I’m driving down Arnold Drive behind a tractor-trailer that’s stacked precariously high with bales of hay, when the thought occurs to me: Where in heck, around here, could he be going with all that hay? Sure enough, after stopping for a little salad myself at the Glen Ellen Village Market, I meet up with the truck at Benziger. Looks like they’re not taking any shortcuts with their practice of Biodynamic farming—the hay is for a resident flock of sheep, and small herd of cattle.
Ride the tram, touch the horn
Benziger is a classic Sonoma wine wonderland: rustic, top-notch, comfortably low-key and unconventional all at once. Founded in the early 80s by the family that launched the popular Glen Ellen brand, it’s owned and operated by several generations of Benzigers. Keanu Reeves-watchers may recognize the bowl-shaped vineyards from the movie, A Walk in the Clouds. Return visitors may miss the peacocks, but I’m told that they went on to a better life on a farm. No, really!
The walk to the tasting room is part of the fun, past the historic ranch house and outbuildings, gardens and farm relics. Look for the massive Scottish Highland cattle on the drive up, then take a tractor-pulled “tram” tour of the vineyards.
Take a sip
Not from the cow horn on the counter, Hagar. Benziger’s traditionally styled tasting room offers mid-priced Sonoma and North Coast series wines, like the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($15), at the main counter; step into a side room for the 2009 Oonapais ($57), an elegant, medium-bodied Bordeaux Blend, farmed Biodynamically. The 2009 Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) is focused and crisp, while the 2008 Tribute ($80) has licorice and cigar wrapper fans covered.
Growing out of lectures given in 1924 by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, Biodynamics is a holistic farming approach that, proponents say, reinvigorates the soil and plants. Grownups don’t call it “the ultimate organic!” It’s a bit more complex—and controversial—than that. Take Benziger’s self-guided discovery tour and decide for yourself.
Hit the road
While you’re on London Ranch Road, don’t miss Jack London State Historic Park. Whether you’ve got a few hours to hike up to the pond at the Beauty Ranch, take the shorter, somber pilgrimage to the author’s grave and ruined dream house, or stroll through the House of Happy Walls, the park seems to reward each visit.
Benziger Winery, 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. Daily, 10am–5pm. Tasting fee, $10-$20. 888.490.2739.