Benton-Lane Winery is just down the road from my home, outside Monroe, Oregon. I've watched the winery grow, and know many of its employees. It used to be the Sunnymount Dairy Ranch, and cows grazed what is now a thriving vineyard.
Benton-Lane is situated in what locals call the Willamette Valley's "Banana Belt". It's hotter and drier than other parts of the valley, protected by the rain shadow of Green Peak Mountain. The Broadleys discovered the area in the late '70s, and make internationally acclaimed wines from their Estate Vineyard, just a couple of hills north of Benton Lane's. A fine tradition of great wines is developing in our little patch of rural Oregon, including Tebri Vineyards and Sweet Earth Vineyards.
- Jean Yates, Avalon owner
More About Benton-Lane Winery
Benton-Lane: Pinot to the People!
by Cole Danehower
Steve Girard believes in the power of Pinot. “I always thought that Pinot noir was the ultimate destiny of the human palate,” he says—only half jokingly.
As owner of Benton-Lane Winery in Monroe (northwest of Eugene) Steve is in a unique position to help his fellow humans achieve their organoleptic destiny. “People often flirt with Pinot noir,” he says, “I want to get them to actually drink it!”
Accordingly, Steve has a simple goal for Benton-Lane. “We want to make a wine that is easily accessible—both stylistically as well as in price—so that people can actually afford to drink Pinot noir and enjoy it. This will allow access to a whole bunch of people who have probably never tasted Pinot before.”
at right, Benton Lane owners Steve & Carol Girard
From the beginning of Benton-Lane, low-cost, high-flavor Pinot noir was the focus—in part because of the potential Steve saw in the site.
After having built in California a family business called Girard Vineyard, Steve began looking to Oregon as a potential place for making Pinot noir. On a visit in the early 1980s, Steve fell in love with a site called Sunnymount Ranch—nearly 2,000 acres containing a long southeast slope that seemed purpose-made for Pinot.
“It was just this fabulous place,” recalls Steve, “in a warmer location than the folks up in Dundee, at a perfect elevation above the fog-line and below the wind-line, and with an ideal aspect. If I were able to play God and move everything around with bulldozers, I wouldn’t do anything differently!”
Purchasing the property in 1988 with the aid of Carl Duomani (of Napa Valley’s Stags’ Leap Winery), Steve embarked on a planting program that is only now nearly complete. (Steve bought out Carl in 2005). “We have 126 acres planted” he says. “That will give us a production capacity of 21,000 to 30,000 cases—I don’t want to get any bigger than that.”
Along the way Steve and his vineyard managers have worked hard to develop the vineyard’s potential. Starting with what he calls the “chocolate and vanilla” of Pinot noir clones, Pommard and Wadenswil, the mix has evolved to include all manner of own-rooted Dijon clones.
Likewise, vine spacing and trellis systems have evolved as Steve and his staff have become more familiar with the site. Following a careful program of soil analysis and balancing, plus a commitment to Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE), Steve works hard in the vineyard to maximize quality fruit from all the different blocks of the vineyard.
“In a nutshell, since 1998, “what we’re doing is trying to balance the vine to improve quality. This involves different trellis systems to deal with the vigor of different blocks, managing cover crops and water resources—we do all kinds of things to fine tune quality.”
Experimentation and learning are equally emphasized in the winery. Before 1998 Benton-Lane conducted all its winery operations at another facility many miles from the site. But in order to gain more control over wine quality, Steve built his own Pinot-dedicated winery adjacent to the vineyard.
“I believe that you can make one varietal in a winery better than you can make many different ones,” says Steve, “because you have dedicated equipment designed and calibrated specifically for that one varietal. Of course, for us, that varietal is Pinot noir.”
A practical example of this philosophy is a production innovation that Benton Lane's staff helped pioneer. In order to gain a more complete fermentation and better extraction, many larger wineries use automated punchdown mechanisms to break the cap of skins and seeds that forms on the top of the fermentation tank. Or they pump over juice from below to keep the cap wet. In either case, believes Benton-Lane, the process is too severe and can end up extracting too many harsh tannins.
Seeking a new approach,Benton Lane adapted and refined a process of injecting a giant air bubble in the fermentation tank below the cap. With a precise injection, the bubble rises up over the cap, gently breaking it up, and flooding juice in and around the skins. This leaves far less tannin-laden seeds swimming around the tank, resulting in a more fruit-rich wine.
“For us—like anyone making Pinot—seeds are the enemy, Too much seed tannin and you blow the program! We’re trying to preserve as much whole fruit as possible getting into the fermenter, and then trying not to over-extract. With the air bubble we don’t beat the seeds out of the berries and into the wine.”
”We have many different programs in the cellar, including different fermenter sizes, different barrel woods, and different management regimens. The goal of all of it is to make a wine that has a lot of sweet fruit up front, tame tannins, and that is great to drink right out of the bottle.”
And that is easy to afford.
“We started Benton-Lane with the idea of making a $10-$12 bottle of Oregon Pinot noir,” says Steve. “And while we’ve done that, Gary and our vineyard managers have really raised the bar on quality.”
And while Benton-Lane has added—when the vintage merits—two reserve bottlings, the focus remains on fruit-forward, wallet-friendly, tongue-pleasing, purely Oregon Pinot noir.
by Cole Danehower
Why is this interesting?
Because resveratrol may be a powerful cancer
fighting agent, as well as having beneficial
affects on artheriosclerosis and heart disease.
It may be the case that the more resveratrol
you consume, the healthier you are likely to
And, since Oregon’s
cool and wet climate is more conducive to
the formation of fungus than warmer grape
growing areas, our grapes contain naturally
higher amounts of resveratrol.