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Benovia Pinot Noir Full of Sunshine in 2016 Vintage

Winemaker Mike Sullivan had no complaints about the exceptional 2016 vintage. The growing season was relatively even after abundant winter rains helped to alleviate the effects of four years of drought. Moderate but warm daytime temperatures and cooler nights were welcome in the Russian River Valley where harvest was a week or so later than in 2015, allowing the vines to soak up every ray of sunshine. The results are Pinot Noir wines with exuberant sap, yet the proper balance of acids and tannins to allow both satisfying early consumption and age ability.

I have sampled Benovia Pinot Noir wines from every vintage since their first commercial release in 2006 and I must say that these wines are truly unique because of their extraordinary fruit concentration yet easy going nature. They are like a big teddy bear that is easy to cozy up to. I can guarantee you will love the entire lineup! With yields somewhat in excess of the 2015 vintage, there is more wine available, but don’t put off your acquisition of these delicious, sunshine-infused wines. Benovia Winery owners Joe Anderson and Mike Sullivan are beaming over the 2016 vintage wines:

With regard to Pinot Noir vinification, de-stemming is the rule although some bottlings in some vintages may have up to 25% -35% whole cluster inclusion. Indigenous yeast fermentations follow a cold soak and aging occurs in French oak barrels for 16-17 months in a moderate amount of new oak (approximately 30%-40%).

The winery produces wines primarily from estate vineyards located in Sonoma County: Cohn Estate, Martaella Estate, and Tilton Hill Estate. Grower vineyards include Three Sisters in Fort Ross-Seaview, Four Brothers on Sonoma Mountain, and Zio Tony Ranch in the Russian River Valley.

These 2016 wines are still young and it is to their credit that they are so appealing now. You can drink them upon release but are very amenable to ageing and it would be a shame not to stash a few bottles away for 3-5 years. The 2016 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2016 La Pommeraie Chardonnay have been released. The rest of the 2016 wines will be released in the fall 2018.

2016 Benovia Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.62, 1,087 cases, $42. Released April 2018. Sourced from Martaella Estate, Cohn Estate, Tilton Hill Estate, and Zio Tony Ranch vineyards. A blend of Calera, Swan, Pommard, Mt. Eden, Chalone, and Dijon 777 and 943 clones. 8-day cold soak, 100% de-stemmed into open-top fermenters for native yeast fermentation over 2 weeks. . Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 37% new. · Dark garnet color in the glass. Engaging aromas of fresh blueberry, pomegranate and blackberry with a hint of toasty oak. Plush on the palate in a well-endowed style featuring blue and black berry fruits. Remarkable intensity in the mouth and on the finish. Sumptuous oak acts in harmony. Very welcoming now. An exceptionally good AVA wine following in the footsteps of the equally fine 2015 version. The wine does not have the concentration, intensity and finish of the other 2016 Benovia Pinot Noirs, but it can stand on its own as a special wine that will find widespread appeal. Score: 91

2016 Benovia Martaella Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $60. 42 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay located in the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Combined volcanic and sedimentary soils (Huichica loam). 14 different clones planted. · Dark garnet color in the glass. The nose opens beautifully over time in the glass, revealing a perfume of black raspberry, blackberry, spice and wine cave. Attacking black cherry and black raspberry fruits with a spice accent in a mid weight style framed by a whisper of oak. A gentle, comforting wine that is creamy on the palate, with enjoyable length in the mouth and on the finish. The aromatics became really seductive when the wine was tasted a day later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 93-94

2016 Benovia Bella Una Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $80. A winemaker selection of barrels that are the best expression of the vintage. · Aromas of interest evolve over time including boysenberry, blackberry and sweet oak. Mid weight plus in style with a core of well-ripened purple and black berry fruits. Well-structured for aging with a remarkably long finish filled with boysenberry fruit. The wine is reclusive upon opening but surfaces over time in the glass and is much more expressive when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. The potential is obvious, but this special wine needs coaxing through decanting, or preferably, a few years in the cellar. The most backward wine in the lineup. Score: 93-94

2016 Benovia La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $60. Sourced from the Zio Tony Ranch Vineyard that is located along the Laguna Ridge at the edge of the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA. The vineyard is farmed in conjunction with the Martinelli family. High density planting of 2,420 vines per acre, including clones 777 and “828.” The site was once an apple orchard so to pay homage to the history of the site the wine is named “La Pommeraie,” French for apple orchard. · Dark garnet color in the glass. The nose is flat-out terrific when allowed time and sampled a day ofter bottle opening. The perfume of blackberry, cassis and spice will bring you to your knees. A very polished wine in a mid weight plus style featuring waves of purple berry, blackberry, and plum fruits, accompanied by the right touch of spice and vanilla. There is very good structure, but the tannins are like suede. The long, succulent finish will bring you to your knees if the nose hasn't already. Score: 94-95

2016 Benovia Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $75. Vineyard originally planted in 1970 to a massale selection, likely Martini 13 and Pommard. This vineyard outdates most other plantings in the Russian River Valley by 20+ years. Farmed organically, yields are typically just over 1 ton-per-acre. This bottling is the outlier in the lineup for it offers much less fruit sap, but still is captivating in its own way. Aromas of cherry and sandalwood lead to a mid weight core of black raspberry and black cherry fruits dusted with oak. Even a hint of root beer shows up. Modest tannins and juicy acidity, soft and caressing in the mouth. Less concentrated fruit here, but more nuance, interest and charm. Score: 93-94

2016 Benovia Tilton Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $60. A 12-acre vineyard three ridges inland from the Pacific Ocean. This cool site pushes the boundaries of cool-climate viticulture, with temperatures rarely reach 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Goldridge sandy loam soil. Dijon and heirloom clones. · Very dark garnet color in the glass. Searching for adequate descriptives, I think of this wine as freakish, profound and flat out ridiculous. I have rarely tasted such concentrated fruit in a Pinot Noir. The gorgeous nose sets the stage with seductive aromas of blackberry juice, blackest cherry and spice. On entry, there is a full charge of boysenberry and blackberry hedonistic fruit that is expansive in the mouth and seems to last an eternity on the finish. The wine is about as big fruited as Pinot gets, yet it retains all of Pinot’s charms. There is amazing phenolic ripeness here at a relatively low alcohol level. The mouthfeel is very soothing, oak is deftly managed, and there is gratuitous balance to boot. I consider this a glorious wine, not because of its prodigious fruit, but because it delivers the fruit in a very harmonious package. I rarely have tasted anything quite like it. Like all the wines tasted from 2016, it was as good or a little better when sampled the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 96-97

2016 Benovia La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.5% alc., $48. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. This wine offers all the good features of Chardonnay. Aromas of lemon pie honey, yellow apple, and subtle spice, toast and butter. Bright on the palate with welcoming flavors of lemon, yellow grapefruit, Honecrisp apple and hints of baking spices and caramel. There is just the right touch of oak, and a spear of acidity that finds its target on the quenching finish. Wonderful! Score: 94

2016 Liberation Pinot Noir This wine is a 75th D-Day Anniversary Commemorative Pinot Noir. All sales of this wine will be donated to the D-Day charitable fund that is helping to transport veterans, students and the vintage American aircraft to the celebration in Normandy in June 2019. Joe Anderson ‘s plane, a DC-53 “The Spirit of Benovia” will join dozens of other WW II-era aircraft in a flight from the U.S. to Normandy. I have not tasted this wine, but given the excellence of the 2016 Benovia wines, it is a no-brainer. $70.

Tastings at the Ranch House on the Benovia property are by appointment only. The wines can also be acquired through the winery’s website at Some library wines and magnums are available.

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