In a repeat performance, Imagery Estate Winery founded by Joe Benziger in 1985 has been honored for the second year running by the California State Fair as the 2018 Golden State Winery of the Year. Benziger, who was at the helm for the 2017 award, has now retired but serves as guide and mentor for his second daughter Jamie Benziger, 31, who stepped up as winemaker in 2018.
With wines appellated from Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, North Coast, Paso Robles and California, Imagery had 22 award-winning wines represented in the 2018 competition. “2018 represents a milestone in many ways,” said Jamie Benziger. “It was an incredible honor to be acknowledged as Winery of the Year in 2017 and to receive the award again in my first year as winemaker is truly humbling.”
2018 is also the first year Imagery’s California tier wines ($18 – $20) have been entered in to the competition. This California-appellated portfolio has been in development for the last few years as a collaboration between the father-daughter winemaking team. “The wines are designed to bridge the generational gap between Boomers and Millennials,” said Jamie Benziger. Developed as blends, eachof the four wines have a dominant variety but with a twist.
The Sauvignon Blanc is “enhanced” with 20 percent dry Muscat, Chardonnay gets a whisper of Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir sees just 10 percent of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon finds a comfortable blending partner in Petite Sirah. While all of the wines were awarded, both the 2016 Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc received Best of Class of Appellation awards with the latter also scoring Best of Region – White.
No easy feat given the number of entries in those categories and the range of styles competing for the honors. “For the last 33 years Imagery has been a 15,000-case direct to consumer-winery. The introduction of our California tier which is being distributed nationally is reaching a much wider audience,” said Jamie Benziger who anticipates that national visibility will draw more wine enthusiasts to the bucolic Glen Ellen winery.
Both the winery and the wines escaped damage from the wild fires that burned right up to the tasting room door during the final stages of harvest in 2017. “It’s important for people to know that our winery and Sonoma Valley are just as beautiful as ever and that we’re eager to share this with them.”
Like her father, Jamie Benziger is a hands on winemaker. Her interest in the craft quickened after she spent a harvest working in the lab at Benziger and in the cellar at Villa Maria in New Zealand. After graduating from Sonoma State University in 2009, Benziger turned her attention to the production end of the business.
“There came a point when I realized that winemaking held the inspiration for a lifelong career.” Working side by side with her father for the last few years while completing a winemaking certificate program at UC Davis, Jamie began paying close attention to what makes him tick as a winemaker. It’s something she likens to the intuitive school of winemaking, “it’s a happy balance between formal education and learning on the job.”