Wine & Other Stories

Bennet Valley Grape Growers

Written by Veronica Lavenia

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Bennett Valley is a gently sloping elevated valley located between three mountains in Sonoma County, California. With 8,140 total acres and only 650 acres planted, Bennett Valley is one of Sonoma County’s smaller appellations. The 36 mostly family-owned vineyards average less than 20 acres each. The story goes that the Miwok, Pomo and Wappo Native American tribes settled here and thrive thanks to the various food sources and the temperate climate of the area.

In the 1850s, the Bennett Valley saw an influx of settlers who quickly turned to agriculture. Four years later, James Bennett, for whom the valley is named, was elected to the state senate where he introduced a bill making Santa Rosa the county seat.

In 1862, Isaac DeTurk planted vines on land acquired from James Bennett and established the valley’s first winery, Belle Mount.

In 1884, the Bennett Valley became a quality and highly productive winegrowing area.

In 1890, phylloxera devastated the vineyards in the valley. In 1920, the damage caused by phylloxera and prohibition put an end to the cultivation of vines in the valley.

With the end of prohibition, in 1933, the cultivation of vines returned to the Valley.

In 2003, Bennett Valley was formally recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA).

In 2004, Bennett Valley Grape Growers was born to make the valley a premier wine growing and winemaking area.

©Bennet Valley Grape Growers

Bennett Valley is a series of high ridges, hills, and marshes hanging from Bennett Mountain to the north, Taylor Peak to the west, and Sonoma Mountain to the south. The region’s volcanic history defines the landscape: steep, rocky soils with good drainage to encourage deep roots and intense flavors without dilution.

The average size of each family vineyard is less than 15 acres. Most of the growers live on site and are actively involved in every aspect of grape growing.
Bennett Valley grapes are used by California’s most respected winemakers to create wines recognized not only for their high quality, but also for their distinct Bennett Valley character.
Bennett Valley had its first settlers in the mid 1800’s and they quickly recognized the potential of the rich volcanic soils. The first vineyard was planted in 1862 and the valley’s reputation for producing high quality grapes began to grow. In the mid-1970s, a group of viticulture visionaries embraced the idea of producing wines that could compete with the best of the old world.

©Bennet Valley Grape Growers

In the 1990s, a wave of interest in Rhône varieties swept across California. Local growers found these grapes to yield well but it was Syrah in particular that expressed the unique climate and soil of the “valley between the mountains”.
The Syrahs of this appellation are reminiscent of the wines of the northern Rhône region of France.

More recently, with the planting of new vineyards and the replanting or conversion of existing ones, the area cultivated with Pinot Noir has also increased.

If Bennett Valley’s red wines are highly regarded, it is perhaps the white wines that best demonstrate the impact of cool weather and a commitment to a “sense of place.”
Despite their significant varietal differences, Bennett Valley-grown Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and White Rhones share one common characteristic: they all retain the natural acidity levels that come with a long growing season marked by afternoon and morning fog. Often described as complex, structured, crisp and bright, these are white wines that reflect the characteristics of their respective varietals but also demonstrate their cool climate origins.

©Bennet Valley Grape Growers

The constant marine influence defines this cool climate region. A depression in the Coast Mountains known as the Petaluma Wind Gap, allows morning fog and cool sea breezes to regularly pour into the valley through Crane Canyon during the growing season.
While the AVA is classified as “very cool,” the mountains that define its boundaries shelter the vineyards and protect them from extremes during the growing season. Sheltered by the walls of the valley, an abundant sun warms the fruits where ripening takes place slowly and the flavors develop before the sugars.

©Bennet Valley Grape Growers

In 2014, Sonoma County winemakers made a bold commitment: to become the most sustainable wine region in the world. Bennett Valley became one of the first appellations to be chartered as 100% Sustainable. Today, 99 percent of the vineyard acreage in Sonoma County has been certified sustainable by a third-party program. Sonoma County’s Sustainability Program helps preserve agriculture and multigenerational family farms.

About the author

Veronica Lavenia

Writer, book author and magazine contributor, some of her works have appeared in the most popular International magazines.
Digital Content Manager and Communication Manager at "The Wolf Post", since the birth of the platform.

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