Smith & Hook Wines

Integrating Earned and Paid Activations

How PR and Paid Amplify Each Other

Client Smith & Hook Wines, Hahn Family Wines

Goal Maximize impressions to raise brand awareness and to support sales efforts to increase PODs, and demand pull in Q421.

Tactics Promote the client’s two key brands during ultra-competitive holiday season using comprehensive PESO model: paid media, earned media, shared media (social posts), and owned media (website, social platforms). Theme: “Thanksgiving in 90 Minutes” featuring chef/influencer Ashton Keefe.

Select Results As we write this case study, the program is still in process. But brands benefit by this use of a singular theme, and then building a 360-degree communications campaign using a variety of different channels.

  • BensonLive Presents Media Webinar: For wine, epicurean writers, editors, freelancers, October 27, for 20 journalists.
  • TV Appearances: Early in campaign, client only wine featured on  FOX and Friends broadcast, featuring National Pasta Day. Viewers: 1+ million. Three additional TV appearances are booked for November.
  • Organic Social Media Posts: Amplify content (coverage, tips, etc.) to brand’s followers.
  • Social Media Advertising: Amplify content to brand’s core markets, lookalike audiences, etc. to broaden reach, frequency, followers.
  • PR Pitches: Pitch earned coverage of tips and suggestions co-developed by Benson and our chef spokesperson.

Five Reasons to Rethink Australian Shiraz

Australian Shiraz wines continue to evolve and refine. Previously often thought of only as high alcohol, jammy, and rich wines, today’s Shiraz wines have an incredible diversity of styles to offer. From an everyday drinking wine to a collectible, top-rated, fine wine – Shiraz is more versatile than ever. Now is the time to rethink Shiraz, and here is why:

1. It is currently on the rebound
Shiraz is the #1 exported variety (with Chardonnay and Cabernet in #2 and #3). It accounts for 28% of Australian wine exports (both in value and volume). The U.S.A. is the third largest export market for Shiraz by volume, and fourth largest by value, in the year ending June 2021.

2. It offers the widest range of styles than ever before
Grown in 60 of the 65 wine regions in Australia, from warm to cool climates, Shiraz now has a more diverse range of styles due to distinct terroirs and the new techniques used by wine makers to produce it.

  • Warmer-climate regions such as the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale typically produce powerful, full-flavored styles with bold, fruity flavors.
  • Cooler-climate regions like the Adelaide Hills or Eden Valley, produce lighter, elegant Shiraz wines, often with flavors of pepper and spice.

3. 2021 was a great vintage
After a couple of consecutive short vintages, the 2021 vintage was a record crop, due to near perfect growing and ripening conditions. Shiraz showed a +41% increase in volume from the 2020 vintage and represents 26.5% of the total 2021 crush.

4. The oldest vines are in Australia
Shiraz was one of the original varieties planted in Australia and continues to flourish in the warm, dry climate. Australia boasts some of the oldest pre-phylloxera Shiraz vines in the world, dating back to the 1840s, including Langmeil’s Freedom 1843 Shiraz vineyard and Henschke’s Hill of Grace vineyard, planted in the 1860s.

5. It has created highly rated wines for many years
Shiraz from Australia has garnered plenty of 90+ ratings. Mollydooker, John Duval, and Yangarra are familiar names that consistently produce the best expressions of the varietal.

Interested in learning more about top-rated Shiraz wines? Wine Australia will be hosting a Top-Rated Shiraz virtual tasting with on November 18, at 4 p.m. PST. Gwendolyn Osborn will lead the conversation with top producers to explore the dazzling spectrum of styles. Register at With code SOUTHAU10 get 10% off the purchase.

Interested in learning more about some of those everyday drinking Shiraz wines? We can help connect you with samples or further discussions with producers.

Feeling Festive?

Feeling Festive? Holiday Cocktails that Stir the Soul

For a holiday celebration, or at any time of the year, sometimes it is a cocktail that is called for to fill your glass.

Benson has a number of suggestions on this front thanks to our creative spirits clients — and we’ve added ideas for wine cocktails, too!

Keep it Simple: Pour Over Ice & Serve – Veuve du Vernay Ice Rosé SRP: $14.99
A quick and easy cocktail, this wine was crafted to be enjoyed over ice so pour away and enjoy! The Ice Rosé is slightly sweet with red fruit aromas to match its pink hue. From the bottle to the glass, this wine epitomizes a fun, flirty Parisian lifestyle. Enjoy on its own or in a more complex cocktail like the High-Altitude Airmail and Sparkling Vodka Gimlet, created by Beautiful Booze.

