary market for close to $200, is a monstrous wine more like Syrah
than Pinot Noir. Plush and darkly colored, the sweet dark fruit has an earthy, mocha and nutty undertone with
notable chalky tannins. I prefer the direction that Soto has chosen for his Benziger de Coelo Vineyard Pinot
Noirs because I believe the lower alcohols and more restrained use of new oak allows the terroir to speak.
Visit the Benziger website at www.benziger.com for more information. The winery is quite busy and a popular
spot among wine tourists but the wine enthusiast can find plenty to interest them here. The Biodynamic®
Vineyard Tram Tour is a 45-minute close-up look at the Benziger Biodynamic vineyards, fermentation facility,
and barrel caves followed by a special wine tasting. The winery is located at1883 London Ranch Road, Glen