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You couldn’t miss the bright red vintage Chevy truck, pointing the way to the Benessere Vineyards. It had a big sign that beckoned visitors to a unique hospitality experience at a small, 42-acre estate nestled on the banks of the Napa River. On Saturday Napa County residents came in force.

It was a response to the revival of the Napa Valley Vintners “Napa Neighbors Day” — a free tour and tasting from many of the smaller wineries in the county. Normally Benessere Vineyards provides tours and tastings by appointment only but the event gave the winery’s staff an opportunity to meet locals and offer tastings of the winery’s unique vintages.

By 10:30 on Saturday, there were two groups of visitors who had come to take advantage of the Napa Neighbors invitation, each comprised of about 20 people. The groups were offered glasses of 2016 Pinot Grigio, 2015 Sangiovese, 2014 Aglianico, and 2014 Sagrantino as well as the blended 2014 Phenomenon.

One Napan, who wished to remain anonymous, is a retired engineer who arrived with two friends. He said they were all devotes’ of the Napa Valley Vintners’ promotional program. He said he’d visited a number of wineries in past years using the Napa Neighbor’s invitations as well as the more recent “Morning in the Winery” promotions. “I came to Benessere a couple of years ago,” he said. “But I wanted to taste what they were producing now.”

Another visitor in the group talked about his own small vineyard in the Combsville area. He said he was always curious to learn what small wineries were able to produce. Both seemed pleased with what they found poured into their glasses.

Michael Maroney led one of the two morning groups with a brief history of the vineyards. He pointed out the uniqueness of an estate to produce so many different and unusual varieties of grapes and wines. Benessere Vineyards’ production includes pinot grigio, sangiovese, Aglianico, Sagrantino, and a blended wine called Phenomenon. In addition, their current catalog of vintages also includes a 2014 ‘Collins Holystone’ Zinfandel, and a 2015 Moscato di Canelli, as well as a 2015 “John’s Promise’ Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2014 “Black Glass’ Zinfandel.

Maroney’s group also toured the grounds, which included a restored and expanded family home, that is used sparing by the owners, the Benish family.

Matt Reid, the winemaker at Benessare, met up with the tour groups in the winery’s small cellar and talked about the challenges he faces working with the estate’s unique plantings.

“Napa Valley winemakers are particularly lucky in the grape varieties we can work with,” he said. “I’m luckier still at Benessere, because we grow and work with varieties that are uncommon at best in Napa Valley, such as Sangiovese, and the extremely rare varieties of Sagrantino and Aglianico. The excellent grapes that I work with at Benessere give me a running start on making great wine, but it still requires skill and creativity on my part to make sure the wines reach their fullest potential. This kind of challenge is precisely what makes this job so much fun.”

Fun was definitely on the minds of Jim and Antoinette Saliba. They had driven up from San Jose where Jim works in information systems for Cisco Systems and “Ann” works as a tax assistant. Originally from Brooklyn, they said they came west to take advantage of the climate and the job opportunities, and were feeling particularly happy to have friends in Napa who could avail them of the Napa Neighbors Day. They thought they would visit several wineries before the end of the day.

Ann said that she’d recently returned from a visit to her daughter’s home in the East and remarked on the cold there. “And now I’m up here on this beautiful day, sipping wine with my husband. What a great start to our upcoming anniversary,” she beamed.

Benessere Vineyard’s focus on unusual wines reflects the Benish family’s love of Italian varietals. According to Maroney, John and Ellen Benish had fallen in love in Italy. So, when they purchased their Napa Valley property in 1994 they immediately began restoring the winery and residence and replanted the vineyards with the vision of creating a family space that reflected their love of Italian wines.

On Saturday, Benessere Vineyards – which according to the winery translates to “well being” or “living the good life” – certainly offered its visitors a welcoming sense of well being during Napa Neighbors Day.



Tom Stockwell is currently a staff writer for the St. Helena Star. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and has been a working journalist for a variety of technical publications as well as a consultant for numerous wineries in the Napa Valley.