Leaders in certified Biodynamic®, organic and sustainable winegrowing, Benziger Family Winery believes biodiversity plays a key role in wine quality. They are currently expanding their Sonoma Mountain estate insectaries to include working fruit and vegetable gardens. They also tend a growing herd of estate sheep and cows. Organic landscape designer Colby Eierman, who recently joined Benziger as director of gardens, was hired to spearhead the estate’s gardening and husbandry programs, which are now open to the public.
An accomplished horticulturist and gardening educator, Eierman comes to Benziger from COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, where he worked as director of gardens, responsible for the planning, planting and maintenance of the center’s 3.5 acres of organic ornamental and edible gardens in Napa.
At Benziger, Eierman is helping to lead the 85-acre Demeter-certified Biodynamic estate’s evolution to a self-sustaining farm—one that not only cultivates 42 acres of site-expressive winegrapes, but also grows food and raises animals. By creating vegetable gardens in the estate’s three insectaries (gardens designed to attract beneficial birds and insects) and tucking smaller plots around the vineyard rows, Eierman is changing more than the Sonoma Mountain landscape.
“Diversity is the name of the game,” he says. “When you’re growing six different kinds of broccoli, fennel, mustard greens and lettuce alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, and then preparing the soil with your own compost, you’re enhancing the terroir of that vineyard. The result in the grapes is subtle, but invaluable.”
Eierman, whose professional experience includes growing micro-greens for celebrated Bay Area restaurants like Chez Panisse and Roxanne’s, is also working with local chefs to develop menus featuring produce from the Benziger estate. The winery’s first such partnership, which was forged with Sonoma County’s famed General’s Daughter restaurant in 2007, continues today.
Consumers interested in exploring Benziger’s expanded gardens are invited to take the winery’s new Partners Tour and Tasting*—a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery’s water reclamation ponds, estate cows and sheep, and terraced hillside vineyards. The experience includes wine in the gardens paired with fresh-picked vegetables and concludes with an intimate tasting of estate wines in Benziger’s private tasting room.
To promote the continued growth of these environmental efforts and more, Benziger has named Mimi Gatens its director of sustainability. Gatens, who joined the winery in 2003 as vice president of marketing, became Benziger’s director of sustainability in 2007. She now oversees the winery’s green business practices, including its energy efficiency and recycling systems, environmental business partnerships, educational outreach and certified-sustainable farming program. Additionally, as the administrative director for the Biodynamic Trade Association, Gatens works with the organization’s Vice President Mike Benziger and other industry leaders to increase public awareness of Demeter-certified Biodynamic farms, gardens and agricultural products.