By Robert P. Farmer
Although it was the birthplace of Wine Country as we know it today, Calistoga
is often overlooked among the visiting public. Or, more accurately, it’s not overlooked so much as it is not quite reached. Snuggled into the northernmost region of the Napa Valley, Calistoga frequently proves just a bit too far up along the lengthy, easily sidetracked winery trail of the Valley. Too bad. Because some of Napa’s true gems await the tenacious traveler with the stamina – or planning foresight – to alight upon Calistoga.
One such gem is Bennett Lane
, situated near the edge of the Mayacamas Mountains. Bennett Lane is not one of the household names associated with Napa Valley, but the still-young winery has quickly garnered a reputation as serious producer – earning especially high recognition for its cabernet sauvignon and for its tasty everyday varietal appropriately called Maximus. The vision of owners Randy and Lisa Lynch, Bennett Lane typifies the potential for high-caliber cab grown in the northern stretches of the valley – where warm summer sun and volcanic soil give the fruit a compelling intensity. Bennett Lane’s winemaker, Grant Hermann, grew up in the area and learned at an early age the importance of sourcing local fruit and attention to detail when aiming for the sort of quality that he has achieved at Bennett Lane. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In less than half a decade, more than a dozen Bennett Lane wines have earned 90-point scores from Wine Spectator, and the publication has twice given the Maximus Vintage its “outstanding value” recognition.
But arguably more important than the critical acclaim has been the local popularity. Bennett Lane’s convivial tasting room has become well known among serious wine appreciators who don’t take themselves too seriously. And although the tasting room is a good way to discover the winery’s capabilities, there’s an even more involved experience available at Bennett Lane. The immersive in-the-vineyard and custom winemaking program, called Varietals Fruit Flavor, offers guests a guided tour of the vineyard and allows participants to see first-hand the winemaking process. From soil to vines to the glass, guests are offered a chance to try their own hand at creating wine, which in turn provides a thorough edification of how Bennett Lane achieves its quality.
Discussions in the vineyard lead to an “aromatics” session during which guides are walked through the subtleties of unblended varietals and taught to identify their unique characteristics. This newfound knowledge comes in handy for the custom blending session, where participants are encouraged to mix merlot, cabernet and syrah to concoct personal variations on the Maximus theme. Blends are bottled and corked and emblazoned with a personalized label to take away as a “diploma” from Bennett Lane’s one-day university.
The day culminates with a lovely repast on the Bennett Lane patio, with a pairing of artisan cheeses and a selection from the winery’s current releases. And with the expanse of vineyards in the foreground and the mountains stretching into distance, the stroll down Bennett Lane comes to an end all too soon.
**See Recent Review
of Bennett Lane from Message Board Member “Hawkeye”!**