Benchmark Wineries

Arista - Russian River

Founded in 2002 by Paul and Janis McWilliams, they have concentrated on small lot pinot noir and chardonnay from the beginning. They only use native yeasts for their wine, with long, cool fermentations. They keep lots and vineyards separate to best showcase their single vineyard bottlings.

Au Bon Climat - Santa Maria

Au Bon Climat was founded in 1982 by Jim Clendenen and Adam Tolmach (who would go on to found the Ojai Vineyard). Jim gained experience while working at nearby Zaca Mesa winery for three vintages, as well as abroad.

Aubert - Sonoma

Mark Aubert began his career in 1989 at Peter Michael, and learned winemaking from Helen Turley while there. He then made wine at Colgin, Sloan, and Bryant Family before founding Aubert with his wife in 1999. They focus on single vineyard expressions on chardonnay and pinot noir.

Belle Glos- Santa Maria, et al

Founded in 2001, Belle Glos is named for proprietor Joe Wagner’s grandmother. Joe is a fifth generation winemaker, (son of Chuck Wagner, and his grandmother was co-founder of Caymus vineyards). Belle Glos began with a focus on pinot noir, and while the first vintages were from the Napa Valley, they are now from Santa Maria, Russian River Valley, and Santa Lucia Highlands.

Bien Nacido - Santa Maria

The land that became Bien Nacido dates back to a land grant given to the Gobernador of Alta California in the mid 19th century. In 1969, the 5th generation farming Miller family purchased a part, planted vines in the 1970s and renamed it Bien Nacido. Influenced by the Pacific ocean, pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah excel in the marine soils and cool climate.

Bouchaine - Carneros

Bouchaine is the oldest continuously operating vineyard in Carneros, founded in the late 1880s by a settler from Missouri named Boon Fly. Johnny Garetto took over in 1927 before selling to Beringer in 1961. In the 1980s, Gerret and Tatiana Copeland purchased the property, and then expanded the vineyards and rehabilitated the facilities.

Brewer Clifton - Sta Rita Hills

Established in 1995 by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, the wines are made using 100% whole cluster fermentation, and raised in neutral oak. Jackson Family wines now owns the winery, with Greg Brewer developing Melville winery alongside B-C, and Steve Clifton going on to found Palmina winery.

Calera - San Benito Cty

Josh Jensen worked at DRC and Dujac before returning home and looking for a vineyard site with limestone soils, like he had seen in Burgundy. He found a site on Mt Harlan and founded his winery in 1974. The vines are farmed organically, and supposedly the Calera clone of pinot noir is a suitcase clone from DRC (unofficially).

Cambria - Santa Barbara

Originally planted in 1971, Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery in 1986. Here Julia and Katherine (the proprietors and daughters of Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke) focus on sustainably produced single vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir, which benefit from the cool breezes and fog from the Pacific and varied soils types in the vineyards.

Cobb - Sonoma

David Cobb planted pinot noir vines in his backyard in the Sonoma Coast, as the hills reminded him of Burgundy. After selling fruit for years, he enlisted his son Ross, already a winemaker, to take the reins and release their first vintage in 2001.

Dierberg - Santa Barbara

Jim and Mary Dierberg have decades of experience in wine, beginning in their home state of Missouri, where they were proprietors of the Hermannhof winery. The midwestern climate does not encourage the varietals they wanted to make, so they moved west to Santa Barbara. The winery is located in the Santa Maria Valley, and they also make wine from the Sta Rita Hills, and the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

Donelan - Sonoma

Joe Donelan began his career in wine working as a sommelier at Toppers Restaurant in Nantucket, before moving west to follow his dream of making his own. He began by partnering with Pax Mahle (the winery was originally called Pax Cellars), before separating in 2008 to create Donelan. Their goal is to find expressive sites to make pinot noir, syrah, and other varietals.

Donum - Carneros

Donum means “gift of the land”, and currently produce wine from their home estate in Carneros, as well as from Sonoma and Mendocino. Founded in 2001, their focus is on single vineyard expressions on pinot noir.

DuMol - Russian River

Founded by restauranteur and entrepreneur Kerry Murphy in 1996, the name DuMol comes from the children of the first winemaker’s children, Duncan and Molly. Sadly the winemaker passed on after the second vintage, and Paul Hobbs was brought on as consulting winemaker. Hobbs introduced them to Andy Smith, their new winemaker and eventual partner as well. DuMol focusses on cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir, while also producing viognier, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon. 

