The Kenwood Press
: 02/01/2012

Spilling the good stuff…

Bennett Valley’s rising star

Sunshine Radtke

One of my favorite drives is along Bennett Valley Road. It is one of Sonoma Valley’s back road hidden treasures. Bennett Mountain, Taylor Mountain and Sonoma Mountain define this triangular shaped valley with rolling hills dividing the open space. The combination of volcanic soil, rocky terrain and a unique microclimate creates an environment that is perfect for producing cool climate varietal wines. Within the valley itself, there are varied microclimates, creating ideal growing conditions for a variety of grapes like syrah and chardonnay to coastal varietals, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. This beautiful serene valley has become home to some 36 family-owned vineyards with about 650 total planted acres throughout the valley.

In recent years, Bennett Valley has established its own AVA (American Viticulture Area) which makes this appellation Sonoma County’s youngest recognized wine region. The emerging potential for the relatively new AVA is deeply driven by passion of the growers and of course, the love of the grape. Ah yes, nectar of the gods!

Although Matanzas Creek Winery is the only destination winery open to the public as of yet, that may change in the future.

Along with the collective efforts of the Bennett Valley Grape Growers Association, recently established Bennett Valley Cellars is promoting awareness of the Bennett Valley wine AVA prominently in their branding and with the production and release of their estate pinot noir.

Owners, Emilio Zanin and his son, Luca Zanin founded Bennett Valley Cellars in 2008. Emilio immigrated to the US in 1969 from the famed Veneto region in Northern Italy where he grew up working on his grandfather’s 50-acre vineyards. In 2006, Emilio purchased five acres in Bennett Valley and planted his own vineyard, naming it Marina’s Estate, after his wife. A few years later, Luca purchased 40 acres of vineyard property adjacent to Matanzas Creek, naming it Simpatico Ranch which means “likeable” or “congenial” in Italian. The Zanin family released their inaugural Bennett Valley Cellars 2009 Estate Pinot Noir and 2008 Bin 6410 Pinot Noir in 2010 and they plan to release their estate chardonnay in the future.

I had the honor of visiting both estate vineyards, with a private tour and tasting hosted by Luca and general manager, Douglas Nickle. Their passion for producing premium wines and their love of the valley is obvious and is definitely reflected in the wines. The combination of old-world style and modern winemaking techniques create outstanding wines, worthy of recognition and palate praises!

Moving on to the good stuff…

After an extensive tour of both estate vineyards, we headed back to the home of Emilio and Marina Zanin to taste through the wines. We started with the 2008 Bin 6410 Pinot Noir. This is certainly not a shy wine. The bright aromas of rose petal and flavors of tart cherry on the palate lead to an herbaceous finish with hints of white pepper. I was impressed by such big fruit for a pinot noir. This wine would compliment a gamey meat dish such as roasted lamb with mint sauce or even a mixed baby green salad with fresh herbs and goat cheese.

The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir displays the classic old-world style characteristics of a beautifully crafted pinot. This wine is soft and silky in the mouth with flavors of fresh strawberries and cream. It has a lovely earthy finish with nice minerality. I would pair this with a spinach salad with pears and gorgonzola, or risotto with porcini mushrooms in a lemon cream sauce.

Bennett Valley Cellars does not have a tasting room open to the public yet, but you can find their wines at Sonoma and Glen Ellen Markets, as well as a variety of Sonoma Valley restaurants. Ask for it at your favorite local dining spot.

Correction

David Guhin, who was quoted in a story in the Jan. 15, 2012, issue about the Oakmont Water Reclamation plant, is the Deputy Director Subregional Operations, for the City of Santa Rosa. Furthermore, the Feb. 2 hearing will take place before the Santa Rosa Board of Utilities, not the city’s Planning Commission as stated in the story. The date for a second meeting in front of the City Council has not been determined.