Published on 29-05-2024
Bennett Lane Winery
Quintessentially Calistoga

At the very foot of the valley floor, just before you reach the mudbath capital of wine country, Calistoga, you mighty spy a rather grand looking edifice at the end of a long vine-lined driveway. Framed by dramatic views of the Vaca Mountains, crowned by Mount St. Helena, to the east and the Mayacamas to the west, Bennett Lane Winery feels set quite apart from the rest of Napa.
And apart, it is, indeed. Far from the tourist-busy buzz of downtown Napa, and just a few miles north of the hometown hospitality of St. Helena, Bennett Lane is quintessentially Calistoga, in its location and its flavors. Here, the wines are naturally endowed with soft, silky tannins that don’t require decades of cellaring to achieve. This is the winery for those who want to experience fresh vintages of Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot with definitive structure and finesse, yet layered with supple, pleasurable and engaging fruit. On top of all that drinkability, they are still endowed with aging power.

Bennett Lane Winery

As you taste through a flight, (choose the Taste of the Napa Valley or Cabernet Vertical if you want to try their 2023 Sangiacomo Chardonnay, $60), you’ll be struck by the wholesome nature of each wine, as well as the tie-in to ancient Rome: each label bears the image of a coin from owner’s Randy and Lisa Lynch’s private collection, on display in the tasting room.

The wines are made from well-kept estate vineyards, both onsite and at the founding couple’s home in Calistoga, along with a carefully chosen portfolio of neighboring vineyards, mostly in the St. Helena area. The couple purchased this property after learning that the custom crush facility here was about to go on the market. In 2003, they opened the tasting room, with GM Stefanie Longton – a Pittsburgh, PA, native, who made her way to California wine country by way of Margaret River, Australia – at the helm.

Winemaker Rob Hunter, who spent years crafting excellent wines at Groth, Keenan, Markham, and Sterling, before coming to Bennett Lane, is a detail-oriented winemaker who keeps a fastidious cellar filled with top-notch coopers to help him achieve his goal of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon. Opt for the Cabernet Exploration if you want a snapshot of the flavors of the Bennett Lane fruit, the Napa Valley blend and the Lynch Family Vineyard fruit. Most of the wines are aged in around 30 percent new French oak, emphasizing the fruit, rather than the wood component.

The 2018 Napa Valley Cabernet stars velvety tannins, and dark chocolate layer cake with raspberry filling, accented by a hint of nutmeg. The mouthwatering 2020 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, is marked by dark blue fruits married with cherry cola and juicy ripeness, while the stunning single-vineyard 2020 Lynch Family Cabernet Sauvignon is gracefully poised, like a ballerina en pointe, with its alluring rose petal aromas, mouthwatering acid, ripe raspberry cobbler core and a long chocolatey finish.

Bennett Lane recognizes the need for wines that go with every kind of food, from pizza to pot roast, and thus the Lynch’s created the Maximus Red Feasting Wine, a red blend that varies each year. The 2018 Maximus, $55, is underpinned by Cabernet Sauvignon, with a good percentage of Syrah, along with Merlot, Cab Franc, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. It exudes drinkability, yet demands the respect of a wine named for an Emperor. If you like powerful, peppery and fruity Syrah, try the 2019 Syrah from Atlas Peak. Aromas of blueberry, white pepper, and baked blueberry pie are just the start. It’s a powerhouse. Bennett Lane also produces a White Feasting Wine that blends Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a touch of Muscat. The wine club enjoys the limited amount of Petite Sirah rosé they make every year. Longton admits she is smitten by this wine, the 2023 version of which was about to be bottled. With its perfect lilac hue, and scents of passionfruit and lychee, it may not last the summer.

Bennett Lane Winery

One of the highlights of a visiting Bennett Lane is its creekside setting, where you can listen to birds flitting about in the riparian corridor along the water and among the vineyard rows. There’s a table with a superb view both of Mount St. Helena and the old Carignane vines on the east side of the property, often reserved by wine club members. Over 100 years old now, these ancient vines produce very little, but their presence reminds us of the farming history of Napa, which was largely settled by Italians. They tended to plant a mix of vines, to hedge their bets.
Sitting in the garden outside the tasting room is a delightful way to appreciate the charms of the Calistoga end of Napa, where the growing season is longer, the acids a bit higher, and the tannins smooth as the clay soil the vines call home. With tasting fees starting at $35, several flexible wine club options and complimentary tastings for up to 6 people for wine club members, this is a place you could easily belong.

With the Mayacamas on one side and the Vaca on the other, you really get the sense of “valley” here at Bennett Lane. It’s not far from Alexander Valley, and it’s a short drive from Santa Rosa over Petrified Forest Road.


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