Vineyard Stories Map

Building the winery took the hard work and cooperation of the entire Benziger family. The stories of those early days are unlike any other you’ll hear from California pioneering winemaking families. Explore the map to see where it all began!

Stories

From The Vineyard

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Bruno’s new Truck

“We needed a new pick up and once again my dad and my older brother had very different ideas on how to proceed. My dad wanted a stick shift, my brother thought an automatic made more sense since so many people would need to use it. They argued (as they did about everything) and eventually my dad went down to local Ford dealership and ordered what he wanted – a stick shift. My brother, knowing my dad, called the dealership to make sure it was an automatic and when he found out what my dad ordered, he changed it. Sadly, a week later, right before the truck was due to be delivered, my dad unexpectedly passed away. In the aftermath we forgot all about the truck until it showed up a few days later, with a stick shift.” – CB

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Old Rope Swing

“We tied a rope and board to a tree on the edge of what felt like a 100 ft drop. We’d take turns betting each other and trying to extend the maximum distance. It’s a wonder we all lived into our twenties. If you didn’t stick the landing exactly you were definitely headed into the ravine. Word got around and it became a draw for high school kids to sneak on to the far side of the property. Eventually we cut it down to avoid any accidents. And avoid any lawsuits…”- CB

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Haunted House

“Allegedly, back in 1919 the Wegner widow left the property once Prohibition looked imminent. Intending to return one day, she locked the front door and padlocked the gate. Squatters found their way in any way and when word got back to Wegner she asked the local lawman to go up and take a look. The father of the squatter family that moved into the house told his 12 year old son to shoot anyone who came around, and that’s exactly what happened when the sheriff knocked on the door. They pulled the wounded man inside the parlor once they realized who it was, but efforts to save him where unsuccessful. He died on the couch in what would become my father’s office. Many have seen the sheriff’s ghost wandering the halls upstairs.” – CB

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Road to Lower Office

It all started with a hole in the fence! One day while fixing the fence out by the road, my dad, Bruno, realized he was halfway between home and the local watering hole, the London Lodge. Wanting a little libation from a hard day’s work, he opted from the bar. He loved this new situation so much that he would be out “fixing” his hole in the fence right around quitting time for the next few weeks. Finally, the family got wise to his antics, but he just changed the game instead of giving up.

He was now going to a meeting at his lower office. We would all look at each other, scratching our heads… “Lower office? We don’t have an office, much less a lower one!?” We quickly realized where the lower office was and what a great place it was for a late afternoon meeting! Ever since, you can usually find someone from the winery having a meeting at the lower office after work, especially on a Friday!

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1st Christmas Tree

“Our first Christmas in California was in 1980 and we were so busy building the winery that fall it sort of snuck up on us. I decided to bring home a tree and went searching at the edge of the property. I ended up sort of cheating by just cutting the top off of one that looked pretty good in the fading dusk. My cutting angle was awkward and I lost hold of it and it rolled down this hill into the creek. I had to crawl through the creek to get it and of course ended up covered in poison oak. Once home and inside, there was no doubt that it was pathetic. A real Charlie Brown tree. I went to bed dejected and itchy. BUT the next morning the family had decorated it and everyone appreciated my efforts.” – CB

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Old Mine

“We stumbled upon an abandoned mine while exploring the hillsides. The local brick company extracted tufa to use as a binding agent. For teenagers, it felt like a hidden cave full of secret things to discover. In reality it was some rusty old mining equipment and empty whisky bottles. Made for a great fort though.” -CB

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Motorcycle vs Horse

“Farley the Horse came with the property. He didn’t like to be ridden or really even leave the barn but he became like a pet to me. One summer my older brothers got their hands on a Suzuki 90 cc trail bike. I bet my middle brother that Farley was faster than the bike and off we went. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even have a saddle, or at least in my memory, I was an epic horsemen. On the straight, always there was no doubt that the bike had the advantage, but on the curves and the hills Farley was sure footed. At the last turn we both had to navigate the creek. My brother tried to jump it but the bike hit the far bank and slid out from under him. Farley and I sailed across like some sort of Western and became the victors.”- CB