Spiced Pear Old Fashioned. PC: Nicolas Paris

Spiced Pear Old Fashioned

Feeling Festive
St. George Spirits Pear Brandy SRP: $40 and St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur SRP: $35
Pear brandy has been St. George’s flagship spirit since 1982. It is made from the most aromatic dry-farmed, organic Bartlett pears to be found, and about 30 pounds of fruit are packed into every 750ml bottle! The pear liqueur is both elegant and earthy, with all of the complexity of perfectly ripe Bartlett pear. Cinnamon and clove add a warm touch of spice.

Try these in a cocktail for the holidays, find recipes here and here. Pro tip – give the Spiced Pear Old Fashioned a whirl, featuring the Spice Pear Liqueur and St. George Spirits Breaking & Entering American Whiskey.


Whiskey cocktails to warm you up
The Ballervardier is equal parts Baller Single Malt Whiskey SRP: $50, Bruto Americano SRP: $30, and Dolin Sweet Vermouth. Baller is “a California take on the Japanese spin on Scotch whisky” and Bruto Americano brings a bracing dose of bitterness, a bright pop of citrus, and intriguing sylvan notes inspired by St. George’s master distiller Lance Winter’s formative experiences growing up in California in the 1970s.

Sage Advice

Our friends at Redwood Empire offer some Sage Advice by way of this cocktail featuring their Emerald Giant Rye SRP: $45, black walnut bitters, and muddled sage leaves.




How to Enjoy Your Coffee, Any Time of the Day or Night
St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur SRP: $30 was inspired by a love of New Orleans-style coffee, Yirgacheffe coffee beans provide bright berry and chocolate qualities complemented by chicory root.

One of the most delicious ways to enjoy it is in an Affogato. Other cocktail ideas for the liqueur here.

Morning Fog

For something with a little more caffeine kick, the team at Redwood Empire suggest Morning Fog, a delicious blend of their Pipe Dream Bourbon SRP: $45 and cold brew coffee. The salted maple whipped cream doesn’t hurt either! See this recipe and others on the product webpage.

Wallet and Crowd Pleasers

We’ve got wines to pair with Thanksgiving.  We’ve got the perfect wines and spirits to give as gifts.  And now, we have wine recommendations that please both the wallet and the crowd! 

As always, keep Benson in mind for your holiday story needs! 

What to pour for a crowd, if it is safe to gather 

Barton & Guestier Alcohol Removed Sparkling Wine  SRP: $14.99
Perfect for all ages or any designated drivers, give everyone a chance to celebrate in style. A reverse osmosis process is utilized to remove alcohol from the finished wine, made from Muscat grapes. This special process preserves aromatic and flavor components, keeping the wines’ integrity and character intact. No additional sugars or juice are added and the effervescence is adjusted before bottling for maximum pleasure. Low calorie and vegan friendly.

True Myth Chardonnay Edna Valley  SRP: $18
True Myth presents an authentic experience, which only Mother Nature can express: one of depth, wonder, and a little bit of magic. Taste and Believe. Displaying aromas of ripe pear, pineapple, tangerine and caramel, this is a classic Chardonnay from the Edna Valley in California. It is rich and creamy and bursting with tropical fruit flavors. 

Our Daily Red Blend 1.5L Bag in a Box  SRP: $17.99
This wine is certified USDA Organic, vegan, and with no detectable sulfites, making it your go-to travel companion for all occasions this year. Easy to bring to the Friendsgiving feast and will cover a lot of bases while filling a lot of glasses. 

Smith & Hook Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon  SRP: $25 

To craft this classic Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, fruit from small family owned vineyards in 5 unique sub-appellations is combined. The result is a lush, rich and expressive Cabernet Sauvignon that is full-bodied with notes of dark berry, vanilla, mocha and spice. A perfect combination for the holiday season and a big crowd pleaser!

A few wallet friendly (<$20) selections:  Buy by the bottle or the case! 

Biltmore Estate Pinot Grigio American  SRP: $15
Bearing the American Appellation designation, this Biltmore Estate Pinot Grigio was sourced from growing partners on the west coast and vinified at Biltmore Winery in Asheville, NC. Classic, refreshing, Pinot Grigio is always at home at a party. 

Tangent Sauvignon Blanc  Edna Valley  SRP: $17
Hailing from California’s Edna Valley, near San Luis Obispo, this Sauvignon Blanc explodes with notes of grapefruit and gooseberry. Made with coastal fruit grown just a few miles from the ocean along the Central Coast of California. Life is distinctly vibrant when you take a Tangent. 

