Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ornamentals, Edibles & Herbs -A Biodynamic Garden

Sheep Photo: Colby Eierman

Biodynamic Discovery Trail - Benziger Winery
Photo © Alice Joyce
Benziger Winery now boasts a self-guided Biodynamic Discovery Trail, inaugurated at the Glen Ellen estate on Earth Day. Inspired by biodynamic agriculture, a movement associated with philosopher and founder of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, the Trail melds ornamentals, edibles and insectary plants. Demonstration stations describe the farming practices Benziger employs on its 85-acre Sonoma Mountain ranchland, while a flow form water feature exhibits an aerating, recirculating vortex pattern.

I'll be lauding the Benziger's overall approach: A respect for the land and for the environment (rather than summarize the herbal preparations or more esoteric techniques of biodynamics). What I found to be outstanding: Unlike most winery settings, the Benziger landscape is incredibly diverse.
On a beautiful day in wine country, I toured the estate with Colby Eierman, the director of sustainability, seeing first-hand the integration of sheep, cows, and chickens in the vineyards. Yep.... that's Colby's photo showing the sheep posing for the camera! As Colby explained, in the complex topography of the site, sheep do a great job of mowing under the vines, and on the steeper slopes.

Then, too, there is land set aside for insectary habitats to attract the good bugs, and edible gardens teeming with herbs, veggies, and fruit trees that provide fresh organic ingredients to the chefs at El Dorado Kitchen; a Sonoma destination restaurant. (Disclosure: I enjoyed lunch there with Colby. As it happens, however, I can highly recommend the restaurant and the El Dorado Hotel. When I was an about-to-be-published, first-time guidebook author, I booked a beautiful room overlooking the outdoor dining area, and had a memorable meal. In all, my stay there turned out to be a high point among my research forays for West Coast Gardenwalks.)

My photo of the east facing slope of Sonoma Mountain reveals a lovely arrangement in its terraced construction, where a variety of habitats are created amid plantings of lavender, echiums, bottlebrush, and groves of olive trees.

All of which contributes to the health of the organism that is the larger farm system. Grounded in holistic methods, the Biodynamic farming at Benziger surely affects the soil in distinctive ways, coloring the flavor of the grapes and the quality of the wines.


  1. This looks like another great tip! I could combine this with a trip to Quarryhill in Glen Ellen, too.

  2. Chuck, yes and yes. If you haven't been, Quarryhill, is a wonderful place -and they're having a special event this Sunday. At Benziger, a tram tour & tasting is a delightful adjunct to the new Discovery Trail.

  3. What an exciting place to visit. My lasso is whirling, so if Sonoma Mountain topples into the Niagara Gorge sometime soon, you'll know what happened (my way of saying: wish I were closer).

  4. A beautiful photo of the flowforms. I would love to see them there in action! So mesmerising and tranquil. Thanks for the great photos!

  5. I love that fountain. I have toured many wineries in my college days and this is one I did not see. Very pretty!

  6. Alice, thanks for the tour! There are always some ideas that we can pick up looking at the pictures. I love the first water feature, it's amazing!

  7. Helen, I do hope you'll have an opportunity to tour our wine country one day. It's closer than towns in Tuscany, and dare I say, as lovely.
    Sowing the Seeds, thanks for checking in from Australia. The flowforms are an amazing, inventive and effective way to move the water.
    Heather and Tatyana, it's always a delight to have you along on my tours. The camaraderie makes touring more enjoyable!

  8. Really nice to know about. Thanks for all the info. I loved the photos.

  9. Dear Alice,
    By your nice memorable photographs, you have truly won not only my mind but my heart too. Congrats
    Ram Bansal