Wined Down with Joe Roberts: Bachelor #1, If You Were A winemaker

By Joe Roberts

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Wined Down with Joe Roberts: Bachelor #1, If You Were A winemaker:

What gets you out of bed when twenty-five gorgeous women, all vying for your attention, are trying to keep you in it?

For Ben Flajnik, the star of ABC’s The Bachelor, the answer is not (as it would be for most of us) “twenty-five more women in another bed.”

It’s “grapes.”

As in, the kind of back-breaking stuff with grapes that would make most of us rush right back into that crowded bed—picking, crushing and vinifying to make accessible, food-friendly wines.

To each his own, I suppose.

Ben, along with childhood buddy Mike Benziger (and another long-time friend, new joiner Danny Fay), is the force behind Sonoma’s Envolve Winery. Like most twenty-something guys, Ben and Mike like to party, and getting them to settle down for a few minutes in an interview is a bit like herding cats. But get them talking about vino and you start to see some focused obsession on bringing svelte, well-made, dinner-table-ready wines to the masses.

“It’s the complete opposite of anything fat or lush,” Ben told me when describing his ideal wines over lunch at Sonoma’s Puma Springs Vineyard, where he will be sourcing most of the grapes for his wines going forward. “You’re not gonna bite into a big piece of lumber with these wines.”

Okay, we all love vino but back to those twenty-five gorgeous girls for a minute: surely Ben’s dual role as winemaker and ABC’s The Bachelor star was a perfect test bed for whether or not wine knowledge makes you more attractive?

“I clearly put it to the test,” he told me. “People see this romantic side of winemaking, and that’s kind of why Envolve started —to showcase the journey [wine] goes through and how unromantic it really is. What we do with this fruit is stressful, it’s a lot like being The Bachelor!”

Twenty-five hot women clamoring after you is stressful? The ladies had to love that you were deep into wine, right?

“Sure. When you talk to people and they find out what your profession is and what you do, there’s a persona that goes along with being a winemaker, and it’s romantic. Before I was a winemaker, I thought ‘damn, maybe I could find this really great woman who’s a winemaker or whose family owns a vineyard, maybe I can be part of that life!’ I’m sure that some of them probably felt the same.”

Ok, this guy makes wine, had twenty-five women thinking he was a hotter commodity than lemonade in the Sahara, and he’s humble? Now I was annoyed.

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That is, I was annoyed until I tried Envolve’s Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which runs about forty clams and over-delivers in blackberry, red plum, and tea-leaf awesomeness for the price. Their spicy, earthy, structured Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (around $30), farmed from a small nine-acre family-run vineyard, is also a good deal for the coin, and their Sonoma Mountain Rose is meaty and tasty enough to pair with ham sandwiches, while also being lovely, herbal, and bright enough to loosen your date’s inhibitions.

Envolve started as a self-funded venture in 2009, when Ben and Mike decided that they wanted to turn the only thing that kept them out of trouble—winemaking—into full-time jobs. They had a leg up on most twenty-somethings with a wine dream, though, having access to Mike’s family who have been making fine wine in Sonoma for years under the Imagery and Benzinger brands (Joe Benzinger at Imagery remains their biggest influence).

Pedigree doesn’t equate to investment, though—so the Envolve boys have been turning to social media big-time to try to get their message out, while trying to keep prices down despite the lure of cashing in on the ABC’s The Bachelor exposure.

“We’re not reaching out to sell wine through social media. In the land of 80 pound gorillas, and all these massive wineries and major producers, we’re a drop in the bucket. They have advertising budgets for days; I don’t think we have an advertising budget, so we have to implement other ways of reaching our consumers. We have to kind of fight ‘guerilla style’ and be very interactive with our friends and our customers.”

Added Mike: “We grew up with social media, so it’s always been a part of our lives. It’s another way to convey an experience; it’s just a quick way to reach out to people and let them know who we are. In a world today that’s filled with so many wine brands, that connection is really important. We can’t be in fifty states all the time, and it’s a way for us to connect with these people who don’t live close by. We’re huge into putting a face behind our brand, and this is a way to let people know who we are and why we’re doing this.”

So now that the TV stint with the twenty-five hot women is over, what compares in terms of exciting things on the horizon? You guessed it—it’s all grape-related.

“The launch of the new brand we started in January – Epilogue. It’s a much more reachable price point and much more reachable distribution network. It’s really exciting expanding into these new markets,” Mike told me.

Added Ben, “it’s a different winemaking style, too. Mike and I are getting to play with all different types of fruit from everywhere and trying to create the best wine possible—it’s fun. It’s the more… I don’t know… the ‘science and math side’ of winemaking that I am super-excited about. When we put something together that we love and then our mentors come along and say ‘hey you guys did a great job with this,’ that’s when Mike and I get most excited, when we can spread our wings a little bit.”

Science and math? Spreading wings after potentially spreading gorgeous legs? Ah, the folly of youth…

About the Author:

Joe Roberts is a certified wine geek, and has been called “an original” by media maven Gary Vaynerchuk, “provocative” by the Seattle Times, and “a Robin Hood in the exclusive world of vineyards and corkings” by The Urban Grocer. His wine knowledge has been tapped by the L.A. Times, New York Times, CNBC.com, Mutineer Magazine, Publix, Palate Press, Mint.com, and Wines.com. You can find Joe regularly roasting wine’s sacred cow (and pairing them with robust, obscure red) at the award-winning 1WineDude.com.


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