Bread & Butter Pinot Noir  California   SRP: $14.99
Hard to wrap, but easy to give.  Based in Napa, Bread & Butter produces classically styled California wines made to be easy-going and approachable. Winemaker Linda Trotta believes good things shouldn’t be complicated. This is an undeniably juicy Pinot Noir that bursts with cherries, raspberries and a touch of cassis.  Sure to be a crowd pleaser.  Look for a new Merlot coming from Bread & Butter soon!

Hahn Appellation Series  SRP: $17.99-19.99  

The Hahn Appellation Series line-up includes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and GSM wines, sourced from Arroyo Seco vineyards. While we recommend them ALL, bring a little Rhone-style to your table this holiday. The 2019 Hahn Appellation Series GSM is a red blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Ruby red in color and boasting aromas of fresh strawberries, red cherry, a touch of white pepper, it leaves a lovely, lingering long finish. 

Serving and Entertaining Tips from the Pros

Hosting a gathering, whether large or small, is always a bit stressful. Planning for other people’s preferences and anticipating their needs takes lots of thought, especially when it comes to serving alcohol. How much is enough? What should be served? How should it be served? 

Take it from the pros and see what a few of Benson’s clients have to say about their experiences in serving at a variety of occasions. 

Pieter Ferreira, Graham Beck 

An expert in crafting South Africa’s iconic Methode Cap Classique wines for almost four decades, Graham Beck’s Cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira, knows the best ways to serve, style and preserve sparkling wine for the best experience. 

Ensure proper storage from the beginning 

It’s lovely to have a beautiful bottle of sparkling out for everyone to see, but long term this can damage the quality of the wine. Prolonged exposure to light or temperature changes affects the chemistry and the result is a spoiled wine. Make sure it’s stored in a cool, dry area that does not get direct sunlight. It’s also best to store the bottle upright instead of lying down because the cork seals much better that way and for much longer. 

Take control of the cork

Sometimes the cork has a mind of its own and people do not realize how dangerous it can be. When you remove the cage, anything can happen. It can dislodge on its own and seriously injure someone, ruining an otherwise great gathering. Make sure you place your hand over the cork immediately, while maintaining a solid hold on the bottle.  Twist the bottle rather than the cork and hold the cork as the pressure slowly forces it out with a gentle pop. When you pour it, the “beer pour” or 45-degree angle is best for retaining the bubbles and filling in one go. The Graham Beck Brut Rosé NV makes for a beautiful pour if you enjoy a bit of pink! 

Consider 375ml bottles

Demand for bottles smaller than the typical 750ml has increased, especially for small groups of people. If you want to start the gathering with a great sparkling wine as an aperitif and move to still wine for dinner, a 375ml bottle is a great option. Graham Beck sells its Graham Beck Brut NV in 375 ml bottles, and it is one of the few wines that is fermented in this smaller bottle, just like it would be in a 750ml.


Sharon Fenchak, Biltmore Winery 


Leading the Biltmore Wines team with more than 20 years of experience at the winery, Sharon Fenchak is head winemaker and vice president of winery production, overseeing a wine program which pays homage to George Vanderbilt’s legacy of hospitality. 

Pairing wines with meals 

It’s important to always have a sparkling wine on hand to open at the start of the evening or day such as the Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir, which is very versatile. A medium bodied red wine is also great to have, such as the Biltmore Estate Pinot Noir since it’s easy to drink and goes well with a variety of foods. For those white wine drinkers, the Biltmore Estate Pinot Grigio is a classic go-to and has been for many Biltmore wine lovers. If you’re eating something spicy or have guests who enjoy something a bit sweeter, the Biltmore Estate Riesling works very well. 

Wine glass charms, yay or nay?

For a gathering with multiple people, wine charms can be useful to help people identify which wine glass is theirs. Instead of giving out a glass with it already on, it’s nice to keep them out should someone want to use them, and pick one that they’ll enjoy all evening. 

The importance of temperature

It’s crucial for wine to be served at the correct temperature so that it is showcased with the best potential. White, sparkling, and rosé wines should be chilled, while reds can be served at room temperature. Of course, if you have nice crystal that is always a bonus! 


Linda Trotta, WX Brands

With a career spanning three decades and four continents, Linda Trotta joined the winemaking team at WX Brands in 2017 and in 2021 was named Director of North Coast Winemaking. Linda is responsible for the winemaking of all of WX’s Napa Valley wine programs, including Bread & Butter, Silver Spur, Double Lariat and a number of Napa Valley exclusive brands.

