The landscape of Napa and Sonoma is littered with wineries that were once family-owned, independent and fiercely focused on quality. Over the past decade, many of those wineries were absorbed by the Jacksons and Foleys of this world. In most cases the scenario was the same: after decades of conscientious effort, the owners had achieved a measure of critical and financial success, only to come to a point where they had no children interested in carrying on their legacy. Those properties still make good wine under their new ownership, but they have lost the passion and spark that made them unique.
Against that background, it’s reassuring to stumble on an estate such as Benovia, a Russian River winery owned by the husband and wife team of Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane. Their saga began in 2003 when the couple purchased the Cohn Vineyard west of Healdsburg, followed by the Martaella and Tilton Vineyards. The importance of family is reflected in the naming of Benovia, which honors the couple’s fathers (Ben Dewane and Novian Anderson), who instilled in their children the importance of hard work and dedication to quality. Similarly, the Martaella Vineyard is named for their mothers, Martha and Eleanor.
Those estate vineyards today supply most of the fruit for their tiny 4,000-case annual production, which is sold to consumers via a mailing list and also distributed to restaurants. Vineyard manager Chris Kangas practices sustainable farming, and the Cohn Vineyard grapes are grown organically without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Perhaps most importantly, the use of new oak is measured and careful—Benovia is making wine, not oak juice.
Their 2014 Russian River Chardonnay ($38) has a clean, fresh nose is perfumed with aromas of citrus, stone fruits and minerals. On entry, the wine is just as crisp and direct in the mouth as it seems on the nose: flavors of lemon, lime and green apple come to the forefront on a wave of vibrant acidity, enhanced by restrained use of oak.
Jammy black fruits and toasty oak rise from a glass of the 2014 Russian River Pinot Noir ($38), with undertones of fresh herbs and whiffs of anise. The wine is rich and full-bodied in the mouth, with syrupy flavors of black raspberry, Damson plum and black cherry that cling to the palate. Located several miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Tilton Vineyard—planted in 2009— is cooled by marine breezes that encapsulate the acids and flavors of Pinot Noir. The 2014 Benovia Tilton Hill bottling ($60) exudes aromas of fresh red raspberry and wild strawberry on the nose. The wine is bright and vivid on the palate, with mouthwatering acidity highlighting flavors of red cherries, currants and mocha. As the vines mature, this will be a wine to watch.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.