Thomas J. Story
Mike Benziger pauses on his antique tractor.
The scent of lavender and sage fills the air as Bob Benziger leads the way through drifts of perennials. "Stay still and this place vibrates. It's alive," he says. Sure enough, bees are zipping around California poppies and Russian sage, and the warm summer air hums with a high-pitched buzz. Hummingbirds, too, dart among the flowers in a blur of beating wings.
All this vibrant motion comes naturally in an insectary garden, the engine that drives diversity in Benziger Sonoma Mountain vineyards in Glen Ellen, California. These birds and bees help ensure the health and productivity of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and other Bordeaux grapes whose vines embroider the hills with neat rows of green.
"Every plant blooms at a certain time and attracts a pollinator we need at that time," explains Bob, one of seven siblings who manage the estate. Of the property's 85 acres, 42 are planted in wine grapes. The remaining grounds include olives, citrus, and vegetables as well as woodlands, wetlands, and the insectary garden. Each of these habitats is tended as carefully as the vineyards because the family believes that maintaining diversity of plants and other organisms is key to a self-sustaining ecosystem.