Bennett Lane Winery – Calistoga, California

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Saturday, January 21st I and several wine writers and bloggers were invited to a media event at Bennett Lane Winery. They are located at the very top of Napa Valley and in fact, going from City of Napa they are last one on the valley floor before hitting Alexander Valley. Here is a brief recap of the event.

The Winery

Top photo of outdoor tasting area and next is the welcoming indoor tasting area. (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Randy and Lisa Lynch founded the winery twenty year’s ago and looking for locations to build their Italian villa home and winery. They finally found this spot a mile or so north of the town of Calistoga. Their initial wine was named after the 2nd century Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus. Today a coin with pictures of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom), Bacchus (God of Wine), and Severus Alexander (Roman Augustus) adorn the bottles and name of a wine club. The stated goal of the winery was to have fun and enjoy some of the best wines produced in Napa Valley. The primary role of the winery is to make it the friendliest winery in Napa Valley with approachability and warmth. This is evident in both their indoor and outdoor tasting areas.

Winemaker Rob Hunter (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The winemaker Rob Hunter is an engaging, knowledgeable person with a coy sense of humor. I was fortunate to be seated next to Rob while tasting and talked extensively about the wines and technically about smoke taint and efforts to minimize it. Note all the wines tasted today were harvested and in process before the fires of 2020! Rob’s background and experience catapults him to the top of the winemakers having extensive work experience at Groth, Keenan, Lyeth, Markam and Sterling wineries.

Left to right: Owner/Randy Lynch, Rob Hunter/winemaker and Stefanie Longton/GM (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The General Manager is Stefanie Longton originally from the East Coast.  Her winery experience started in the Maragret River region in Australia. She started at Bennett Lane Winery in 2003 in the tasting room, wine club and over time took on this role at GM. She currently is a board member for the Calistoga Wine Growers and enthusiastically proclaims Calistoga makes the best wines in all of Napa Valley.

The winery’s main wines are various levels of Cabernet Sauvignon but also produces Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé (from Petite Sirah grapes) and a few others and a blend. On their website they boast of being the home of 68 90+ wines from industry wine raters at Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

The Tour

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The tour started out in the courtyard with a refreshing Rose and with Randy, Rob and Stefanie speaking about the wines and winery.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

While strolling and talking about the winery, one of the value added ideas they implemented is an area called the “petting zoo”. This is where a single short row of commonly planted grape varietals are planted one after another with a sign designating each varietal. While this is the dormant time of year, they encourage visitors to come look at the grape clusters, the leaves and understand how they are unique and yet have some commonality.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Next up were the crush pad and large tanks used during the wine making process. It was here that a camera focused on the tanks, caught in the background the beginning spark off a high voltage transmission that started the Tubb’s fire. The Tubb’s fire destroyed 36,807 acres, destroyed 5,648 buildings, with 22 people dying and over $1.2 billion in economic losses. The crush pad is where between 120 to 200 tons of grapes are processed yearly.

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

Here Rob explained the unique rotary fermenter used in the production. Having its own cooling system encased around the 5 ton capacity, allows the fruit to be “punched down” with internal arms rotating a few times per day. This takes the place of the manual checking and exhausting work of “punch downs” during fermentation. And with the cooling jacket allows precise timing to cool down the fermentation temperature. Rather than taking a few weeks for the fermentation process, this is typically done in 3-5 days. This also helps by allowing more fruit flavor in the wines. This is a unique piece of equipment from Italy.

The Wines

(Photo ©Michael Kelly)

We then returned to the barrel room where various vintages of wines were resting before being bottled. They use about 30% new French oak barrels and age the wines for 20 months. The setting was perfect to introduce and taste the wines.

Menu and wine selections for the day (Photo ©Michael Kelly)

The wines started out with most enjoyable 2020 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and as Rob proclaimed an “easy drinking wine”. Not stuffy and pretentious, just flavorful and with a soft landing in the palate available for $75. Next up was their 2020 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon showing off blueberry and blackberry flavors with noticeable yet velvety tannins. This sells for $125 and personally was my favorite wine of the day, although all were delicious. Listed on the menu was the 2020 Lynch Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This single vineyard provides great aromas and the flavors were bold with silky smooth almost unnoticeable tannins. This sells for $150.   A special treat was then brought out of “Ruby Fox” Cabernet Sauvignon. The name was based on an early encounter with Randy many years ago and a red fox. This wine is only produced when the stars align and the vintage is uniquely great. This wine goes for $275.

Lunch was provide by Mangi Ami in Calistoga which was very good. However missing was a dedicated food/dish with each of the wines which would have highlighted the wine even more. I am an advocate of “food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as a body and soul, living partners” (a quote from Andre Simon).  Most of my wine stories talk about the winery, the wine and the food and wine pairing for this reason. When I enjoy the bottle they gave each of the attendees, it will be paired with a specific food dish to complement and accentuate the wine.

A wonderful day getting to know a previously unknown winery for me and appreciating so much their warm greeting, care & educating their visitors and understanding of winemaking. Another visit is surely in order!



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