Linda says there is no need to overthink which wines to serve at your next gathering when you can trust they are made to be simply enjoyed. The classically styled Bread & Butter Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are consistent crowd pleasers. She just recommends buying a few bottles of each because they are usually gone before you know it. 


Dave Smith, St. George Spirits 

Named one of the mad scientists of American whiskey by GQ magazine, Dave Smith (master distiller for St. George Spirits) distills spirits with the intention of sharing. 

Spirits storage, what works 

Relative to wine, follow loosely similar rules with spirits storage. However, store spirit bottles upright as you don’t want it to be in contact with the cork the way wine should be. Spirits are inherently higher proof than wine and the alcohol is strong enough to slowly degrade the cork, unlike wine which helps to preserve the seal of the cork. Skip the fridge or freezer and keep spirits in a cool temperature stable spot out of the sunlight. 

Upgrade your garnish game

Garnish can make a great cocktail more memorable both aromatically as well as visually; it’s essentially the invitation to the drink. Rule one for garnish is to have things on hand that can keep for a while. Brandied cherries, olives and cocktail onions are all simple garnishes to keep in the pantry as essential for emergency cocktail opportunities when there’s no time to go to the store. 

Should there be time to go to the store, citrus is the go-to as it’s garnish 101. Also, fresh herbs are ideal, even better would be to have an herb garden with mint, basil and lemongrass. It’s important to match the aroma of the garnish to the cocktail so that it’s in harmony with the drink and adds another note to the song. 

On the spot cocktails to impress

Well-executed classics are great, which means starting with great spirits, like Baller Single Malt Whiskey and St. George All-Purpose Vodka, and adding select mixers along with great ice and glassware. Be precise with your proportions. 

Pre-batched cocktails are also a great way to share a drink with friends as the prep work can largely be done before anyone arrives. In fact, some drinks are better if they’ve been batched a few days or weeks in advance, though this only works with cocktail recipes that don’t require fresh ingredients. The recipes need to be spirit-forward to work. Dave says, “We usually have a Manhattan as well as a negroni pre-bottled at my house so that we can stir over ice, pour into a glass, add garnish and get back to sharing time together.” 


Sparkling Wines for Anytime

Sparkling Wines for Anytime

Sparkling wines are great for any occasion — holidays, weddings, or even on a Tuesday night in! 

Here are some sparkling wines your readers will want to have on hand to add something to any moment. They transform the mundane into the celebratory, and they also make ideal gifts.  

Veuve du Vernay Ice Rosé NV SRP $14.99
Ranked #1 by IMPACT Hot Prospect Brand Award for Imported Wines from 2017-2019, Veuve du Vernay is the leading French sparkling wine brand in the U.S. and shows no sign of slowing down. Crafted to be enjoyed over ice, Ice Rosé is slightly sweet with red fruit aromas to match its sparkling pink hue. It’s an ideal and unexpected cocktail for celebrating the New Year. From the bottle to the glass this wine epitomizes a fun, flirty Parisian lifestyle.

Bread & Butter Extra Dry DOC Prosecco SRP: $15.99
Made to be simply enjoyed, this graceful, everyday Prosecco was created by winemaker Linda Trotta who worked with a 90-year-old, family-owned winery near Venice, Italy. The result is a delicately perfumed wine with notes of floral and ripe fruit, bright acidity, and a complement of creamy mouthfeel and layers of soft bubbles that persist through to the long, elegant finish. Packaged in an elegant gold and black label, this beauty is ready to party.

Steenberg Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc NV SRP $18
Created from grapes from the oldest registered farm in South Africa, the Steenberg Vineyards Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is a testament to the strengths of the storied Constantia wine region. Traditional method fermentation adds another fun and fresh level to this wine; aromas of passion fruit and lime give it a fruity nose while the palate is light and smooth.

Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2015 SRP: $30
An exceptional example of Cap Classique wine, the fruit was hand selected, and hand harvested from Graham Beck’s specific Chardonnay Clonal block on their Robertson Estate. This wine is elegant and impressive, a real treat for any meal and a total steal at this price for this quality of traditional method sparkler!  Another great option is the Graham Beck Brut NV for just $20.

Biltmore Blanc de Blancs SRP $35
Crafted with Chardonnay grapes sourced from the west coast and using the traditional methode champenoise, the Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs is a classic bottle of bubbly for any occasion. It can stand alone as a wine to toast or to pair with lightly dressed seafood and greens. Up your hospitality game to Vanderbilt level by sharing this with your close circle.