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Milk Truck

“Our first harvest snuck up on us. We didn’t even have a roof on the winery and the delivery of our fermentation tanks was weeks out. But the Sauvignon Blanc was ready when it was ready so we harvested it. Unsure of how to proceed, we found ourselves down the hill at the bar, lamenting the fact that we very well might ruin our first batch of grapes. A local down the bar over heard us and said he had something at his junk yard that might solve our problem. Up for anything, we quickly said yes. The next day at dawn a huge commotion woke us. He was half towing, half dragging the tank of a huge stainless steel milk truck down the drive way, still dripping with milk. We scrubbed it up, sent mom down for some dry ice, and quickly got our grapes inside. We later entered that Sauvignon Blanc in Sonoma County’s annual Harvest Fair and ended up winning the highest honor – the Sweepstakes Prize. Not sure who was more shocked, the winemaking community or my family, but that milk truck put our name on the map!” – CB

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Beer, Dust & Bird Bombs

During our first summer building the winery at the end of the week to celebrate, my brother Jerry would head to the store to get some cold beer. Jerry likes to make an entrance; upon his return, he would circle the construction site in our Ford 250, raising an immense cloud of dust. In seconds, you couldn’t see a thing in the growing dust cloud. This is when he would fire out the truck window a “bird bomb” directly toward us. The “Bird Bomb” was an explosive device fired from a gun that would project an M-80 100 yards into the air. The bomb would make a whistling sound as it got closer. Everyone would dive for cover, some on the roof, others on scaffolding, and the rest safety on the ground. Kaboom! The day was over.

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Coming Down the Driveway

I remember that first year, coming down the driveway, it was such a monumental change from my previous life in NYC. As you turned off the main road, the landscape would reveal itself suddenly as if a curtain had been pulled back across some fantastic agrarian stage. The stunning vista engulfed you both visually and physically as if wrapped in a warm hug from Mother Nature herself. The orderly vineyards marched off to the right and the chaotic forest retreated to the left.
I felt like a pioneer. We were all together starting something new; it was exciting, daunting, and a little scary. We didn’t know if we would be successful, but we did see that we only had each other. That camaraderie kept us motivated and fueled our passion for the quest ahead. Like that long pastoral driveway, we were on a path to something beautiful.

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Mom the Saint

My mother, Helen F. Benziger, was a genuine saint-like individual. She spread her love over the entire Benziger family of employees and made a place at her table for anyone in need of food and comfort. Even though she was an only child, or maybe because of it, she raised seven kids and 19 grandchildren with ease.

Although we often focus on Bruno and Mike finding and buying the property, Helen made it work. She came out from NY without ever seeing the ranch and set up her family in style, despite the fact that the house she moved into was more 19th century than 20th!

She fed us breakfast, lunch & dinner as we built the winery and found time to feed all our employees too. She was making over 100 lunches a day in the end and still found time to help in the Tasting Room host any VIPs that might have stopped in, and fed them too! There was always room for one more at “Bluie’s” table, a nickname given to her by the grandchildren she cherished most.

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Dad the Marine

Suppose you have ever wondered why the US Marine Corp. flag is flying high on our property; well, that is because my dad, Joseph “BRUNO” Benziger, was a proud marine. He joined the Corp. in 1943 and was shipped off to the South Pacific, where he fought in many horrible battles but none worse than Iwo Jima. He fought on that island for 38 of the 39-day battle. He was wounded twice by shrapnel but not enough to leave the line. He never really talked about those nightmarish days in the South Pacific, but he was proud of the corp. and anyone who was in the service.

