Generally, if you see any hint on a label that the people who made your wine were different than the people who grew the grapes, it’s a sign that the winemaking venture was more of a business than an art. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it is usually a sign that you shouldn’t be paying more than, let’s say, $15 for whatever the result is. Really good vintners like to control their grapes and growing conditions; the folks who take whatever they can get on the open market are more interested in producing a passable product and bringing it to market. (I’m looking at you, Yellow Tail.)
But I did say generally, which brings us to today’s bottle. And it’s a strange story about this Benson Ferry stuff, per the company website. The wine is made by the Stokes family of Lodi, California (where it’s easy to get stuck). The Stokeses have owned vineyards in the area for three generations, but did not make their own consumer wine until 2001, when they formed the label. (Until then, they’d been providing grapes to other winemakers.) Now, they use both their own grapes and grapes sourced from other vineyards in the area and from the North Coast to make their various vintages. So while it’s not necessarily a great sign that the wine we’re reviewing might not have come from the Stokes’ own grapes, we can also assume that folks who have spent decades in the industry know a thing or two about buying quality fruit for their product.
How does it look? This Pinot Gris is a light orange color, with legs that cling easily to the glass and a somewhat heavy body. I’ll expect something full-bodied and sweet, with a lot of fruit flavor.
How does it smell? The Benson Ferry is loaded with lots of warm-weather and tropical fruit aromas — grapefruit, pineapple, kiwi, and the like, with a bit of honeysuckle at the end. All that fruit-forward goodness is by design — the vintners avoid barrel aging to preserve that character. There’s not a bit of tannin — probably a result of the wine’s age. And despite this wine’s robust 13.9 percent alcohol by volume, there’s not really any hint of that in the nose either.
But how does it taste? The fruit is still at the front of the flavor, but it’s much less sweet and more complex than we might have expected from the nose. I still get grapefruit and pineapple, with maybe a bit of lime as well. There’s a nice bitter greens flavor (kind of like the endive in a mixed-green salad) that helps to clean the palate and balance the flavor. The aging has left this wine smooth, though I worry that if it sat around for another year or two, it might dull the flavors.