By Alexa Chipman August 31, 2017
Benziger is a destination winery, with sprawling gardens and tram tours packed with visitors eagerly taking selfies. Their gift shop alone is larger than the average Glen Ellen tasting room. Despite their size and influx of tourists, Benziger runs like a well-oiled machine, with experienced, informed staff ready to explain the unique farming techniques used on the property.
Benziger’s signature Grecian temple overlooks sloping hills covered in vineyards that are grown with biodynamic, green certified techniques. Sheep keep the weeds down; their lighter hooves are better for the soil than heavy tractors, shaggy Highlander cattle add manure as they wander through the property, and a large insectory plant collection is cultivated to encourage the correct type of bugs that assist, rather than harm vines. Wildlife flourishes at Benziger; I saw graceful rabbits hopping about the vineyards during my visit.
Their eco-friendly landscape includes a series of “pods” explaining why and how they farm. After parking, instead of going to the wine tasting area, turn left to enter the discovery trail and learn about their unique cultivation of the land.
What makes Benziger impressive to visit is hidden deep under the cheerful hillsides; 28,000 square feet of wine caves stay sixty degrees Fahrenheit year round. Rather than worrying about keeping a warehouse to the correct temperature and high humidity, the natural environment prevents evaporation loss and holds approximately 4,000 oak barrels for ideal aging. Heavy Medieval doors swing open to reveal the chilly passages, like walking inside a Dungeons & Dragons map, with side tunnels, towering stacked barrels, and an intoxicating scent of wine soaked wood with an earthy chalk in the air.
Reserve a tram tour to fully explore the winery and hear about their state-of-the-art crush equipment such as an automatic grape sorter with high speed camera and laser optics that controls air jets to remove all but the best of each harvest that eliminates the need for hand sorting. Trams finish at the indoor tasting room and include special packages for purchasing wine. Don’t miss the corner in the gift shop for trying their olive oil and balsamic vinegars. If you prefer wandering on your own, there is a cabana style outdoor terrace after crossing the picturesque stone bridge, with an opportunity to enjoy wine by the glass during the summer under a towering tree that dominates the courtyard.
Because they are a major stop in wine country, Benziger offers a wide range of fun events, like Yoga with wine, garden walks, cheese tastings, and an al fresco lunch with Chris Benziger. They may feel a trifle corporate, due to their size, but it is worth a visit, and the wine is quite good, especially their whites.