August 2008

Paying It Forward

By: Meridith May
The release of Benziger’s 2005 Tribute, the first biodynamic wine from Napa and Sonoma, coincides with the 70th anniversary in America of this utterly sustainable─and quite spiritual─ practice.

The biodynamic Benziger Family Winery heals the present and the future with environmentally-responsible farming practices

“In recognizing our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” —Thurgood Marshall, American jurist

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the practice of biodynamic farming in the U.S., an approach to agriculture based on the spiritual insights of Austrian philosopher, artist and esotericist Rudolf Steiner. There are currently 26 biodynamic properties in California; Benziger Family Winery owns four of them.

According to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, which held its annual conference early this month, “Whatever we do spiritually affects the earth itself, the plants and the animals, humanity and ultimately, all of cultural life.”

Biodynamics on Sonoma Mountain
Benziger Family Winery is a certified biodynamic farm, passing strict inspection—in both farming practices and winemaking─ by Demeter, the oldest organic and biodynamic certifier in the world. The 85-acre Sonoma Mountain estate is a self-contained system, as explained by Mike Benziger: “We grow our own food, from meat to vegetables; the grapes just happen to play a leading role in our biological support system.”
The biodynamic farm is viewed as an organism—a closed, self-nourishing entity. Preparations, made from within the farm—from silica and horn manure to antifungals and animal feed—are processed in specific ways. “It’s the most healing form of agriculture on the planet,” notes Benziger. “It regenerates the land and individualizes a piece of property.”
Ferdinand, the Scottish Highlander bull, plays an important role at Benziger Family Winery.
He tills the soil and manufactures manure.

The Benziger estate, a “hanging valley” shaped like a bowl, allows for various sun exposures.  Apart from its vineyards, it has its own insectory and its own population of yeast. The Benzigers have also replaced all forms of chemical fertilizer with natural products from farm animals, which serve other purposes as well. “The sheep cultivate and mow the grass,” Mike Benziger points out. “The Scottish Highlander cattle till the soil with their hooves and they are our source of manure.”

Since 1995, Benziger and his family have devoted themselves not only to 40 acres of biodynamic grape-growing but also to the remaining property, a supporting cast of animal pastures, olive groves, kitchen gardens and wetlands.
A Wine’s Individuality     

When ecologies synergize and a unique environment forms, the benefit is farm individuality. Under the practice of biodynamic farming and winemaking, the distinction of a specific piece of property is made manifest in the message it eventually translates from vine to wine.
Tribute, aptly named, is a praiseworthy Cabernet Sauvignon-based Bordeaux-blend ─ten years in the making─that was the first Demeter-certified biodynamic wine from Napa and Sonoma.

David Roth of Kobrand with Mike Benziger.

Mike Benziger says that the wine, released this June, is a tribute to his mother and father. On another level, it also marks the culmination of the family’s conversion to biodynamics.

“Our 2005 Tribute is a perfect time capsule of what happened that year,” Mike Benziger says, decanting the wine, making its inky purple density all the more visible. As deep as its hue is, it’s the wine’s density and its rich yet plush tannins that really confirm its character: Ripe cherry leads to cocoa and blackberry; hints of tobacco and coffee strengthen its hold on the palate. Everything, as expected, is in harmonic—and, yes, even spiritual—balance. SRP $80.



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