Balletto Brut Rosé 2014 SRP $42
This sparkling Brut Rosé comes from Balletto Vineyards, one of the few family-owned estate wineries in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. It’s delicate, pretty and delicious. The soft, coral-hued color sets the stage, and the tiny, persistent bubbles confirm that this is a serious sparkler.

Let us know how we can help you identify the best sparkling wine option for your stories.
Contact to hear more about what we have in our portfolio.

Around the World Harvest Updates: August 2021

We’ve contacted our portfolio of clients to bring you updates from around the globe as to how 2021 is going in the fields and vines. We cover a lot of ground (pun intended) so please be sure to read through to the end.

We’ll kick it off with something a bit different, our friends at St. George Spirits gave us an update on some crops other than grapes. Here is what Dave Smith, head distiller/blender has to say:

Dave Smith, St. George Spirits. PC: AdriaLo “Drought conditions have been a persistent concern in many parts of the west for years now. While it varies from year to year, it’s always a concern. This year we’re seeing some real challenges in the northwest with regards to raspberries and even cereal grains, which is deeply troubling. As a producer who works with real agriculture but is also responsible for our expectations of truly consistent excellence, these shortages have a real impact and force us to evaluate what sustainable agriculture may look like in the future. What we could count on ten years ago won’t necessarily be there in the same way for any of us a decade or two down the road.

Every harvest we endeavor to produce more spirit from seasonal ingredients than we project a need for in a given year so that we’re able to blend harvests together and ensure greater continuity in our bottlings. We’re working with real ingredients and while consumers expect the 2019 vintage from their favorite wine producer to be a bit different from 2018 vintage, spirits consumers aren’t necessarily thinking in those terms. Blending together different harvests helps to ensure that every time our customers open a bottle of Green Chile Vodka that they’re greeted by a familiar friend. In past years we had created larger inventories, so that this year we were in a position to bring in a smaller load of peppers. We have always enjoyed a warm relationship with our pepper grower; they’re a real strategic partner to us as we work together every harvest. Given the smaller load this year, I suspect that we’ll be bringing in a larger load of peppers next harvest.

Realistically, every harvest has unique challenges that unfold over time. Whether we’re importing the most recent harvest of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans from our favorite grower, or we’re talking to one of our produce contacts about raspberry shortages in the northeast, it’s always going to be something. This year raspberries are a real concern. The significant question then becomes whether or not raspberries continue to have a shortage next year or the year after. As we overproduce some years, we can mitigate those challenges to a certain degree, but those strategies are only effective for so long…Some years there are Colorado pears available, other years absolutely zero. This year, Colorado pears are available. We’re hopeful that both our California and Colorado pears will begin to land over the coming weeks which is always a wonderful time of year. We’re expecting both Colorado as well as California organic Bartlett’s this year, somewhere in the range of half a million pounds or so. It’s going to be a good harvest.

And now for the grapes – let’s start in the Northern Hemisphere where things are gearing up for harvest. In fact, our friends at Barton & Guestier in France have let us know that they already have a date identified for their Merlot harvest at Chateauâ Magnol, in Bordeaux. Mark your calendars, the entire team will be on hand to pick these grapes on September 21!

Moving west, we come to North Carolina where the Biltmore Winery team gives us an update on east coast vineyards. Vice President and Head Winemaker Sharon Fenchak tells us:

The summer has been relatively uneventful so far for the growing season. The vineyard team is doing a good job keeping up with any pests. The next month will be critical in how the grapes ripen for this harvest. Hopefully we will have limited rainfall from hurricanes that often come up from the east coast and gulf shores. Normally, we start to harvest our Chardonnay in the first week in September.

In 2020, our vineyard was hit really hard with frost and freeze events so our harvest was greatly reduced. In 2021, we have already experienced several frost and freeze events but not as severe as the previous year,so we should have a decent harvest. We are looking forward to some good acidity and hopefully higher brix due to smaller yields. We should also be getting our first significant harvest of Petite Manseng this year! It will be fun to see how it’s coming along and see the potential of the grapes.”

Vineyard Manager Philip Oglesby chimes in to say:

Though not particularly a new practice, we did prune some of the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon plants in a different manner this year by cane pruning rather than our normal cane-and-spur method. The idea was to revive and restore some of the wood along the cordon area in hopes that we achieve more evenly ripened and higher quality fruit in certain areas that have suffered freeze damage in the past. The spring frost/freeze cycles may have negated some of those efforts, though. Such is farming!

