Editor’s Note: Check out our video interview with Mike Benizger, as well as photos from the property and more. Then join Kathy Benziger at K&L San Francisco on November 4th to taste their current line-up.
Name: Mike Benziger
Winery: Benziger Family Winery
Number of years in business: 37
How would you describe your winemaking philosophy?
I hope my winemaking philosophy is one of respect. I try to spend as much time as possible in the vineyard so I can build a relationship with the land and vintage. In this way, I learn to trust the vines and respect what they give to me.
What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy?
One of my heroes is Jacques Lardiere of Louis Jadot. I’ve never met anyone as sensitive to wine as Jacques. Alan York (renowned viticulturist) and Joaquin Corona (our vineyard manager of 26 years) have a way of looking at plants and vines that I admire and strive for. They have also taught me patience.
How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year?
Grape growing is what I do. It is inseparable from winemaking, there is no line. Two properties in particular blow me away: Our estate property on Sonoma Mountain; it is so diverse I know that I will never figure it out. Another is our Pinot Noir property, de Coelo, out past Freestone. I believe it has true Grand Cru potential. The location and the soils are as good as it gets.
How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that’s influenced your wines?
In recent years, I think my palate has come a full 360. I started out tasting, loving and knowing the classic European wines 35 years ago. This is a profile that I gravitate towards in making wines over the last several years.
What kinds of food do you like to pair with your wines?
We have a lot of fun pairing and comparing the foods and vegetables we grow on our farm with the wines we grow and make here. We can see similarities in textures and flavors.
What changes are planned for coming vintages? Any new varietals, blends or propriety wines on the horizon?
We have done extensive soil mapping that will change the way we test and harvest our various blocks of grapes. I believe this will help us achieve better, more even ripeness.
Is there a style of wine that you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you deal with it?
I prefer wines that are focused on structure, mouthfeel and length rather than just weight and sweetness. This might not be the focus of traditional critics, but there is a growing interest by chefs and sommeliers in these types of wines.
What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine?
I drink mostly other wines. I like Pinots from the Sonoma Coast, and wines from Spain, Bordeaux and Champagne
Do you collect wine? If so, what’s in your cellar?
I do collect wines regularly and my wine cellar is pretty stuffed. I have a lot of the usuals: Burgundy, Bordeaux, Italian and South American [wines].
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine business?
It is very difficult being a small family business and getting through the traditional three-tier system and into the hands of the customer. The system is overloaded and extremely competitive. We appreciate being part of the K&L family.