Bringing the Italian Good Life to Napa Valley
Founders John and Ellen Benish are certainly not the first to return from a visit to Italy utterly enamored with the country. They were already in love with Napa Valley and had decided to create a winery to produce some of their favorite Italian varieties. Their trip to Italy provided additional inspiration. That vision almost 30 years ago has blossomed into a family- owned winery that is a tribute to Italian wine, lifestyle, and family.
“This area is particularly well suited to Italian varieties, which thrive in warmer temperatures. I have spent time in both Tuscany—the classic home of Sangiovese— and Campania, where Aglianico makes its home. Both regions have a similar climate to our part of Napa Valley,” explained Winemaker Matt Reid.
The Benessere estate vineyards lie between St. Helena and Calistoga in the Upper Napa Valley. The naturally gravelly property has proven to be an ideal location for growing classic Italian varietals. The cool summer nights help the fruit maintain the bright acidity for which Italian varieties are famous. Among the multiple Italian varieties crafted by Reid for Benessere are Aglianico, often referred to as the “Barolo of the South,” Sagrantino from Umbria, and Sangiovese from Tuscany.
Benessere makes the only Aglianico produced from grapes grown in the Napa Valley. A dark-skinned variety indigenous to the Campania region around Naples, Aglianico creates a deep ruby wine with powerful aromas and flavors and significant tannin. It’s also a drought-resistant, late-ripening variety, very amenable to changing climate conditions. Its dominant characteristics are white pepper and black cherry. Both Aglianico and Sagrantino are full-bodied, high-tannin wines that age beautifully, and Sagrantino, with dominant flavors of plum sauce and licorice, has recently been noted to contain some of the highest polyphenol (antioxidants) levels of any red wine.
Well-known Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted variety, yet one of the least planted outside the country. Of approximately 175,000 acres planted worldwide, less than 2,000 acres are in the US. Medium-bodied, Sangiovese typically expresses flavors of cherry and tomato.
Winemaker Matt Reid is excited about Benessere’s upcoming ten-year project to convert more vines to Italian varieties. In the first phase, they removed some of their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and in later stages, they’ll be replanting and adding new selections.
That vision almost 30 years ago has blossomed into a family-owned winery that is a tribute to Italian wine, lifestyle, and family.
Reid wants to keep the exact new wines a secret for now, but said, “We will likely look for inspiration in Central and Southern Italy, and mimic traditional blends from those warmer climates. With other wines, I will let my imagination go wild and create something completely new.”
With the planned replanting and the winery’s renewed commitment to its Italian focus, Benessere is also pledging to remain a family-owned winery. Benessere also has a culinary garden in development that will allow for farm-to-table events on their beautiful outdoor patio, to even more closely resemble the family-style good life they wanted to replicate with Benessere. As Reid said, “It is wonderful to have the full support of the Benish family as we continue to pursue our unique path here in Napa Valley.”
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Article By: Layne Randolph