Benovia, 2019 Cohn Vineyard, Sonoma County Pinot Noir
A ribbed hillside of gnarled vines, originally planted five decades ago, has been nearly abandoned. But today, these vines are considered a treasure; they grow grapes for a pinot noir that has character.
“We were initially advised to tear it up (the Cohn Vineyard) because it was tired of conventional farming,” said Mike Sullivan, winemaker and co-owner of Benovia Winery. “But we have all seen the value of owning such a special heritage vineyard. Instead, we brought the vines and soil back to life with organic farming techniques. Today the vineyard is certified organic.
Sullivan and his revitalized Cohn Vineyard are behind our Wine of the Week winner – Benovia, Pinot Noir 2019, Cohn Vineyard, Sonoma County, 14.1%, $85. Tasty Pinot Noir with intense fruitiness, this bottling is distinguished by its intensity. This complex pinot has cherry and mineral aromas and flavors with a hint of mushroom and underbrush. Well crafted, this Pinot is balanced, with lively acidity and good length. It edged out the Kosta Browne pinot noir because it’s just as tasty at nearly half the price.
“Working with a Sonoma County pinot noir vineyard over 50 years old is truly special, and the resulting wine is singularly unique,” Sullivan said. “Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir has lift, tension and dynamism.”
The soils of the 18-acre vineyard in Healdsburg near Westside Road, the winemaker added, are distinctive, made up of river debris and covered in worn cobblestones.
Sullivan said Pinot Noir is a temperamental grape that needs a lot of attention in the vineyard and in the cellar.
Pinot can’t be rushed, he said, and it has a lot of patience. The unfolding of the grape is worth the wait.
“I know this country well,” Sullivan said. “I love this place and the subtleties of the terroir here.”
Sullivan’s parents planted a vineyard on Sonoma Mountain in the 1980s, and he helped tend the vines with his brothers when he was a teenager.
“The hardest part of making Pinot Noir is manipulating the fruit as gently as possible to bring out some of the varietal’s most subtle and elegant qualities,” he said.
Sullivan, 53, has worked in the wine industry for over 30 years. He joined winemakers Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane of Santa Rosa’s Benovia winery in 2005. The winemaker holds a degree in oenology and graduated from Fresno State University in 1992.
What many don’t know about Pinot Noir is just how diverse the varietal can be – from delicate, light and fleeting styles to richer, bolder and more concentrated wines.
“We own three different estate vineyards in three distinct areas so that we can produce up to seven different Pinot Noirs (with) each vintage, and the character of each wine is influenced by the terroir, soil and climate of each property. “Sullivan said.
“But I would say the overall style of the house is all about balance and elegance, with the abundance of bright fruit flavors that we get in California.”
You can reach Wine writer Peg Melnik at [email protected] or 707-521-5310.