Dutton Goldfield - Russian River

Beginning in 1998 when Steve Dutton (a fifth generation farmer) and Dan Goldfield (chemist turned winemaker) shook hands in a vineyard. Dan trained at Robert Mondavi, Schramsberg, and then helped to set up Hartford Family under his direction. The winery sources from 80 separate vineyards and focusses on cool climate pinot noir and chardonnay.

Etude - Carneros

Tony Soter began his career at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, before becoming a highy sought after consulting winemaker. He began Etude in 1982 to explore making pinot noir in the cool climate of Carneros in southern Napa. In 1997 he moved home to Oregon to found Soter Vineyards and continue his journey with pinot noir.

Failla - Sonoma, Mendocino

Founded by Ehren Jordan and his wife Anne Marie Failla in 1998, their wine was originally called Failla-Jordan, before attention from Alexander Valley’s Jordan family forced a name change. Ehren Jordan, who previously worked at Neyers and Turley, looks for cool climate site, and now produces wine from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and has a new venture in Oregon.

Flowers - Sonoma

Established in 1989 by Walt and Joan Flowers, their vineyards are located in the northern Sonoma coast, with Marcassin and Hirsch as neighbors. In 2009 Huneeus Vintners purchased a majority stake, and Flowers retired from the winery. The vineyards are planted above the fog line, and so receive ample sun during the day.

Gary Farrell - Russian River

Gary Farrell’s focus shifted from political science at Sonoma State University to wine after finding mentors such as Joe Rochioli, Robert Stemmler, and Tom Dehlinger. His first head winemaking position was at David Bynum in 1978, before founding his eponymous winery in 1982.

Goldeneye - Anderson Valley

Founded in 1996 by the Duckhorn family, after researching sites. find a place near the Navarro River in the Anderson Valley. The Duckhorn team found the cooling air from the Pacific coupled with the sedimentary soils were a good match, with vines are planted in 1997, and their first wine released in 2000.

Hartford Family Winery - Russian River

Hartford Family Winery was founded in 1994 by husband and wife team Don and Jennifer Hartford as a result of their love of wine. They specialize in single vineyard bottlings, making as many as 25 different offerings in recent years. While pinot noir is their focus, they also make chardonnay and zinfandel.

Hirsch - Sonoma Coast

Founded in 1978 by David Hirsch, the vineyards straddle the San Andreas Fault just two miles from the Pacific Ocean. Hirsch Vineyards sold their grapes to Littorai, Kistler, and others before making their own wine beginning in 2002. The vines have been farmed biodynamically since 2014.

J Vineyards - Russian River

Judy Jordan, (daughter of Tom Jordan, founder of Jordan Winery in the Alexander Valley), began in 1986 as a partnership with her father. Originally Russian River Valley winery’s focus was on sparkling wine production, however they now produce pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris in addition to their sparkling offerings.

J. Lohr- Santa Lucia Highlands

In the 1970s, Jerry Lohr pioneered what would become the Arroyo Seco AVA for chardonnay and pinot noir. The cool winds from the Pacific coupled with the well draining marine soils, have produced layered expressions of pinot noir and chardonnay. The winery’s holdings have since expanded to the Santa Lucia Highlands, Paso Robles, and the Napa Valley.

Joseph Swan - Russian River

Founded in 1967, Joseph Swan purchased a vineyard with old vine zinfandel, and planted chardonnay and pinot noir on the advice of Andre Tchelistcheff. Initially helped by Joel Peterson (who would go on to found Ravenswood), Rod Berglund took over winemaking duties in 1979. There is also a Swan clone of pinot noir, passed to Joseph by Martin Ray, who took it from Paul Masson’s old vineyard, which supposedly was taken from DRC in the 1800s.

Kistler - Sonoma

Founded in 1978 by Steve Kistler and Mark Bixler, Kistler focusses on chardonnay and pinot noir from single vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. Former manager at Hudson vineyards, Jason Kesner, was brought over in 2008, after several years of conversation while sourcing grapes from Hudson. Kesner is now President and winemaker after Steve Kitsler retired in 2017.

Kosta Browne - Sonoma

A success story from Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, who while working at a restaurant in Santa Rosa saved up their tips until they could afford half a ton of pinot noir grapes. Their first few vintages sold well, and after winning many awards, ownership of the winery passed between several entities before Duckhorn took control in 2018. Kosta and Browne are no longer associated with the winery.

Littorai - Sonoma, Mendocino

Founded in 1993 by Ted and Heidi Lemon, Ted learned winemaking in Burgundy, working at Domaines Dujac, Roulot, and and Bruno Clair. They began a conversion to biodynamism in 2001. The wines are mostly sourced from single vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Marcassin - Sonoma

Helen Turley is one of the most important winemakers in California’s modern era, and with her husband, viticulturalist John Wetlaufer, she founded Marcassin in 1985. The wines were made at Martinelli until their own facility was completed. The wines are extremely sought after and age worthy.