As we continue across the U.S., we caught up with Anthony Beckman, Vice President and Winemaker of Balletto Vineyards the Russian River Valley of California:

The weather these last five weeks has been picture-perfect, cool fog in morning, 80s in the hot part of the day and then back to very cool nights around 55F. If this keeps up, it will be a stunning harvest, but there’s a long way to go. Last year had rather nice weather, too, until lightning storms sparked fires/smoke and then we had a heat spike over Labor Day.

That being said, we anticipate that we’ll be beginning to pick the Pinot Noir for our sparkling wines by about the 13th of August. The fruit for our Rosé of Pinot will follow (about six to ten days later). The grapes for our other Pinot Noir wines will begin in some select spots around Aug. 20 and get really busy at the end of the month and/or beginning of September. The vineyards in the Sebastopol Hills are at least two weeks behind the other vineyards in the Santa Rosa Plains and Laguna Ridge. It’s always nice when they are separated as it gives us a chance to get in with some of the earlier picked fruit and then out of the red open top fermenters before the Hillside fruit starts to come in. One of the challenges of 2021 is that we’re having the most difficult year ever in terms of hiring people to work the harvest. It’s never been easy to fill these spots, but this year is on a whole new level of difficulty!

Heading south into the Santa Lucia Highlands, we caught up with Paul Clifton, Director of Winemaking at Hahn Family Wines:

The 2021 growing season started out extremely dry and warm in December-January, so irrigating in January was initiated to help fill the soil profile prior to bud break, which we have seen happen as early as February. However, the end of January, we had atmospheric flooding. Being born and raised in this area, I have never seen that much rain fall all at once. Over the course of 48 hours, we received 6.5 inches of rain, half our annual rainfall, and in this particular winter, it was pretty much the only rain we saw. Bud break started the first week of March. In May we had bloom, which was very drawn out because of variable weather in terms of cool to hot conditions. The remainder of the growing season was on par with 2020 and most other years, consistent fog in mornings, sun by late morning, then the wind kicking in.As of the first week of August, veraison was near 90% in some clones, so we are anticipating a typical start to harvest, the first or second week of September. In looking at all the different blocks over the last week, we are looking forward to an evenly spread and steady paced harvest based on what we are seeing with the variability of veraison between clones.We are also praying for no heat spikes, no smoke, and plentiful rain come November.

Over the years, we have been wanting to trial with organic grape growing. So, for the 2021 vintage, we picked out 60 acres of Pinot Noir in Doctor’s Vineyard to farm organically. This trial will be both for quality differences and cost differentials between sustainably certified grape growing and organic grape growing.

Further south, in Paso Robles, we heard from Winemaker Megan McCollough at Smith & Hook:

Megan McCullough, Smith & Hook WineryWe’ve seen a lot more cool and foggy mornings this year overall. The month of June was overcast in the morning every single day. We still continue to see days with fog lingering longer in the SLH. In Paso, the amount of heat spikes have been considerably less, and much more consistent temperature days. Summer isn’t over yet though and we are expecting some elevated temperatures. The vineyards are about 50%-75% through verasion and looking healthy. In terms of picking, for Cabernet Sauvignon it’s most likely early to mid-October. Harvest is always a celebration and I’m personally looking forward to it as last year was not as hands on.

In California’s Edna Valley, we hear from Rob Takigawa, Director of Winemaking for Baileyana Winery and Tangent and True Myth brands:

The summer of 2021 has not seen the extreme heat and smoke that we experienced in 2020, yet.

Veraison has started on all the properties so we are looking to harvest around the week of Labor Day. Some aromatic whites on our coastal properties will most likely be harvested earlier. We experienced a cool spell during bloom which led to a small production in the vineyards and uneven set. Management of the canopy to help promote balance to the clusters for an even ripening has been implemented, with sun exposure and mindful irrigation practices. We’re looking forward to a smoke-free harvest and blessing every day that I can walk the vineyards and observe the development of the fruit that will soon be coming into the winery.

And now to the Southern Hemisphere, where it is winter and things are understandably a little quieter.

