Bennett Valley – Sonoma County’s 13th Appellation
Described by soil scientists as an alluvial bench (rather than a proper valley), the appellation is defined by three mountains: Taylor to the West, Bennett to the East and Sonoma to the South. A gap in the mountains permits cool coastal fog and wind to pour into the valley on a regular basis throughout the growing season. While varied elevation, sun exposures and microclimates permit the successful cultivation of other varietals, the consistent marine influence creates ideal growing conditions for cool climate varieties, most notably Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Vineyard yields are generally modest compared to other areas as growers are required to make one or more passes thru the vineyard to insure that crop loads are appropriate for the vintage. Dropping crop is time consuming and costly, but it is imperative to make sure that the grapes will reach optimal physiological maturity. This is particularly true for red grape varieties which are not normally harvested until late October or even the first week of November, weather permitting.
One upside of cool climate winegrowing is that both white and red grapes generally maintain good natural acidity at maturity. The grapes also benefit from extended "hang time". Hang time is widely considered to be one of the determinative factors responsible for the concentration and complexity of flavors in wine and is also responsible for softening undesirable green astringent tannins. While only a handful of Bennett Valley designated wines have been released thus far, they have met with significant critical acclaim. In coming years, winemakers and growers alike, expect to see the stature of this unique appellation grow.