Benovia Celebrates Tenth Anniversary with Exceptional Offerings
I have followed the emergence of Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa since its origins and I have tasted every wine
from this winery over the past eight years beginning with the first commercially released wines from the 2005
vintage. Winemaker and viticulturist extraordinaire, Michael Sullivan, had to make do initially with an aged
winery and equipment and primarily purchased grapes. The limited amount of estate vineyard sources needed
considerable revitalization. Undaunted, he continued to adapt and reshape his winemaking and viticultural
goals. Today, Benovia Winery has a modern new winemaking facility dedicated to Pinot Noir and is transitioning
to all estate grown wines. The Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the 2012 vintage were stunning examples of
persistence and dedication, and the equally stellar 2013 wines celebrate the winery’s tenth anniversary and
remarkable advances achieved over a relatively short span of time.
The idea for Benovia Winery was first launched in 2002 when Joe Anderson and his spouse Mary Dewane,
former CEO’s in the healthcare industry, bought the Cohn Vineyard located in the far western reaches of the
Russian River Valley. The property included a home which allowed Joe and Mary, who lived in Arizona, to
spend time in Sonoma County and pursue their winery aspirations.
In 2005, they bought an 18-acre ranch located in the Laguna de Santa Rosa subregion of the Russian River
Valley from Cecil DeLoach. The modest Hartman Road Vineyards and Winery property (where Merry Edwards
made wine at one time under the Merry Vintners label) included a dated winery and 13.5 acres of Pinot Noir.
The name, Benovia, was chosen as a merger of the first names of Mary Dewane’s father, Ben, with Joe
Anderson’s father, Novian. The property’s vineyard was named Martaella for the mothers, Martha (Joe’s), and
Winemaker Michael Sullivan, who had made many brilliant Pinot Noirs at Hartford Family Winery, joined as a
partner to lead the winemaking, vineyard development and management of the winery. At the beginning
Michael stated his goals: “I joined Benovia to make wines that transcend varietal correctness. I want to create
bottlings that meld the grape, climate and topography into something unique and special.” Humbled by the
challenge, Michael noted, “What I love about winemaking is that perfection is unattainable.”
The owners committed significant financial resources to achieve their goal of making extraordinary wines. The
old vine Pinot Noir and Zinfandel vineyard known as the Cohn Vineyard (18 planted acres located just outside
the Russian River Valley AVA so designated Sonoma County AVA), soon underwent revitalization including a
commitment to organic farming. Originally planted in 1970, the Cohn fruit had been sourced by Kosta Browne
and Williams Selyem for exceptional Pinot Noir bottlings. The dry-farmed Pinot Noir at Cohn Vineyard is
planted to a massale selection, most likely Martini and Pommard clones. For extensive reading on this vineyard
A 40-acre horse ranch parcel adjacent the winery belonging to the Erbs family was acquired increasing the
Benovia Winery property to 58 acres. The original 13.5 acre estate vineyard adjacent the winery was expanded
to 41.87 acres after the Erbs property acquisition and was named Martaella Vineyard. The new plantings
included 9 clones and heirloom selections of Pinot Noir, and 4 clones of Chardonnay including a suitcase
selection from Montrachet Vineyard in Burgundy, established in a very high density configuration of between
2200 and 2722 vines per acre. A map of Martaella Vineyard and its three parcels is below.
A 16-acre site near Freestone known as Tilton Hill Vineyard, was acquired, and 12 acres of Pinot Noir vines
developed. Tilton Hill is the coldest estate vineyard located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Vines were
planted here at very high density in 2009 using Dijon selections of Pinot Noir on a very low vigor 420A
rootstock. Benovia Winery now has 71 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel vines in three distinctive
locations across the Russian River Valley AVA, the Sonoma Coast AVA, and the Sonoma County AVA. The
three estate vineyards can be located on the map below.
An old ranch house on the property was converted into a tasting room, a horse barn became the new red wine
winery (photo below), and the original winery was transitioned to white wine production (photo above with
I recently tasted through the lineup of Benovia Winery wines from the 2013 vintage. The Pinot Noirs were
particularly charming in this vintage, offering a more forward elegance than the boisterous 2012 Pinot Noirs.
They are all superbly balanced. The 2013 vintage was not too hot and not too cold with an abundance of
sunshine and temperatures that rarely spiked above 90º F. Ripening was uniform and almost perfect weather
at harvest produced grapes with ideal ripeness and balance. All Benovia Pinot Noirs are also available in
Pinot Noir winemaking is as follows. The grapes are gently de-stemmed after hand sorting. A small amount of
whole cluster was included in the ferments in the following 2013 Pinot Noirs: La Pommeraie 12%, Martaella
22%, and Tilton Hill 5%. After a cold soak of 5 to 8 days, indigenous yeast completes primary fermentation. The
must is moved to French oak barrels and inoculated for malolactic fermentation with weekly lees stirring. The
wines are typically aged 14 to 16 months in roughly one-third new French oak barrels.
2014 Benovia Russian River Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.34, TA 0.71, 230 cases,
$24 (sold out). Released April 2015. Martaella and Zio Tony vineyards. Whole cluster pressed and
blended with a small amount of saignée, barrel fermented in neutral barrels. “Weeping tears of Pinot
Moderate pinkish red color in the glass. Lovely aromas of strawberry, cherry, blood orange,
peach and bay leaf. The flavors echo the nose in a fresh, bright, and silky style of rosé with
quenching acidity. A perfect aperitif or food wine.
