Benovia Winery stars at Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest
First-class wineries and the region’s top chefs have proved a winning combination for the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, which has raised more than $3 million for The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and other organizations. This year’s signature vintner was Benovia Winery from Sonoma County. Recently Mike Sullivan, co-owner and winemaker at Benovia, took a break from bottling the 2010 vintage to talk about what makes his wines so special.
¦ What distinguishes Benovia from other Sonoma wineries? In part, it is the estate vineyards we own. We have 72 acres planted on three sites in the Russian River Valley, and also have some exceptional vineyard partners that supplement our own production. Our vineyard portfolio is mostly planted in pinot noir, but the major distinction is that we make a stylistic wine that has some California properties, like ei expressive and ripe fruit, but with a foot in the Old World style. The wines have aacidity and restraint and are made to wwork with different foods.
¦ What sustainable practices have yyou found particularly valuable, and how do they affect the winemaking process? We have a holistic approach to farming. We produce 96 percent of the energy we need from solar power. Our winery building runs east and west, and the roof facing south is clad in solar cells. Additionally, the Cohn vineyard will be organically certified next year, and all of our vineyards are farmed using sustainable practices. We fertilize with compost and use cover crops in the vineyards to fix the nitrogen into the soil. We do not use processed chemical fertilizers or non-organic sprays. The flavor differences we get are very subtle, but sustainable farming shows respect for the neighbors as well as the land.
¦ What motivated you to become a winemaker? I grew up in Sonoma. My parents were grape growers, and when I went to high school in the ’80s, I fell in love with the local people and their passion for what they did, and wanted to stay in Sonoma. I didn’t fall in love with wine until I was in my 20s. For me, it is passion with the people and the feelings of shared community and camaraderie that make winemaking here special.
¦ What does it mean to be the signature vintner of this year’s wine fest? We re very honored to be the signature vintner this year for a great organization benefitting The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. One of our owners, Joe Anderson, was in the health-care business and recognized the need for support in Florida, so that was one of the reasons we wanted to get involved in the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest.
• Pinot Noir: We bottle a number of single vineyard wines and seek to capture the essence of that place at that time. The Cohn vineyard has an especially nice aroma of rose petals, with rich black cherry and red raspberry fruit flavors and layers of spice for our signature wine. The Sonoma Coast pinot noir is more accessible, with softer flavors and tannins at release. In all, we make six different pinot noirs and a pinot noir rose.
• Chardonnay: The Sonoma Mountain comes from a single vineyard I own with my brothers. This is a cool site, and the wine shows orange nectarine, tropical fruits and pear flavors. The La Pommeraie Russian River Valley Chardonnay is an estate property that is grown in what once was an apple orchard. The wine has honeysuckle and orange aromas and flavors of candied orange.
• Zinfandel: Our zinfandel comes from the northern end of the Cohn vineyard and is made from gnarly old vines grown on the side of the mountain. The wine has lots of concentrated flavors and aromas of blackberries and kirsch and a long finish.
• Grenache: The grenache I planted 10 years ago with my brother, and for us it is a labor of love, because we both love grenache. With only 1½ acres planted, we make about 100 cases, mostly just for ourselves. The higher elevation and cooler temperatures produce a wine that is full of black plum, cherries, currants and spices. ¦