First, we checked in with Aurelio Montes, Chief Winemaker of Montes Wines in Chile:

Aurelio Montes Montes WinesAfter finishing harvest 2021 earlier this year, everything has been quite normal except for rainfall. It has been quite a mild winter otherwise. Evolution of the vines is perfect and on schedule, we are currently waiting for budbreak which we expect in 2-3 weeks. We are currently getting some rain now, and there is more predicted in the next week as the winter closes out, which we are looking forward to. 2020 was an exact opposite year in terms of rain; it was very rainy and it was generally cooler all the way through the year, especially in Spring and Summer. However, the Southern Hemisphere generally mirrors what happens in the North so we are expecting it to be very warm this summer. Overall, if the rainfall situation improves, I anticipate lower yields and higher concentration from this vintage.

While we have this time, we are re-planting about 100 acres worth of vines. Some of these are vines we were having problems with as it was not the right variety for the area. For example, we had some Cabernet in soils which were too rich and we’re looking to replace these with Merlot. In other instances, these are new plantings on untouched soil, some are even grapes that are new to Chile. Anything new that we plant is inherently risky simply because Chile doesn’t have as much established viticultural history to draw from. We just try to learn as fast as possible (4-5 years at a time), to see if the vine is going to work in that area.

An exciting example is our Patagonia vineyard, which produced its first bottles of wine with the 2021 harvest, mostly Sauvignon Blanc and some Chardonnay. This is still a very experimental project for now. And it has been a fight with the wildlife! Beavers and some small birds are discovering grapes for the first time and loving it. It has taken a lot of management with some fencing to get ahead of that.

This vineyard is located in a unique place where it rains quite a lot, but it does drain well. Many of the minerals are lost in natural drainage to the ocean though, so it’s quite poor soil. Another challenge was finding workers in that area who had any experience with wines and vines. When you go to the real limit, like this place is, you need to be patient, because it will take 5, 10, even 15 years to really learn the place and see results.

Moving across the globe again, we arrive in South Africa to check-in with the properties of Beck Family Estates.

At Graham Beck, Cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira let us know:

“For our 2021 harvest there was a lovely synchronicity with that first vintage for our Graham Beck Cap Classique wines, and this was that harvest was conducted under the night sky. In 1991 this was because our cellar roof was not yet completed and in 2021 it was because we chose to do a 100% night harvest at our estate in Robertson. Harvest kicked off on January 11 at precisely midnight and the vineyards sparkled like fireflies on the move thanks to hundreds of flickering headlamps.

Comparing to the last couple of years…this year looks excellent! We are currently right in the middle of our winter season. We have had really very good rainfall in the important catchment areas in our area of Robertson, and good snow falls have occurred in the high mountain peaks. The vines are in full resting mode and pruning will commence this week. The importance of consistency and continuity are the main drivers for our vineyard practices. Though always sustainability and conservation-minded, we continue to look for ways to be even “greener” in all of our practices.

We are planning to plant 6 acres of the latest available Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones that we don’t have in the mix. Also, for the first time we will plant Pinot Meunier. This is the third varietal widely planted in Champagne and we are looking forward to working with these grapes in the next couple of years. So watch this space!

Finally, in July, we had yet another total ban of the sale of alcohol in South Africa. This is no fun for us here back home and we are only just so thankful that we could export our beautiful bubbles. The whole Graham Beck team says thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for the tremendous support we have experienced during these challenging times.”

Elunda Basson, Cellarmaster at Steenberg Vineyards chimes in with:

Elunda Basson, Steenberg Vineyards

“I’m pleased to report that our 2021 harvest proceeded well. In 2020 we encountered an issue where we had to leave some fruit on the vines as our cellars were full. This was a ‘speed bump’ produced by the first alcohol ban that South Africa instituted; it prevented us from processing the fruit as quickly as we would have liked. This year we did not have to leave any grapes on the vines! Nevertheless, the pandemic still keeps us on our toes. As an example, this year we harvested everything by hand as a result of some Covid supply chain issues. A wonderful change to make though it did require lots of improvising and thinking on the spot!

Looking into the vines this August, this winter is much colder than what we have experienced the past few years, but fortunately not abnormally cold. Rainfall has been above average (about 100mm more than usual) with much more of it falling in June/July than normal (normally spread more evenly). The colder winter currently experienced should give us better budding in Aug/Sept this year. We are also busy replanting about 4 hectares of our historically most famous block, this is one that has given us some of our best Sauvignon Blanc over the years. We are extremely excited for what these news vines will be able to contribute in the future.”

Wine Australia Taps Benson

Benson is excited to announce a U.S. media outreach campaign for new client, Wine Australia.

The wine PR campaign includes communications and media pitching around key messaging for Australian wines, including the creativity and diversity of the Australian scene, elevating the awareness of premium Australian wine in the U.S., and promoting Australian Wine CONNECT.

