A review of the terrific wines produced at Napa’s Bennett Lane Winery.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers August 25, 2010
What do NASCAR and wine have in common? The answer lies near the northernmost aspect of Napa Valley at the Bennett Lane Winery.
Located just a couple of miles past Calistoga, Bennett Lane was established in 2003 by Randy and Lisa Lynch, who came to the area a year earlier looking for a second home surrounded by some vineyards. They were planning to live there part-time and sell the grapes rather than actually make wine.
But their timing was a bit off since the California wine industry was in one of its periodic downturns, making it not the best time to sell grapes. Entrepreneur Randy Lynch saw the situation as an opportunity rather than an obstruction. So they purchased a winemaking property, renamed it Bennett Lane, and focused their efforts on Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bitten by the car racing bug as a teenager, he became a driver and now has a Nextel Cup car in NASCAR. Bennett Lane is the only Napa winery to sponsor a racing team and when it is not on a track, one of their cars can be seen at their property.
The Lynches’ penchant for winning extends to their wines. A relative newcomer, Bennett Lane has already had its share of critical accolades. And by growing and purchasing other varietals from the surrounding region, its portfolio has expanded beyond Cabernet Sauvignon. Among the features of the Bennett Lane property are some productive old olive trees and a “petting zoo” of several varietals side by side that allow visitors an opportunity to appreciate the differences between the types of grapevines.
At a recent dinner, the winery’s national sales director, Keith Hargrove poured the most recent releases and explained the winemaking approach as being “driven by Randy’s views on wine.” He said the Lynches became enamored with wine while traveling in Italy, where wine is “considered part of the cuisine, a component of the meal.” Bennett Lane, he added, strives to make a wine “true to its Napa location that can be enjoyed with good food.”
So it is not a surprise that the winery makes both white and red “feasting wines” that have labels adorned with the image of ancient Roman coins. The Bennett Lane Maximus White Feasting Wine 2009 ($28) is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscat. Orange and honey aromas lead into pineapple, citrus and peach flavors with hints of vanilla and nicely balanced acidity, making this a lovely wine to accompany lighter summer fare. Containing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, the Bennett Lane Maximus Red Feasting Wine 2006 ($35) is a big, full-bodied effort with layers of flavors including spicy red currants, dark plum, cassis and blackberries. The finish is long and shows toasty oak and bits of earth and tar with smooth tannins and balance. The wine pairs well with roasts, grilled foods and, of course, Italian dishes.
The Bennett Lane Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($95) is as good as or better than other more expensive Napa Cabernets. Mouth-filling and lingering, it displays rich chocolate and cedar aromas that develop into complex, deep dark cherry, cassis, currant and herbal flavors with a touch of cocoa and mint at the end. The second label wine, Turn 4 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($19), is a delicious bargain with licorice, dark fruit and smoky plum notes.