Wine of the week: Beltane Ranch, 2019 Heins Block Estate Zinfandel
Sheep often roam through the 25-acre vineyard at Beltane Ranch in Sonoma Valley. It’s a holistic approach to grape growing.
Alex Benward, 39, is the fifth generation of his family to live and work on the ranch that dates back to 1936. Benward works closely with winemaker Kevin Holt to bottle his grapes; the duo is behind our wine of the week winner — the Beltane Ranch, 2019 Zinfandel, Heins Block Estate, 15.5%, $52.
A touch earthy, the Beltane Ranch zinfandel is striking. It has generous fruit with aromas and flavors of raspberry, currant and anise. Balanced, with crisp acid and nice length, it’s spot-on.
“I want zin to have impact but with balance, to be a large-scale wine, but one that is not over-the-top,” Holt said. “In other words, classic Sonoma Valley zinfandel, but with a unique Beltane Ranch flavor that shines through.”
Including the Beltane Ranch vineyard, the ranch encompasses a sprawling 105 acres and is well-known as a bed and breakfast. Its grounds are bucolic, with 4 acres of olive orchards, as well as hiking trails. One path that loops around the property cuts through the vineyard, past the orchards by the horses, burros, longhorn cattle, sheep and food garden.
In addition to wine grapes, the ranch grows heirloom stonefruit, raspberries and organic vegetables. Beltane is also home to laying hens and honey bees.
The focus with farming is on grooming premium grapes, according to Benward. The Beltane Ranch label produces 1,800 cases per year and operates out of Fel Wines in Sonoma.
“This cobbly, volcanic site has a long history of producing premium fruit a stone’s throw from some of Sonoma Valley’s original 1860s plantings,” he said.
The vineyard was first planted in 1879 by pioneer viticulturist John Drummond, who produced wines from the site. In 1892, businesswoman and civil rights advocate Mary Ellen Pleasant acquired the property. Pleasant is said to be the country’s first self-made woman millionaire and was renowned at the time as one of the wealthiest Black women in the U.S., according to Petaluma resident Janet Gracyk, who was part of a team that successfully advocated for the property to be recognized as a Historic Black Landscape by the National Park Service.
Pleasant named the property Beltane Ranch and built the landmark ranch house for farm hospitality accommodations.
In the 20th century, Benward’s family bought the ranch as a home and working family farm. They began replanting the vineyards in the 1970s with a focus on fine-wine growing for vintner clients in Napa and Sonoma. Then, in 2009, the family began making its own wine under the Beltane Ranch label.
“We’re focused on producing high-quality wines by using regenerative practices and pulling inspiration from the wisdom of the farmers before us,” Benward said.
Exploring the terraced hillsides of the Douro Valley in Portugal inspired Benward to farm grapes. He said he also was drawn to the wine industry because of his childhood memories of the hustle of harvest in Sonoma Valley.
“We believe in the work it takes to shape the wines in the vineyard,” Benward said. “The wines are the result of a long-term commitment to quality through stewardship. It takes the hands of many.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5310.
Wine, The Press Democrat
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