Published on 01-04-2024
Benziger Family Winery
Where Every Day is Earth Day

From high atop the Benziger Biodynamic® vineyard in Glen Ellen, where the Sauvignon Blanc is planted, the resident sheep came rushing down the vinerows, a river of creamy white, the impact of their hooves creating a small local earthquake of excitement. Led by venerable Ewe Number 35, the boss lady, they were headed down the steep hill to their pen, which sits by the pond below the tasting room. On the side opposite the pond, a seasonal stream runs through the canyon, creating a most restful environment. No wonder these 70-plus woolly weed eaters were motivated: going home is a wonderful thing.

Benziger Family Winery - Where Everyday is Earth Day

These particular sheep, says Jarold (Jerry) Mackling, Vineyard Manager at Benziger Family Winery, are spoiled. They’d just finished grazing on the cover crops between the rows of vines and were now looking forward to a drink and some dinner. Turns out they live a blessed life.


Benziger Family Winery - Where Everyday is Earth Day
Chris Benziger

“Chris spoils them rotten,” says Mackling, referring to VP and Brand Ambassador, Chris Benziger, the youngest of the Benziger siblings. “He’s always feeding them treats.” They pretty much live the life of leisure, grazing maybe 2 or 3 hours at a stretch in a specific block on the estate vineyard before they are moved to a new one. And they only work half days. “Out at the de Coelo Vineyard on the coast, those sheep are intense,” says Mackling. “They will eat all day without complaining. They’re tough.” Those coastal sheep are managed  by a local shepherd who grazes his flock at de Coelo and Bella Luna Vineyards, for the purpose of weed and cover crop control. Benziger uses sheep and also cattle, at all their Biodynamic properties.

Why is this important? Sheep add as much to the vineyard as they take away, and here at Benziger, the 85-acre poster child for sustainable and Biodynamic practices, they not only add fertilizer to the land, but they aerate the soil with every step. They are an essential part of what makes this ecosystem thrive.

Healthy soil leads to heathy vineyards, and healthy vines are better able to fight disease and pests. Biodynamic practices, done in concert with the rhythm of the cosmos, include burying a cow horn filled with manure, and spraying specific compost teas of herbs and flowers like stinging nettle, chamomille, valerian and yarrow, designed to boost plant immunity and fight vine pests.
The organic garden and insectory are filled with Russian sage, black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower, plants that encourage beneficial insects that eat the bad bugs. All around, bees hum, and birds are plentiful, flying among the trees in the vineyards, eating insects. Raptors patrol for ground squirrels. This place, situated in the bowl of a caldera formed by the eruption of Sonoma Mountain, has a natural, organic feel, and the wines reflect every bit of the cosmic harmony that reverberates throughout. It’s as real an experience as you’ll ever have at a winery.

Inside the sheds built for making the Biodynamic preps and for storing the special compost, there’s a photo of Rudolf Steiner, proponent of Biodynamic practices, who formalized them for farmers in Europe to follow. So distraught were they by the mass farms that sprung up due to mechanization after WWI, that they sought to return to the old ways of integrated regenerative farming, a proven pesticide-free concept that is once more gaining traction today.

Benziger Family Winery was founded in 1980, when recent California transplant, Mike Benziger, along with his father Bruno, from White Plains, New York, bought the 85-acre Wegener estate, which was already planted to vines. Driven by a strong environmental ethic, Mike Benziger decided to convert their entire estate to Biodynamic farming in 1995, and it was officially Demeter certified in 2000. In fact, the Benziger’s Sonoma Mountain estate was one of the first Biodynamic certified vineyards in Northern California. Today, all wines in the Benziger portfolio are recognized for their green farming practicing, and the labels specify Certified Sustainable, Organic or Biodynamic.

Founder and original winemaker, Mike Benziger, retired in 2015, turning over the reins to winemaker Lisa Amaroli, who joined the Benziger team in 1999. At first, she was in charge of the larger pool of wines that are sold in the broader market, but in 2015, was tasked with making all the single vineyard wines, as well as the flagship “Tribute,” which pays homage to the original stewards of the land. It was the first certified Biodynamic wine produced from the Sonoma Mountain Estate.

Now, Amaroli is in charge of 34 separate wines, each one carefully made in small lots to reflect the particular vineyard from whence they originate. Among the standouts in this righteous portfolio, and remember these are Biodynamic wines with nothing added or taken away, are the 2022 de Coelo Chardonnay, singing of its ocean lair, salty and fresh. Creamy, yet crisp, this pretty wine from a former sheep ranch is layered with wildflowers and citrus. The 2020 Sunny Slope Merlot, a symphony of cherry and chocolate ganache, is easy to love for its smooth texture, and the 2021 Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon, dark and rich, is redolent of the same tobacco pipe and earthy sweetness as the compost in the shed. The 2021 Terra Neuma Pinot Noir from de Coelo Vineyard exhibits cranberry, mulberry, orange peel, warm earth and dark fig. It’s concentrated and comforting, with lots of coriander spice on the finish.

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– Experiences –

Benziger Tram Tour

Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour
Take a ride through the vineyards with Benziger’s award-winning Biodynamic Tractor Tram Tour. Explore the sights of this Sonoma Mountain Estate and learn about Biodynamic farming practices. The tour concludes with a tasting of four unique, limited-production wines.
Tour Duration: 75 minutes . Reservation required.


Benziger Tribute Estate Tour

Tribute Estate Tour & Tasting
Explore Benziger’s gorgeous Sonoma Mountain Estate on this award-winning tour, and learn about sustainable Biodynamic farming practices while enjoying a tasting of six Estate wines. The tour includes a stop in the wine cave, before enjoying a seated tasting of limited-production Biodynamic Estate wines and local accouterments.
Limited to 8 guests per tour.  Reservation required.


Benziger Seated Tasting

Estate Seated Tasting
Spend your day at the beautiful Sonoma Mountain Estate, savoring exclusive small-production and library wines. Enjoy a special Reserve flight with a knowledgeable wine specialist, featuring five Estate Biodynamic wines, available exclusively at the winery.

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