Benchmark Wineries


Alban VIneyards is the first American winery established exclusively for Rhone varieties. John Alban fell in love with a glass of viognier that changed his life’s path. He finished his Master’s in Enology from UC Davis, then moved to France to learn more about winemaking, and Rhone varieties. He returned and exponentially increased the plantings of viognier, roussanne, syrah, and grenache in California.

Arnot Roberts

Arnot-Roberts was founded in Healdsburg in 2001 by childhood friends Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts. Growing up in Napa, they were exposed to wine at the young age, and now focus on sourcing their grapes from unique sites throughout Northern California.

Big Basin

Justin Smith’s Saxum wines is based in the Templeton Gap / Willow Creek locations of Paso Robles. He focusses on single vineyard expressions of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre blends, creating rich and powerful wines of deep concentration.

Bonny Doon

Bonny Doon was established in 1983 by Randall Grahm, with an original desire to replicate Burgundy in California. However, he soon realized that the Mediterranean climate was much better suited to Rhone varieties. Thus Le Cigare Volant, a Chateauneuf du pape inspired blend was born. Le Cigare Volant is French for flying saucer, (which translates to flying cigar). This is because French wine law forbids flying saucers (or cigars) from flying above the vineyards in Chateauneuf. Grahm is also responsible for the creation of the wine brands Cardinal Zin, Big House, and Pacific Rim.


Originally a husband and wife garagiste wine hobby dedicated to zinfandel soon led to something requiring more commitment. Mike and Kendall Carlisle began by making 5 gallons of zinfandel, which grew to 300 cases, growing to 1000 cases with the founding of their winery (after the purchase of the Pelletti ranch with its old vines) in 1998. From there their operation has grown to nearly 10,000 cases sourced from old vine vineyards all over California.


Named for the national symbol of winemaker and founder Bibiana Gonzalez Rave’s native Colombia, Cattleya was founded in 2011. Bibiana trained in France, receiving her Degree in Enology from the University of Bordeaux, before working in both Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and the Rhone Valley, before coming to California to put down roots.


Founded in 1999, Copain, which means “friend” in French, informs the wines as they should always be welcome. Their wines are sourced from cool climate vineyards in Mendocino County, Anderson Valley, and the Sonoma Coast.


Jason and Molly Drew founded their winery in 2000 after finding an old apple orchard in the Mendocino Ridge AVA. Ancient marine soils, a southerly exposure, and enough elevation to keep them above the fogline, they planted a cool their cool climate vineyard just 3.3 miles from the Pacific.


Founded by a restauranteur and entrepreneur in 1996, the name comes from the children of the first winemaker’s children, Duncan and Molly. Sadly he 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.


Originally from Pittsburgn, PA, Gary Eberle began his studies in Biology at Penn State, but eventually got his doctorate in Enology from UC Davis in California. It was at UC Davis where he learned about Paso Robles, and fell in love with its potential. Eberle would go on to found Estrella RIver Winery in 1973, and was the first to release a 100% syrah bottling in 1978. He left Estrella River to found his own winery in 1981, and has been instrumental in the Paso Robles AVA, created in 1983. 


Hudson Ranch is a 2000 acres property located in Carneros, with 200 acres planted to vines. Lee Hudson purchased the ranch in 1981, and had his first harvest of wine grapes in 1983. His vineyard is now one of the best known sources for fruit in the area, with a wide variety of vines planted in the cool climate close to the San Pablo Bay. It wasn’t until 2004, however, that the vineyard started to make its own wine.


Larry Hyde began his vineyard with 72 acres in Carneros in 1979. His vineyard is now one of the premier sources for fruit in Napa Carneros. Over the years he has added new clones of chardonnay, pinot noir. and merlot to the local tapestry, while growing his vineyard holdings to 192 acres today.


With a background in the aerospace industry, Craig Jaffurs learned the craft from Bruce McGuire at Santa Barbara Winery in the 1980s, before releasing his first commercial wine in 1994. Jaffurs focusses on syrah, grenache, petite sirah, and other Rhone varieties.

Jeff Cohn

Established in 1996 by Jeff and Alexandra Cohn, this boutique winery produces around 5,000 cases of wine yearly. Jeff got his start working for Rosenblum Cellars, and made the first CA zinfandel to be included on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list. Originally called JC Cellars, they changed the name to Jeff Cohn Cellars in 2012 to improve recognition of their wines and winemaking.

Jolie Laide

Scott Schultz moved to Napa from Chicago to helm Bouchon’s wine program. He then transitioned into his own label, which translates to “pretty-ugly”, but meaning unconventional beauty. He is a one man operation who produces around 500 cases of wine per year.

Joseph Phelps

Founded in 1973 by construction entrepreneur Joseph Phelps on a 670 acre former cattle ranch. While based near St Helena, the winery owns vineyards in many Napa AVAs, as well as over in the Sonoma Coast. The winery was one of the pioneering “Rhone Rangers” who put a spotlight on syrah and Rhone style blends.


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.

