Wine Club News by Bruce Boring

Name: Angeline Winery, Sonoma California
Owner: Courtney Benham
Established: 1991
Winemaker: Bryan Davison
Annual Production: 8,000 cases

Graduation Day

Since 1990 The California Wine Club has watched many California wineries and vintners "grow up".

We met Courtney Benham of Blackstone winery years ago, before Blackstone (and its popular Merlot) exploded in size.  Then, Courtney's was a "winery without walls".  Now, he has graduated from those negociant beginnings to a new winery - a winery with walls - called Angeline.

Both Sides Now

With Angeline Winery, Courtney Benham will have looked at wine from both sides now.  "I've been in the wine business for 16 years.  With Blackstone Winery and with Martin Ray Winery, we bought grapes from growers and made our wine without a facility or vineyards.  Now, with Angeline, we have the chance to see what it's like to operate a full-fledged winery, one where we make our wines right from the start, at our own winery facility, with our own tasting room."

It's An Opportunity

Courtney recently sold Blackstone and could easily retire on his laurels and his harvest from that sale. Yet, even with a daunting glut of wine spilling over the horizon, he has decided to move forward with Angeline.  "I love wine and the wine business," Courtney says.  "Now, Angeline affords my family with a new challenge.  I will keep it in perspective. I don't have grand illusions to build a huge winery like Blackstone, or to sell $50 bottles of wine like Martin Ray.  I just want to create a business that makes good wine, and maybe my boys (two and eight-years-old) will want to run the place."   Courtney hopes to give his children an experience similar to his own; when as a child in the Central Valley he worked in his father's vineyards, cotton fields and pistachio orchards. "Working with your hands in the fields teaches a great work ethic."

Vintage Vintner

Before they learn to run the place, the kids will certainly be running all over it, for Courtney has selected a vintage Sonoma county property for Angeline's site. Home to another small family winery, Martini & Prati, this historic 103-year-old property features rolling hills of vineyards, an old farmhouse, and several large barns where huge redwood tanks will soon be replaced by Angeline's stainless steel. But some things won't change; the cat that curls up on the porch, the '40s Ford truck that sits in the shade and the landmark water tower.  Even Courtney's winemaker, Bryan Davison, is a local who has been making wine here for more than 20 years.

The feel of the place is mid-20th century, and Courtney wants to keep it that way.  "We'll bring in new equipment and expand the tasting room, but we don't want to change the forties ambiance" he says.

Name Game

Is the name "Angeline" some combination of family members' names?  Or a guardian angel's?  Courtney laughs.  "An artist originally created the name and the label to sell Zinfandel.  We liked the look of it, bought it, and soon dropped Zin to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah.  2000 is our first vintage of Syrah.  It's a cool climate Syrah, which I prefer because it has more fruit and is not as tannic. "We used to do a Central Coast Chardonnay, but since moving here to Sonoma County we are taking advantage of its wonderful Russian River fruit."

It has taken 16 years to do it, but now Courtney Benham is making wine within the walls of his very own winery, Angeline Winery that is.  

The California Wine Club has provided this wine country store.   For more information visit or call 1-800-777-4443.   For this month's selection from Angeline Winery, Bruce and Pam Boring have chosen: Angeline 2000 "Central Coast" Syrah and Angeline 2001 Reserve "Russian River Valley" Chardonnay

2000 "Central Coast" Syrah
  • Spicy plum, currant and blackberry fruit flavors marries with subtle oak in this rich, ripe Syrah.
  • Fruit for this wine came from California's Paso Robles and Central Coast areas.
  • The growing season started with bud break mid-March, a mild spring and summer.
  • Temperatures cooled in late September, then heated up again for good ripening.
  • Grapes were gently crushed, then pressed to oak barrels for fermentation.  This wine spent a total of 18 months in oak.
  • The final blend was 84% Syrah, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot.
  • "This is a cool climate Syrah, so its flavors and colors are more concentrated than a warm climate Syrah," says winemaker Bryan Davison.
  • Delicious with pasta, pizza or meat dishes.
  • Enjoy now or hold two to three years.
  • Alcohol:  13.7%
    pH:  3.43
    Total Acidity:  .63%
2001 Reserve "Russian River Valley" Chardonnay
  • A very balanced wine, with hints of creamy oak and a great acidity that stands up to rich cream sauces. Rich tropical fruit flavors in abundance.
  • Fruit for this Chardonnay came from the cool Russian River Valley.  Grapes were picked at the valley¹s heart, near to the fork in the river.
  • Frosty nights in April put the vintage off to a shaky start, but heat waves in June followed by milder temperatures allowed growth and maturity.  Fruit quality was even.
  • After hand harvest, fruit was gently crushed and settled in stainless steel.  It was then pressed of to barrels for fermentation.
  • This 100% Chardonnay underwent 100% malolactic (secondary) fermentation.  It aged one year in barrel.
    Terrific with chicken, fish and all the usual "with Chardonnay" suspects!
  • Enjoy now, or hold up to one year.
  • Alcohol:  13.7%
    pH:  3.57
    Total Acidity:  .57%