Top 100 Wines: Joe Benziger

Joe Benziger Imagery EstateCinsault , Lagrein, Mourvedre, Tannat, Teroldego … not your everyday grape varieties in Sonoma, but they’re a big part of Joe Benziger’s life.

As winemaker at Imagery Estate Winery, Benziger never met a wine grape he didn’t like. Sure, he produces more recognizable wines, too, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, yet it’s the oddballs he embraces, from grapes he says are too good to get swallowed up in blends. They deserve to stand on their own.

Take Barbera. The workhorse grape in the Northern Italy region of Piedmont, it produces wines with high acidity and crunchy tannins. Imagery’s version is a bit softer and fruitier, with full body and deep, rich flavors, yet retains the expected refreshing acidity. Sodelicious is the 2012 Imagery Sonoma Valley Barbera that it won the Best of Show Red award at the 2015 North Coast Wine Challenge. Benziger’s 2012 Pine
Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Teroldego, another obscure (for here) variety, won a gold medal.

Case production of his wines is typically limited, and most are sold in the Glen Ellen tasting room. They come adorned with labels bearing contemporary art commissioned by Imagery art curator Bob Nugent.

In June 2015, Benziger’s family sold Imagery and the flagship Benziger Family Winery, also in Glen Ellen, to San Francisco-based The Wine Group. Joe is expected to continue making the Imagery wines, and keep the Sonoma diversity drive going.