November 28 2013

The In’s And Out’s Of Benziger’s Biodynamic Winery

The property now encompassing the Benziger Family Winery was once the site of an outrageous experiment to create a cabernet-infused marijuana strain called “Sonoma Coma.”  Although the pot production ceased once the property was sold to the Benzigers, the 1970’s vibe of health, harmony, and environmental philosophy continues under its new ownership.  The Benziger family’s commitment to biodynamic farming has rocked the world of wine-making, and made Benziger a leader in sustainable agriculture.

Benziger employee explains the tenants of biodynamics

Biodynamic farming is an environmentally-holistic approach to agriculture, and operates on the belief that a farm should be treated like a natural ecosystem. Adherence to this belief led to Benziger being certified by the Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association in 2000. Seven years later, all their wines were certified as either organically, sustainably, or biodynamically-produced. There are 4 primary areas that the Benzigers focused on to achieve their winery’s harmonic biodiversity and quality wines:

  • Climate Adaptation;
  • Soil Revitalization;
  • Water Management; and
  • Nutrient Application and Pest Control

The Sonoma County landscape is made up of micro-climates, each of which exhibits different degrees of solar exposure, moisture content, and temperature. Different varietals of grapes will be better suited for certain micro-climates over others. By allowing the region to dictate what is grown, monoculture crops are avoided, and an individualism within the wine emerges.

Looking southeast from atop Benziger Estate Winery

Closely linked to micro-climates is the concept of geological terroir. Knowing terroir is crucial in biodynamics because it is the medium for plant growth and determinant of what types of grapes should be grown.  Benziger Estate is surrounded by a terroir of nutrient-rich volcanic soils, which are perfect for the vertical root growth of nine unique varietals on the property. Some commercial growers alter the terroir of their property to produce a single varietal, which can result in J-shaped roots that do not penetrate deep enough to stabilize the plant or extract nutrients.

In order to help revitalize soils, combat pests, and prevent plant disease, Benziger incorporates animals and insects into the biodynamic farming process. Manure from sheep and cattle provides a free source of fertilizer, while predatory insects fend off pests that cause plant disease. There is an on-site insectary where, among other creatures, lady bugs can safely breed and thrive. Livestock also act as alternatives to gas-powered mowers in maintaining cover crops and eradicating invasive plants.

The insectary facility at Benziger

Normally, a winery would need to install a filtration system to collect excess water from its facilities. In the case of the Benziger winery however, a series of small wetlands and ponds were engineered to collect and filter runoff from production areas while adding to the biodiversity of the property. This natural filtration process is governed by the botanical properties of wetland vegetation that absorbs chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Following this stage, the water is pumped through a series of gravel and sand-lined ponds that are used to separate out any suspended solids.

Benziger Family Winery produces approximately 120,000 cases of wine per year using their biodynamic farming framework. They are a member of DBTA’s list of 450 certified growers, and take pride in their reputation as an environmentally-conscious winery and global distributor. In the end though, it’s the selfless love of wine that makes Benziger strive to protect the environment that continues to produce it.

29,000 square foot "wine cave" is the final stage before bottling

Is biodynamic farming feasible for commercial-scale agriculture?

Credits: Images by Nick Danty. Data to linked to sources.

Nick Danty

Nick Danty is a graduate of the Geography and Planning Department at California State University, Chico and currently works at the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) in Santa Rosa. Nick has been involved in several programs at RCPA, but is most proud of the 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Count Project, for which he served as the project manager and outreach coordinator. A Northern California native who calls his single-family detached dwelling home, Nick is not a stranger to the ills of suburban sprawl and the toll it takes on human and physical environments. Nick’s travels to Europe and throughout North America have shown him preventing and retrofitting sprawl is possible through intelligent neighborhood design, beautiful architecture, mitigation banking, innovative transit systems and visionary urban and rural plans. He is very excited about writing for The Grid, and plans on discussing projects and programs happening at his agency related to transportation planning, climate adaptation, livability, urban land development, and environmental conservation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 28th, 2013 at 9:52 am and is filed under Energy, Engineering, Environment, Environmental Design, Land Use. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “The In’s And Out’s Of Benziger’s Biodynamic Winery”

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