2013 Benovia Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.69, TA 0.60, 2,200 cases, $36.
Released April 2015. Heirloom clones and Dijon “828” and 943 from Martaella, Cohn, Martinelli and
Tilton Hill vineyards. Aged in 37% new French oak barrels.
Moderate reddish purple color in the
glass. Aromas of Bing cherry, blueberry, spice and smoky oak. Darker fruited on the palate, with
flavors of black cherry, boysenberry, and plum, with a subtle oak overlay. Silky tannins and
impressive balance make for forward drinking. Not typical flavor profile for a Russian River Valley
AVA bottling because of contribution of vineyards outside the Russian River Valley.
2013 Benovia Martaella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.60, 446
cases, $56. Released September 2015. Heirloom clones only. Aged in 34% new French oak barrels.
reddish purple color in the glass. Clean, pleasing berry fruits that are shy upon pouring. The nose was
considerably more expressive the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. A welcome
charge of mid weight blue, purple and black berries are framed by silky tannins. Ephemeral in nature and very
giving on the palate with satisfying balance.
2013 Benovia Tilton Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.61, 492 cases, $56.
Released September 2015. Aged in 38% new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the
glass. Very fragrant perfume of blackberry, sage, and sous-bois. Elegantly styled, with soft tannins caressing a
mid weight core of blue and black berry fruits. Slightly feral with an iron thread running through. Plenty of
length on the finish. Even better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle when the wine
was more aromatic and flavorful. This is a wine that has somewhere to go over the coming years.
2013 Benovia Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.78, TA 0.56, 350 cases, $70.
Released September 2015. Aged in 40% new French oak barrels.
Moderately light reddish purple color in the
glass. Intriguing aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, white pepper and a hint of oak. Refined and elegant
on the palate, with layered flavors of black cherry and dark red berries and the slightest oak compliment. A
haunting wine that finishes with plenty of spice and quenching acidity. This wine is more about nuance than
2013 Benovia La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.65, TA 0.57, 300 cases, $56. Released
September 2015. George Martinelli Frei Road Vineyard farmed
by the Martinelli Family. Name of wine pays homage to the
history of the site which was once an apple orchard. Dijon
clones 777 and “828.” 10-day cold soak, indigenous yeast
fermentation lasted for almost 3 weeks. Aged 16 months in 33%
new French oak barrels.
Moderately dark reddish purple color in the
glass. This is a real crowd pleaser with intoxicating aromas of dark berry
jam, toasty oak and rose petal. The mid weight plus core of showy and
gorgeous purple and black fruits literally explode on the palate. The ripe
tannins are well matched and there is enough juicy acidity to keep the
wine vibrant. A bombastic but gentle wine that displays the hallmark of a great Pinot Noir. This wine will part
2012 Benovia La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.5% alc., pH 3.38, TA 0.71, 380 cases,
$48. Released September 2015. Vines planted at very high density of 2420 vines per acre to Dijon clone 548
and 95. Located at edge of Green Valley AVA. Whole cluster pressed, indigenous yeast fermentation, weekly
lees stirring. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
Light golden yellow color in the glass. Lovely
aromas of citrus blossom and lemon peel lead to a crisp attack of fresh pear and lemon flavors. Creamy in the
mouth, yet offering a crispness of flavor and a mouthwatering finish.
2013 Benovia Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.1% alc., pH 3.35, TA 0.69, 1,580 cases, $36. Released
April 2015. Primarily from Martaella Estate Vineyard with some contribution from Zio Tony Ranch. Whole
cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeast. Aged in 30% new French oak barrels.
Very light golden
yellow color in the glass. Similar to the La Pommeraie offering but offering tighter acidity and less fruit
generosity. The aromas and flavors feature Granny Smith apple and lemon with a complimentary note of nutty
2013 Benovia Fort Ross-Sea View Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.1% alc., pH 3.64, TA 0.58, 340
cases, $48. Released April 2015. Charles Vineyard located on third coastal ridge from the ocean. Dijon
clones 76, 95 and 96. Whole cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeast. Aged in 24% new
French oak barrels.
Very light golden yellow color in the glass. Intense and penetrating aromas of
lemon curd, pear, nutty oak and saline minerality. Exceptional presence in the mouth with bright flavors
of lemon, white peach and vanilla creme. Crisp and lively with a finish that perks up the senses. This
special wine has noteworthy elegance and balance.
2013 Benovia Sonoma County Zinfandel
15.2% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.61, 322 cases, $38. Released
September 2015. De-stemmed, fermented in open-top fermenters, aged in thin-staved, 30% new Bordeaux
barrels on fine lees without racking. I tasted plenty of Zinfandel in my early wine enthusiast years and this wine
stands up to many of the best.
Moderately dark purple color in the glass. The nose leads with a mash of fresh
berries and cedary spice. Luscious dark fruits engulf the palate, but hold a discreet presence. Beautifully
balanced, with a sustained finish that sports a modest wave of dry tannins. A Burgundian-fashioned Zin.
Seated, detailed tastings are available by appointment only daily from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (a charge of $20
per person is waived with the purchase of one or more bottles of Benovia wine). Phone 707-921-1040 or visit
the website at www.benoviawinery.com. The entry to the tasting room and hospitality center is pictured below.