Wine Country Picnic Series: Benovia Wines

This summer, I’ve been on the hunt for great picnic wineries in Northern California wine country. In my search, I’ve selected some of my favorite picnic experiences to share with you, starting with Benovia Wines in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley appellation.

Tucked away in a sea of vineyards is the island-like sanctuary of Benovia Wines. While only about a ten-minute drive northwest of downtown Santa Rosa, Benovia’s location is a quiet wonderland filled with endless vineyard views in its off-the-beaten path setting. The estate (formerly Hartman Lane Vineyards) was purchased by Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane in 2005, just three years after the founding of Benovia Wines. In 2006, Winemaker Mike Sullivan joined the team, and ever since, Benovia Wines has grown in size, number of estate-owned vineyards and overall wine quality.

In 2011, a beautiful visitor’s center was added to the property, and in 2015, the state-of-the-art winemaking facility and cellar was completed. In recent months, Benovia Wines has teamed up with Healdsburg-location Oakville Grocery to offer guests a wine tasting and picnic experience on the patio of their visitor’s center. This experience includes the tasting of current release wines, followed by a gourmet picnic lunch of your choice, in a setting that honestly couldn’t be any more beautiful.

Unlike some of the more populated roads in Sonoma County’s appellations, Benovia is nestled off a main road among large vineyard plots, so there are only a couple of structures far off in the distance. The estate is very rural and private. I have to admit that no matter how long I’ve lived here and how many times I will look out onto a sea of vines, the view just never gets old.

The Perfect Picnics tasting series offers three gourmet lunch choices from the Healdsburg Oakville Grocery. The Alexander Valley option is a bountiful charcuterie plate with all the usual suspects (cheese, olives, fruits… etc.); the Dry Creek Valley basket comes with a more robust offering of sandwiches and sides; and the Russian River Valley package is a BBQ fried chicken feast—each cheekily named after a Sonoma County appellation.

On a weekend when my mother was visiting from out of town, my husband, mother and I enjoyed the Dry Creek Valley picnic at Benovia, and the food certainly lived up to all of the hype and expectations that come with Oakville Grocery. Before enjoying the picnic, we tasted through a selection of wines. While guests will enjoy a tasting of current releases when visiting the winery, during our visit, I was able to preview a few of the upcoming releases to share with you.

The 2015 Rosé is an already-released offering and is perfectly primed for summertime enjoyment. This small, 250-case production beauty expresses aromas of fresh strawberries and cream, with a refreshing and tasty palate full of lime and strawberry fruit. With excellent mouthfeel and texture, this dry Rosé is a fantastic summer-sipper and is beautifully made.

Also already released, the 2014 Fort Ross Seaview Chardonnay is another great choice for resplendent afternoons in the sunshine. The vineyard site is located 3.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean at about 900-foot elevation and the vines are planted in shale sandstone soils. The fruit originally went into Marcassin Chardonnay bottlings, but having had a longstanding relationship with the vineyard site, Benovia has recently acquired the fruit for their own bottlings. Aged in 35% new French oak and bottled without filtration, this refreshing Chardonnay is balanced and textured. The aromatics are fresh, energetic and mineral. While the palate is smooth with green melon, lemon and lime, it is also simultaneously full of lively acidity and crispness.
Estate Russian River Valley grapes on the vine in July 2016.

Across the single vineyard Pinots that I previewed (these wines will be released in Fall 2016), I enjoyed the diversity. No one bottle tasted the same and that is no doubt due to the uniqueness of each vineyard site. This is further reinforced by the relative consistency in ageing—roughly 16 months in an average of 40% new French oak—which seems to be dialed in just right, making all of the wines balanced and enjoyable.

The 2014 Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir saw 20% whole-cluster fermentation and comes from an iron oxide-rich site that is situated at 700-foot elevation. The vines are some of the oldest in Russian River Valley, having originally been planted in 1970 and made famous by the likes of Williams Selyem and Kosta Browne. Boysenberry, earth and mineral aromas make this wine aromatically captivating. Those same boysenberry notes appear in the mouth, with red cherry cola and spiced red fruit; this Pinot is light, bright and juicy—full of life!

The 2014 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir is darker on the nose and palate, with lots of baking spice in its complex and structured profile. Coming from a ridge site, right before you drop into the town of Freestone, the 2014 Tilton Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir brings both red and black fruit aromatics to the table. That same fruit contrast is also expressed in the mouth, which is more robust and richer than the Cohn and Martaella. However, the wine’s finessed structure and soft texture provide balance to that power and richness. Red cherry and black cherry cola make for a lovely fruit profile against the baking spice backbone.

If you enjoy sunshine, wine and great food, Benovia Wines is a great place to while away a summertime afternoon.

Stay tuned for more in the Wine Country Picnic Series!

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