His love of loyalty and service flowed into the Police and Fire depts, as well. Bruno was a big supporter of anyone who put their lives on the line. When we were little kids, during the 4th of July, he would line-up all the neighborhood kids, play marching music and parade us around the block. He was a true patriot and a loving father who took the most significant risk of all by selling his NY business and house to believe in the dream of his oldest son. That is one courageous man

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Bruno’s new Truck

“We needed a new pick up and once again my dad and my older brother had very different ideas on how to proceed. My dad wanted a stick shift, my brother thought an automatic made more sense since so many people would need to use it. They argued (as they did about everything) and eventually my dad went down to local Ford dealership and ordered what he wanted – a stick shift. My brother, knowing my dad, called the dealership to make sure it was an automatic and when he found out what my dad ordered, he changed it. Sadly, a week later, right before the truck was due to be delivered, my dad unexpectedly passed away. In the aftermath we forgot all about the truck until it showed up a few days later, with a stick shift.” – CB

Info Image
Old Rope Swing

“We tied a rope and board to a tree on the edge of what felt like a 100 ft drop. We’d take turns betting each other and trying to extend the maximum distance. It’s a wonder we all lived into our twenties. If you didn’t stick the landing exactly you were definitely headed into the ravine. Word got around and it became a draw for high school kids to sneak on to the far side of the property. Eventually we cut it down to avoid any accidents. And avoid any lawsuits…”- CB

Info Image
Haunted House

“Allegedly, back in 1919 the Wegner widow left the property once Prohibition looked imminent. Intending to return one day, she locked the front door and padlocked the gate. Squatters found their way in any way and when word got back to Wegner she asked the local lawman to go up and take a look. The father of the squatter family that moved into the house told his 12 year old son to shoot anyone who came around, and that’s exactly what happened when the sheriff knocked on the door. They pulled the wounded man inside the parlor once they realized who it was, but efforts to save him where unsuccessful. He died on the couch in what would become my father’s office. Many have seen the sheriff’s ghost wandering the halls upstairs.” – CB

Info Image
Road to Lower Office

It all started with a hole in the fence! One day while fixing the fence out by the road, my dad, Bruno, realized he was halfway between home and the local watering hole, the London Lodge. Wanting a little libation from a hard day’s work, he opted from the bar. He loved this new situation so much that he would be out “fixing” his hole in the fence right around quitting time for the next few weeks. Finally, the family got wise to his antics, but he just changed the game instead of giving up.

He was now going to a meeting at his lower office. We would all look at each other, scratching our heads… “Lower office? We don’t have an office, much less a lower one!?” We quickly realized where the lower office was and what a great place it was for a late afternoon meeting! Ever since, you can usually find someone from the winery having a meeting at the lower office after work, especially on a Friday!

Info Image
1st Christmas Tree

“Our first Christmas in California was in 1980 and we were so busy building the winery that fall it sort of snuck up on us. I decided to bring home a tree and went searching at the edge of the property. I ended up sort of cheating by just cutting the top off of one that looked pretty good in the fading dusk. My cutting angle was awkward and I lost hold of it and it rolled down this hill into the creek. I had to crawl through the creek to get it and of course ended up covered in poison oak. Once home and inside, there was no doubt that it was pathetic. A real Charlie Brown tree. I went to bed dejected and itchy. BUT the next morning the family had decorated it and everyone appreciated my efforts.” – CB

Info Image
Old Mine

“We stumbled upon an abandoned mine while exploring the hillsides. The local brick company extracted tufa to use as a binding agent. For teenagers, it felt like a hidden cave full of secret things to discover. In reality it was some rusty old mining equipment and empty whisky bottles. Made for a great fort though.” -CB

Info Image
Motorcycle vs Horse

“Farley the Horse came with the property. He didn’t like to be ridden or really even leave the barn but he became like a pet to me. One summer my older brothers got their hands on a Suzuki 90 cc trail bike. I bet my middle brother that Farley was faster than the bike and off we went. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even have a saddle, or at least in my memory, I was an epic horsemen. On the straight, always there was no doubt that the bike had the advantage, but on the curves and the hills Farley was sure footed. At the last turn we both had to navigate the creek. My brother tried to jump it but the bike hit the far bank and slid out from under him. Farley and I sailed across like some sort of Western and became the victors.”- CB

