Bennett Lane Winery is one of the most northerly wineries located in Napa Valley and has the distinction of being the northernmost winery in the Napa Valley open to the public by walk-in. As a result, when compared to the “wine strip” of Highway 29 south of St. Helena this part of the valley is on the opposite spectrum. Fewer tourists equates to less traffic and crowds in tasting rooms. Very nice! The winery is located about 3 miles north of Calistoga in the cradle of the Napa Valley where the eastern Vaca mountains come together with the western Mayacamas. Continue much past here, and you wind through the hills into Sonoma County. Note, the actual Bennett Lane road sits just north of the winery but the winery entrance is located just off of Highway 128. Their motto incorporates their geographic location, “Crafting Fine Wine at the Pinnacle of Napa Valley.”
Bennett Lane was founded by Randy and Lisa Lynch who both had no prior experience in the wine business before starting this winery. They fell in love with wine during many trips to Italy and decided to produce wine after they purchased what was an existing winery called Vigil Vineyards. Vigil was founded by Jamie Pawlak who purchased this Bennett Lane property in 1989 – originally the vines were planted in the 1940’s but the vineyard had been abandoned slightly prior to his purchase. His first wine was from the 1992 vintage and he built the winery in 1996. He later sold to Tom Leonardini (of Whitehall Winery) who in turn sold to Randy and Lisa in 2003.
One of Napa’s most successful vintners, Dave Phinney (of Orin Swift fame) was Bennett Lane’s founding winemaker.
In a previous career, Randy founded R.W. Lynch Company (in 1984) – a successful San Francisco Bay Area based advertising agency serving attorneys. His company created the Injury HelpLine® brand which pioneered ‘group TV advertising’ initially connecting consumers via television ads to numerous attorneys all specializing in personal injury litigation. The service was highly successful because it was fast, convenient and available at no charge to the consumer/viewer.
In addition to the estate vineyard surrounding the winery, they also own 14 acres across from nearby Chateau Montelena. Because of its northerly location this is a good place to either start or finish your day of wine tasting. There are excellent views of the nearby mountains and vineyards. When you drive in note the different grape varieties next to the parking lot – the rows are all labeled. The intimate tasting room is located in a modern Mediterranean style tile roof building – if one of the doors are open inside, you will be able to look right into their barrel room.
Randy is a huge Nascar racing fan, has his own NASCAR team, and owns several cars and in 2013 was inducted into the Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame. His enthusiasm and passion for racing has carried to others who work at the winery. Even winemaker, Rob Hunter is now a fan. During one visit a wide screen television was setup in their barrel room broadcasting live from Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. They are sponsors of the Bennett Lane Winery 200 at Infineon. In a racing world dominated by beer ads and sponsorship it is uniquely refreshing to find a winery involved!
Maximus is a name synonymous with Bennett Lane Winery (both a red and white wine). It is named after the 2nd century Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus. The owners have a collection of ancient European coins and each of their wine has an image of an old Roman coin on the label. Several original coins dating from several thousand years ago are displayed in the tasting room.
The 2007 White Maximus is an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a touch of Muscat. They call this their “white feasting wine”. Definitely serve chilled – its perfect to drink on a hot summer’s day. It is crisp and light with touches of stone fruit including white peach and nectarine. The 2005 Reserve Chardonnay comes from Carneros – nice crème Brule aspects, toasted nuts and a smooth creaminess towards the finish.
The 2005 Maximus is a red blend which for the quality is available at a very decent price. Lots of fruit in this wine – plum, cherry, blueberry with exotic spice combinations coming together towards the finish. Jumping right into the 2005 Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this is a juicy, dark richly flavored wine. The nose is all about the mocha/cocoa and red fruit aromas which follow to raspberry, chocolate and cherry flavors on the palate. The finish is rich and super long.
Of special note is their non vintage extremely limited production desert wine; you won’t find this blend of desert wine anywhere else in the Napa Valley. They blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Carignane (an unusual variety in the Napa scene – originally hails from Spain) to form a unique flavored wine with notes of fig and cherry on the palate. The dark chocolate and black cherry aromas also continue onto the palate but are more subtle than on the bouquet.
Speaking of chocolate, every Saturday their Maximus & Cabernet Sauvignon are paired with various dark chocolates. Two wine clubs are available. They also offer the ultimate wine tasting package. One of the highlights of this package is learning how to blend different wines (you can take home your final blend). It also includes a Limo ride, cheese & wine pairing & more. This is something that is certainly not offered by every winery.
And in a distinctive claim to fame, Bennett Lane Winery partnered with Calistoga Balloons in 2012 to offer guests rides in the first ever winery branded hot-air balloon in the United States. This special balloon was created in the Czech Republic. Experiences offered include a standard flight with a picnic at the winery or a private tasting flight combined with a limo ride to the winery to then enjoy several reserve wines. All experiences are reserved through Calistoga Balloons.
Lastly, their website has a very good explanation of the different wine growing regions within the Napa area. For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.bennettlane.com