Since moving to the Bay area, I have gained quite an education in the art of wine.  Before I moved out here I would drink wine occasionally and when I did I would look at where the wine was from (and when I say that I mean what state or country and nothing else).  And most of the time I would buy wines I already knew...never venturing out to expand my palette.  

A couple of weekends ago we went out Sonoma to pick up some wine from Benziger Family Winery.  This was the first winery I had visited in California last year.  And it was fantastic!  And expensive!  Before moving out here I had never spent more than about $15 on a bottle of wine and that was pricey.  We tried wines at Benziger that ranged from $35 to $85!  Now $35-$50 for a bottle of wine seems about average.  Anyway, on our last visit out there we ended up taking a tour of the vineyard/winery.  It was very enlightening. 

Benziger is one of about 50 vineyards (and I can't remember if that nationwide or worldwide) that maintains a biodynamic estate vineyard.  So I'm sure you are wondering what in the world is biodynamic and why isn't this Californian vineyard not organic?  Well, the concept of biodynamism is actually about 20 years older than the organic concept and takes it a few steps further.  Biodynamic vineyards are self-sustaining.  The owners have chosen very specific plants and trees and placed them all over the estate property in order to create, in essence, its own ecosystem.  They do use organic types of fertilization (seven-stomach Scottish cow manure to be exact) and help the earth recover from years of plantings but, technically, the vineyard can do that all on its and it does.  Such an amazing way to create delicious wine.

In addition to the biodynamic vineyard, they also built a $4 million cave to store the wine in while it sits in oak barrels.  I thought $4 million was a bit much to be spending on a big hole in the side of a mountain.  But then our wonderful tour guide furnished us with some very interesting facts. When you think of cave, you think of a cool, moist place.  If you lived in a cave, would you ever need A/C?  Nope!  Well, as we all know wine needs to stay at a certain temperature to continue aging appropriately.  The caves stay consistently the same temperature all year round.  Plus they provide a reasonable amount of moisture that keeps the barrels in tip top condition.  This prevents air from entering the barrels and mixing with the wine.  As we know, oxygenation of wine turns it sour.  That's why when you open a bottle of wine you really don't have more than a day or two to drink it before it tastes gross.  Vineyards that use actual refrigeration lose up to 12% of their wine from over-oxygenation, but cave aging decreases the loss to around 5%.  That's pretty significant.  So what we have learned here is an expensive hole saves money in the long run from zero refrigeration costs and decreases wine spoilage.  Oh! And the cave is actually underneath the vineyard so it doesn't take up space that could be used for grapes!  Space saver! 

The complexities of winemaking are absolutely fascinating!

Artist of the moment: Electric Guest