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February 04, 2011
Benessere - Italian for California Wine
Benessere is the Italian word for well-being or prosperity. It's really about a lifestyle of fully enjoying those special moments and gatherings that make us who we are and allow us to take inventory of life's blessings.

The winery at Benessere was founded in 1994 by John and Ellen Benish. It is located off of Highway 29, nestled midway between St. Helena and Calistoga, about  half  a  mile
off of Big Tree Road. The estate is 42 acres, of which 36 acres are planted. Their claim to fame is in the making of small lot, hand-crafted Italian varietals.

The winery has an interesting history, as it used to be a barn and stable where thoroughbred horses were raised before being a winery. The massive cellar doors, made from staves of old Gamba barrels, lead you into the cellar.  There you can view original stall doors, left in place, from when the building was retrofitted as a winery and cellar. The building is both rustic and charming in nature, but easily approachable, like their wines. But long before that, the American Indian's roamed their land, as is evident by the fragments of artifacts left behind that had a makeup of mostly obsidian.

Consulting winemakers were brought in to properly match what varietals would work best with the soil and microclimate. They found the soil to be well-suited for Sangiovese and Aglianico.

The property is beautiful and those wanting to visit need to call ahead first, but picture yourself in the middle of a vineyard, allowing the day's stresses to melt away as the sun sets against a backdrop of conifers against the hills to the west while enjoying the wine. This moment is a Benessere moment.

Among their current releases is Sangiovese, which consumes ten of the acres by itself. They also have Pinot Grigio and the lesser known Aglianico (pronounced "Alianico") , some old-vine Zinfandel, from fruit off of the Collins vineyard which was planted in 1992, and a proprietary blend which is comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese as well. We found the Aglianico and Pinot Grigio basically knocked it out of the park. Try using the word Aglianico on your next wine trip to the store and they will think you know Italian, but never know you're talking about wine!

Winemaker Jack Stuart's (pictured above) wine philosophy is based on trusting your personal judgment. It has to be right for you and he should know, as he previously served as founding winemaker for Silverado and has over 30 years of winemaking experience in California, primarily Napa Valley.

The assistant winemaker, Leo Martinez (pictured to the left) has been there ten years and knows the terroir well. Additional on-staff expertise continues with Tasting Room Manager and certified Sommelier Eric Hensel, who is waiting to walk you through their cellar! I'd say they certainly have the chaps and the hospitality!

As with any winery, these folks are adopting technology and can be found @ItalyinNapa on Twitter and Benessere Vineyards on Facebook. They are also hosting a GeoCaching event, complete with lunch and wine, of course. The event promises to be a lot of fun, as I figure you can hide a lot on 42 acres. Sign up now to be a participant by contacting to reserve your spot!

Great Italian wine and GeoCaching! Who would have thunk!




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