Melville - Sta Rita Hills

Founded in 1989, Melville originated in the Knights Valley of Sonoma, where Ron Melville was a quality grape grower. However, a desire to grow cool climate chardonnay, pinot noir, and syrah led him in 1996 to what would become the Sta RIta Hills. Melville has 120 acres under vine, and located 10 miles from the ocean, is greatly affected by the cooling wind, fog, and steady winds throughout the day.

Morgan- Monterey

Dan Morgan Lee began at UC Davis studying Veterinary Medicine, but soon changed to Enology as it balanced his interest in science and agriculture. He began his career in 1978 as winemaker of Jekel winery before founding Morgan in 1982. Morgan focusses on chardonnay and pinot noir, much of which is sourced from their estate, the Double L Vineyard.

Navarro - Anderson Valley

The oldest family run vineyard in the Anderson valley was founded by Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn in 1974. They produce a wide variety of wines, from dry Alsatian style whites, several pinot noirs, and many others. The climate of the Anderson Valley is tempered by the cool air that flows into the valley from the Pacific, making it ideal for reserved styles of pinot noir.

Patz & Hall - Sonoma

Patz and Hall was founded in 1988 by Donald Patz, James Hall, Anne Moses, and Heather Patz, four were all wine industry professionals stationed in the Napa Valley. They produce pinot noir and chardonnay from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Monterey, with the goal of working with the owners of the single vineyard wines they produce to present the best expressions of these sites.

Paul Hobbs / Crossbarn - Russian River

Paul Hobbs grew up on a farm in western New York before moving west to study winemaking at UC Davis. He has many international projects, but is based at his Crossbarn facility in Sebastopol. There he focusses on pinot noir, chardonnay, and cabernets sauvignon and franc.

Peay - Sonoma

A family winery, with Vanessa Wong as winemaker, her husband Nick Peay does the farming, and his brother Andy is in charge of sales. Located on a ridge four miles from the Pacific, they produce bright wines without being overripe. The vineyard is farmed organically.

Pisoni - Santa Lucia Highlands

Son of farmers, Gary Pisoni planted his first vineyard with pinot noir in 1982. Here the Pisoni clone is rumored to have originally come from a well known Vosne Romanee winery as well. Gary Pisoni has also partnered with Gary Franscioni with the Garys’ vineyard (note the apostrophe), and Soberanes vineyard.

Ram's Gate - Carneros

Founded in 2011, Ram’s Gate is at the crossroads of Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Carneros. Joe Nielsen took over winemaking duties in 2018 and has introduced new practices, including organic farming and whole cluster fermentations, among others.

ROAR- Santa Lucia Highlands

Gary and Rosella Franscioni released their first wine from ROAR wines in 2001, after planting Rosella’s vineyard in 1996, and Garys’ Vineyard (in cooperation with Gary Pisoni) in 1997. They have since added the Sierra Mar and Soberanes vineyards in the years since. Gary is a third generation farmer in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and pivoted his family farm to wine grapes after seeing the potential of the cool Monterey climate.

Saintsbury - Carneros

David Graves and Richard Ward met in Graduate School at UC Davis. They worked harvest in 1978 at Chapellet and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and had common ground with their love of Burgundy. They started their winery, which was named for George Saintsbury, literary historian and oenophile, in 1981.

Siduri - Anderson Valley, Sonoma, Santa Lucia, Sta Rita

Husband and wife team of Adam Lee and Dianna Novy, their winery is named for the Babylonian goddess of wine. Siduri first rose to fame after a favorable review from Robert Parker. Today they makes wines from sites in Oregon and all of California. Jackson Family Wines purchased the winery in 2015, though Adam remains as winemaker.

Talbott - Santa Lucia Highlands

Talbott Vineyards is an all estate winery located in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County. Founded in 1982 after falling in love with Burgundies while traveling in France, they produce only chardonnay and pinot noir. Their estate vineyards are the Diamond T and the famous Sleepy Hollow.

Twomey - Anderson Valley, Russian River

The Duncan Family (of SIlver Oak fame) founded Twomey in 1999 to focus on single vineyard expressions of pinot noir, as well as other varietals. They source grapes from vineyards in the Russian River, Anderson, and Napa Valleys.

Williams Selyem - Sonoma

Originally called Hacienda del Rio, Ed Selyem and Burt Williams released their first commercial vintage in 1981. After winning an award at the CA State Fair in 1987, their wines became highly sought after, and would release the first CA pinot noir at $100, their 1991 Summa Vineyard.