Meyer Family

The Meyer family began its association with fine wine when they co-founded what would become Silver Oak in 1972 with the Duncan Family. In 2001 they sold their interest to begin their own venture, dedicated to Napa Cabernet and Mendocino Syrah. Their style of characterized by a balance of old world balance and new world ripeness of fruit.


Adam Lee of Siduri wines met Dianna Novy while working in a wine store in Dallas. After finding success with his pinot noir, the couple launched Novy in 1988 to showcase their love of syrah and zinfandel.

Ojai Vineyards

Adam Tolmach’s career began at Zaca Mesa, before he founded Au Bon Climat with Jim Clendenen in 1982. He then founded Ojai with his wife Helen in 1983 with a desire to apply the traditional winemaking practices of Burgundy and the Rhone to the vines he had planted on his grandfather’s old estate.


Pax and Pam Mahle moved to California in 1997 to pursue wine. After working at Dean and Deluca, they began their journey after find the Alder Springs Vineyard, launching their label in 2000. They focus on syrah, but have other varieties in their portfolio.


Piedrasassi is a husband and wife team of Sashi and Melissa Moorman. Sashi began his winemaking career at Ojai, but founded his side project in 2003 to focus on cool climate syrah sourced from vineyards in Santa Barbara County. The winemaking is low intervention, with native ferments and low sulfur added at bottling. He is also winemaker/partner at Sandhi wines, Domaine de la Cote, and Evening Land Vineyards in Oregon.


Located in Santa Barbara County, founded in 1982 by Bob Lindquist (with the help of his friend Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat), Qupe focusses on Rhone varieties, as well as some chardonnay. Qupe takes its name from the indigenous people of the cnetral coast, the Chumash. Qupe is the word for poppy, California’s state flower.


After working at Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus, and Rudd Estate, David Ramey created his own label with his wife Carla, in 1996. David is responsible for the modern style of rich chardonnay now associated with Napa, after exploring indigenous yeasts, malolactic fermentation, sur lie aging and whole cluster pressing when making wine.


Justin Smith’s Saxum wines is based in the Templeton Gap / Willow Creek locations of Paso Robles. He focusses on single vineyard expressions of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre blends, creating rich and powerful wines of deep concentration.


Shafer is a family owned winery, founded in 1978 by John Shafer, who moved to Napa after a career in publishing. Vines had been planted on the property since the 1880s, and their first wine was made from zinfandel vines planted in 1922. While well known for the Hillside Select Cabernet, their Syrah bottling is called Relentless, after winemaker Elias Fernandez.

Sine Qua Non

Based north of Los Angeles in Ventura County, Sine Qua Non is nontraditional in its approach. In 1994 Manfred and Elaine Krankl founded their winery as a side project to their involvement in Campanile restaurant in LA. The winery focusses on Rhone varieties, both white and red. This is very much a cult winery, meaning wines are hard to find, and often expensive when you find them. 

Site Wine Co

Site Wine Co is a project from Jeremy Weintraub, who began his career at Seavey in the Napa Valley, before becoming winemaker at Adelaida Cellars in Paso Robles. SIte sourced fruit from only three sites: Bien Nacido, Larner, and Stolpman.


Conceived as a getaway from his law practice for founder Tom Stolpman, the land was that would become Stolpman Vineyards was purchased in 1990, chosen for its limestone soils. In 2009 day to day operations passed to Tom’s son Pete, who reduced grapes sold to others to refocus on wine produced in house, in addition to expanding improvements at the winery.

Tablas Creek

Founded in 1989 by two families deeply invested in wine, the Perrin Family of Chateauneuf du Pape’s Chateau de Beaucastel, and the Haas family of Vineyard Brands wine company, Tablas Creek is a pillar of Rhone style winemaking in California. The site selected is in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles, as the limestone soils and climate are reminiscent of the southern Rhone.


Joey Tensley started his label in 1998 with 100 cases of wine and a dream to share his Santa Barbara syrah with others. Joey got his start working in the cellars at Fess Parker, before becoming assistant winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards. It was there that he decided to devote himself to syrah and Rhone varieties.

Terre Rouge

Terre Rouge and Easton wines were founded in the late 1980s by husband and wife team of Bill Easton and Jane O’Riordan. Bill got into winemaking after owning a wine shop in Berkeley, and became of the original “Rhone Rangers” with his first wine made in 1986. They moved to the Sierra Foothills, where the red-orange soil give the winery its name: Terre Rouge.


The Truchard family line begins with the grandfather of the founder emigrating from France. The grandson, Tony, after pursuing a career in medicine and the army, was stationed in California, where a dream of buying land in Napa took hold. In 1972 he purchased an old prune orchard, as well as neighboring farms, to create an estate on 400 acres, with sustainably farmed vines planted in the cool clay soils of Carneros.

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa was founded in 1973 by John Cushman and friends, which was the third winery established in Santa Barbara County. Zaca Mesa was also the first to plant syrah there in 1978. The winery focusses on Rhone varieties, with syrah being their strong suit.