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Good Times and Good Wine in Sonoma County

Benziger Family Winery, Photos by Dana Rebmann

With 1,100 or so vineyards in Sonoma County, the hard part isn’t finding a good bottle of wine, it’s deciding which bottle to drink. Equally tough, deciding which vineyard to visit when you get the chance to escape to Wine Country.

Sonoma County has a variety of wineries, ranging from the larger more commercial variety to small, independent boutique options. Benziger Family Winery falls somewhere in between, but one thing is certain: Making wine is a family affair. The Benziger motto appears on the trellis when you first enter the property, “Education & Good Times.” Don’t be surprised if you meet a Benziger during your visit. They’re everywhere -  in the vineyards, pouring wines and poring over paperwork.

“We want them (visitors) to have a good time. We want them to have an experience,” says Kathy Benziger Threlkeld.

The family has learned its fair share since 1980, when more than a dozen of them left the Bronx to become winemakers. Initially, they made wine the same way everyone else did, using conventional methods and pesticides. By the mid 90s, they noticed things were missing. There were no butterflies and bugs. No birds singing. Mother Nature moved out of their vineyard.

So they started over. They ripped out acres of grapes, and gave land back to the birds and the bees. The winery has 82 acres but only 35 of them are used to grow grapes. The leftover 50 acres are home to three insectories, animals and a variety of other things you’d love to have growing in your backyard.

Benziger Winery

Everyone is welcome at Benziger Family Winery

“The whole purpose is to reconnect people with the land,” says Mike Benziger, head winemaker.

It’s called biodynamic and in the simplest terms, it’s the highest level of organic farming. Benziger Family Winery is one of a handful of Demeter certified-Biodynamic vineyards in North America.

So when you visit Benziger, you’ll drink their wine but you’ll also get an education in sustainable farming. Choose from the 45-minute Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour or the smaller and longer Partners Estate Vineyard Tour. If you’re not the tour type, just spend some time wandering on the Biodynamic Discovery Trail.

Just a few minutes away on Highway 12, another Benziger is distinguishing himself in wine country.  Imagery Estate Winery highlights lesser-known grape varietals.

“Most of them are unusual blends. I look for varietals that might be mainstreams in other countries,” says Joe Benziger.

Artistic wine calls for equally artistic labels, so every year 25 to 30 artists are selected to design new labels for the latest batch of what Benziger’s sister Kathy calls “liquid art.” The result is the largest collection of wine label art in the world and much of it is on display in Imagery’s art gallery.

Imagery Winery

Imagery’s Wine Label Art Gallery

“It’s really important to give people an experience of that grape. I want them to taste what Malbec tastes like,” says Joe Benziger.

All Imagery Estate Wines are certified Biodynamic.

Imagery Winery

Imagery Winery

Imagery has a hip, younger feel to it. In addition to the tasting room, there’s a bocce ball court and a wood-fired pizza oven that stays busy on weekends.

Dana can be found on twitter @drebmann