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Benovia Winery

Benovia Winery ViciVino.com spoke with Bob Mosby, general manager of Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa.  Bob, who grew up in Texas, first learned about good wine about 30 years ago when he went to Europe.  He came back and visited Napa and has been hooked on California wines ever since.  He changed careers -- he's originally a psychologist! -- so now he gets to talk and share his love of wine with you when you come in to tour the winery.

Wine-Food pairing with Benovia wines

ViciVino.com: Who owns Benovia?
Bob Mosby: Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane own Benovia. In 2002 they bought the Cohn Vineyard property, which is up off Westside Road in the Dry Creek Valley. Joe knew that he was going to be selling his company in Phoenix and was looking around the Russian River area for something to do. In 2005 this property (where the Benovia Winery sits) came on the market, so they bought it from Cecil De Loach. It was one of his winemaking facilities. Cecil had bought it from Merry Edwards; this was her first winery in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Joe is very active in the strategic part of the winery and not so much in the day-to-day aspect. He leaves that up to Mike (Mike Sullivan, the winemaker) and I.

VV: What have you done to this property since you purchased it?
Benovia vineyards BM: When we first bought the property it was just a big 18-acre rectangle, which included 2 houses and 13 ½ acres of planted Pinot Noir Pommard clone vineyards. No one could understand planting so much of the same exact clone. So we have replanted 5 acres with a new clone of Pinot Noir. We also grabbed the adjacent property when that came up for sale. That is another 40 acres and of that we are going to be planting 9 acres of Chardonnay and 21 acres of Pinot Noir. We will be doing the planting in stages, with the first stage being a total of 18 acres. It’s quite a process to plant the grapes. The soil here has a lot of clay, so we need to put in a lot of drains under the soil to remove the moisture. Then we will do the trellising, and next year, 2009, we’ll put in the rootstock, and the following year we’ll graft. It’s a long, slow process. 3-4 years after the grafting the fruit will be good enough to use to make wine.

We also own some property over in Freestone, closer to the ocean. We are planting there as well. So if you add all our acreage with the three properties we will have about 70 acres planted, with 65% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Zinfandel grapes.

VV: How much wine can you make here with the facilities you have?
BM: We have put in all new equipment here, and have the facilities to make about 10,000 cases, but we don’t make that much now. We are still buying grapes locally to make our current wine. In 2006 we made 2,300 cases and in 2007 we will do about 2,600. We are getting ready to do about 3,000 cases this year. Our goal is to get to 4,000 cases, see how that goes and then slowly climb up to the big number.

VV: Tell us your history of how you fell in love with wine and the industry?
BM: I grew up in Texas, got my Ph.D. in Psychology from University of Texas. Moved to Phoenix and was on the faculty of Arizona State University for 13 years. Left there and went into private practice. Between college and starting my career I spent the summer of 1969 in Europe and “noticed” wine. When I came back home I bought Hugh Johnson’s book. It romanticizes wine, which was a perfect book to start with and very easy to read. Then I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of 1966 Mouton (Bordeaux) for $12.00. Which in 1969 was an outrageous amount of money to pay for a bottle of wine. That was my epiphany. But back then there was hardly anything to choose from that was any good. There was Lancers and Matisse for example. I went to Napa that year and was able to do every single winery in one day! There were so few wineries back then.

While in Phoenix I started a wine group that was an excellent group. We all paid dues and divided up the dues to pay for the tasting. I was involved in that group for over 20 years and that really helped develop my palate. Then in 1989 I started going to Williams Selyem, I was so intrigued by their wines. I asked if I could come out and help with crush. They couldn’t resist my volunteerism, so I did that until 1998 when they sold. In those nine years we developed a great relationship.

VV: How did you get involved with Benovia and what is your role?
BM: Joe was part of a group of business owners that I was a coach to. He knew that I had been in the wine world for 30 years, and had been coming here to the Russian River area to help wineries with their harvests. I had always wanted an opportunity to retire to this area and Joe needed a full time person to run the business. So that is how I became involved. I was at the right place at the right time.

I thought that having all those years of experience with the crush would give me all the knowledge one would need to get a winery up and running. Boy, how naive was I?! I was here 3 weeks and Mike and I decided that it would be great if a trained winemaker could help me. I didn’t even know where to go to buy things locally, being from Phoenix. So we hired Mitch Gillis who was the assistant wine maker at Williams Selyem for many years. He came on board and helped me set up the winery. We couldn’t have done it without him. My role here, now that the winery is set up and running, is primarily marketing. I do the wine tastings and tours, deal with the brochures and labels, and the day-to-day administrative duties.

VV: Who is your winemaker?
BM: We were very fortunate to get Mike Sullivan as our winemaker. He is a product of Sonoma County and a graduate of Fresno State in Fermentation Science. He has worked in the wine industry for over 18 years, most recently as the winemaker at Hartford Court, and got huge scores there from Parker. Parker even named him Wine Personality of the Year one year.

VV: What are some of Benovia’s, and Mike’s, key wine making techniques?
BM: Mike does a pre- and a post-sort so that we make sure that what goes into the tanks is pure. He also likes to do a 5-8 day cold soak on the red wines, then let it warm up. He uses native yeast on the reds. He also keeps a very clean and organized winery. Mike’s goal is “to produce wines that stimulate the imagination of both novices and experts alike.”

VV: What are your tasting room hours?
BM: We are open by appointment only. (See information below.)

VV: When did you have your first vintage for sale?
BM: In Spring ’07 we had our first release. We had 100 cases of our ’06 Rose and 200 cases of our ’05 Zinfandel for sale. We were sold out by July. So when we had visitors after July we could only do barrel tasting. Now we have two vintages of Zinfandel for visitors to taste plus our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

VV: How did you come up with the name of Benovia Winery?
BM: The name is a contraction of Joe’s father’s first name, Novian, who was a WWII tank commander, and his wife Mary’s father’s first name, Ben, who was a pacifist farmer.

VV: What about the logo, what does the design mean?
BM: It looks like a shield but it is actually the letter B interlocking four times. Its nice and simple yet symbolizes the name of the winery.

VV: Where and who are you selling your wine to?
BM: Our target customer is the pinot geek! We sell 70% direct to our customers. We then have distributors in about 6-8 states that sell to restaurants and high-end stores here and there.

VV: How would you say Benovia Winery is different than other wineries?
BM: First of all we are heavily invested into our own vineyards. When you have your own vineyards you control everything, the farming and especially how it’s planted. Our goal is to produce World Class wine. Secondly, Mike is really skilled at producing a wine that is balanced and beautiful and has a power to it all at the same time. Thirdly, it is key to have our own facility. There aren’t very many Pinot producers that have their own facility. Please call for a tour and check us out for yourselves.

Benovia Winery
3339 Hartman Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
707-526-4441
Benovia Winery