We’re new to Berserker Day, but we’ve been around for a minute…
In 1973, Deborah Cahn and Ted Bennett purchased a 900-acre sheep ranch in the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. There, the coastal climate would assure that Gewürztraminer grapes would ripen late in the season when the weather is coolest, and the gravelly clay soils were similar to famous vineyard sites in Alsace, known for the production of elegant dry wines. Vineyard planting began in 1974. The higher elevations (1000’ to 1500’) are dedicated to Pinot Noir, which likes the cooler days and warmer nights. Vineyards closer to the valley floor (300’ to 500’) are warmer during the day, but much colder at night, conditions that contribute to high acidity in our white varieties: Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc.
While waiting for the vines to become productive, Deborah and Ted continued to raise sheep, totally unprofitably, for five years. Wine production began in 1975 with grapes purchased from neighboring vineyards. Navarro’s style of winemaking is slowly evolving as the vineyards reach maturity. The fruit produced by a vineyard is a unique combination of microclimate, soil, and cultural practices; adapted over time by experience. Generally, Navarro strives to produce wines in which one can “taste the vineyard” - the French idea of “gout du terroir.” Each vineyard site is fermented and aged as a separate lot; experiments within these lots are helping the winery define its style.
The styles of some of the wines are inspired by the old world. Navarro’s dry Gewürztraminer is perhaps the best example: Deborah and Ted love Alsatian wines and specifically selected a vineyard site with soils and exposure reminiscent of the flanks of the Vosges. Other wines were serendipitous: it was preferred not to spray chemicals on the vines, so by harvest some of the grapes were rotten. The rot that dominates in the cool, humid climate of Anderson Valley is botrytis cinerea. Ted says, “If anyone had told us in 1974 that we would be producing sweet wines from rotten grapes and enjoying it, we would have considered them crazy!”
Deborah and Ted have been joined by their children, Aaron and Sarah Cahn Bennett, who are actively involved in the family business. Sarah’s interest in goats and sheep date back to her 4H days and she now spearheads Navarro’s latest efforts at Pennyroyal Farm, which is producing medal winning farmstead cheeses and world-class wines ten miles down the road in Boonville. Aaron is back home after a successful stint working the dot-com boom in Southern California, overseeing Navarro’s online presence as well as managing the day to day operation of the ranch, vineyard and winery.
Navarro is committed to sustainable farming practices, which include the use of cover crops between vine rows to reduce sedimentation and encourage beneficial insects, annual monitoring of erosion-control measures and protection of the riparian corridor. In 2006, Navarro introduced sheep and a portable chicken house into the vineyards as a fossil-fuel-free method of mowing, suckering, and limiting pests. Navarro’s winery, vineyard and tasting room employees are hired full-time with health benefits.
On behalf of Ted, Deborah, Aaron and Sarah, thank you all for the time you took to read our story, and the opportunity to share our wines with you.
EDITED TO ADD: We’re thrilled that our sister winery, Pennyroyal Farm, has decided to participate in Berserker Day. This is a very exciting project for Sarah Cahn-Bennett, as mentioned above. The wines are elegant, polished, and refined, reflective of Sarah’s personality and passion for her craft. Read more here, thanks!