Info Image
Milk Truck

“Our first harvest snuck up on us. We didn’t even have a roof on the winery and the delivery of our fermentation tanks was weeks out. But the Sauvignon Blanc was ready when it was ready so we harvested it. Unsure of how to proceed, we found ourselves down the hill at the bar, lamenting the fact that we very well might ruin our first batch of grapes. A local down the bar over heard us and said he had something at his junk yard that might solve our problem. Up for anything, we quickly said yes. The next day at dawn a huge commotion woke us. He was half towing, half dragging the tank of a huge stainless steel milk truck down the drive way, still dripping with milk. We scrubbed it up, sent mom down for some dry ice, and quickly got our grapes inside. We later entered that Sauvignon Blanc in Sonoma County’s annual Harvest Fair and ended up winning the highest honor – the Sweepstakes Prize. Not sure who was more shocked, the winemaking community or my family, but that milk truck put our name on the map!” – CB

Info Image
Beer, Dust & Bird Bombs

During our first summer building the winery at the end of the week to celebrate, my brother Jerry would head to the store to get some cold beer. Jerry likes to make an entrance; upon his return, he would circle the construction site in our Ford 250, raising an immense cloud of dust. In seconds, you couldn’t see a thing in the growing dust cloud. This is when he would fire out the truck window a “bird bomb” directly toward us. The “Bird Bomb” was an explosive device fired from a gun that would project an M-80 100 yards into the air. The bomb would make a whistling sound as it got closer. Everyone would dive for cover, some on the roof, others on scaffolding, and the rest safety on the ground. Kaboom! The day was over.

Info Image
Coming Down the Driveway

I remember that first year, coming down the driveway, it was such a monumental change from my previous life in NYC. As you turned off the main road, the landscape would reveal itself suddenly as if a curtain had been pulled back across some fantastic agrarian stage. The stunning vista engulfed you both visually and physically as if wrapped in a warm hug from Mother Nature herself. The orderly vineyards marched off to the right and the chaotic forest retreated to the left.
I felt like a pioneer. We were all together starting something new; it was exciting, daunting, and a little scary. We didn’t know if we would be successful, but we did see that we only had each other. That camaraderie kept us motivated and fueled our passion for the quest ahead. Like that long pastoral driveway, we were on a path to something beautiful.

Info Image
Mom the Saint

My mother, Helen F. Benziger, was a genuine saint-like individual. She spread her love over the entire Benziger family of employees and made a place at her table for anyone in need of food and comfort. Even though she was an only child, or maybe because of it, she raised seven kids and 19 grandchildren with ease.

Although we often focus on Bruno and Mike finding and buying the property, Helen made it work. She came out from NY without ever seeing the ranch and set up her family in style, despite the fact that the house she moved into was more 19th century than 20th!

She fed us breakfast, lunch & dinner as we built the winery and found time to feed all our employees too. She was making over 100 lunches a day in the end and still found time to help in the Tasting Room host any VIPs that might have stopped in, and fed them too! There was always room for one more at “Bluie’s” table, a nickname given to her by the grandchildren she cherished most.

Info Image
Dad the Marine

Suppose you have ever wondered why the US Marine Corp. flag is flying high on our property; well, that is because my dad, Joseph “BRUNO” Benziger, was a proud marine. He joined the Corp. in 1943 and was shipped off to the South Pacific, where he fought in many horrible battles but none worse than Iwo Jima. He fought on that island for 38 of the 39-day battle. He was wounded twice by shrapnel but not enough to leave the line. He never really talked about those nightmarish days in the South Pacific, but he was proud of the corp. and anyone who was in the service.

His love of loyalty and service flowed into the Police and Fire depts, as well. Bruno was a big supporter of anyone who put their lives on the line. When we were little kids, during the 4th of July, he would line-up all the neighborhood kids, play marching music and parade us around the block. He was a true patriot and a loving father who took the most significant risk of all by selling his NY business and house to believe in the dream of his oldest son. That is one courageous man

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