Australian Wine CONNECT is a dynamic, always-on, virtual platform bringing the global wine community together to build new connections with hundreds of Australian wineries for powerful commercial outcomes. CONNECT is free-to-use for all wine trade wishing to extend their knowledge of, and business reach with Australia. The platform offers business-to-business matching services for retailers, importers, and the on-trade across the globe.

More on Wine Australia
Wine Australia supports a competitive wine sector by investing in research, development, and adoption (RD&A), growing domestic and international markets, and protecting the reputation of Australian wine.
Wine Australia is an Australian Commonwealth Government statutory authority, established under the Wine Australia Act 2013, and funded by grape growers and winemakers through levies and user-pays charges and the Australian Government, which provides matching funding for RD&A investments.

St. George Spirits. PC Alex Zyuzikov

Leaders in their Field: Spotlighting Notable Stories

In this installment we highlight a few of our clients who are leading the way in their areas of the wine and spirits industry. Deserving of the spotlight, these champions are leaders in their respective regions and categories, for their innovative methods, and for their long history in excelling at what they do. Let’s raise a glass to these inspiring stories!

Barton & Guestier – A fixture in French winemaking for three centuries

Leaders not only in Bordeaux, but across France, the Barton & Guestier name is known to millions worldwide. With almost three centuries of experience in winemaking, it is the oldest winehouse of Bordeaux and producer of the first French wines that reached American soil. The brand’s comprehensive portfolio includes a variety of wines from the main French winegrowing regions of Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Rhone Valley, Languedoc, Gascony, and Corsica. Thomas Barton left his native Ireland and emigrated to Bordeaux when he was 30 years old and founded his shipping company in 1725. In 1802, his grandson, Hugh Barton, teamed up with his friend Daniel Guestier, a French shipowner, and Barton & Guestier was born. American president Thomas Jefferson was one of the customers of the company.

Today, the B&G winemaking team works hand in hand with almost 200 wine grower partners to produce the most authentic wines. This close collaboration allows the growers to take advantage of the team’s expertise while nurturing mutual respect and a partnership mentality. Laurent Prada, Chief Winemaker, notes that it is “this strong relationship with our partners [that] greatly helps us create a range of true-to-type French wines which also offer the “cachet” of appealing to the US palate.

Taste this history through the Barton & Guestier AOC Bordeaux Rouge Cuvee Rambaud and AOC Bordeaux Blanc Petite Nancy, SRP $14.99 for each.

Hear Laurent Prada talk about another B&G wine, the Bistro Sauvignon Blanc.

Biltmore Winery – Pioneering North Carolina winemaking and across America

Biltmore Winery is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, N.C. on the grounds of an 8,000-acre estate owned by the descendants of Biltmore’s original founder, George W. Vanderbilt. The ~50 acres of vineyards sit at an altitude between 2,100 and 2,500 feet and are planted to grapes that have proven to do well in the state’s sometimes unpredictable climate. These are Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and some Viognier and Petit Manseng.

Biltmore Winery opened in 1985 and Current Vice President and Head Winemaker Sharon Fenchak joined the Biltmore Wine team in 1999. Today she leads this storied portfolio into the future, maintaining strong partnerships with growers around the U.S. Recognizing that North Carolina is best suited to certain styles, Biltmore has established relationships with growers in other areas of the country to be able to offer a wider selection of the finest varietals and vintages. Regardless of where the grapes are grown, Sharon oversees every step of the winemaking process. In some cases. these wines bear the American Appellation, indicating that the fruit is grown on the west coast but the wine is finished and bottled at Biltmore Winery in Asheville, North Carolina.

Taste Biltmore’s expertise in North Carolina through the Biltmore Reserve Rosé, SRP $25

Here more from Sharon about Biltmore Winery and their sourcing program.

Graham Beck – Cap Classique Champions

Graham Beck is THE leader in Cap Classique wines in the United States, representing 95% of the category. This iconic brand of bottle fermented sparkling wines from South Africa is lauded among the world’s best values. It has been affectionately dubbed the “President’s Choice” — the Brut Non-Vintage was served at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 as well as President Barack Obama’s election night victory party in Chicago in 2008. The internal slogan, “the Graham Beck Way” refers not only to a meticulous attention to the details of grape growing and winemaking, but also to the value it places in putting people and the planet first.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of these beautiful wines, first produced in South Africa in 1971. Graham Beck has been on the forefront of Cap Classique production, leading a pioneering journey to innovate and constantly elevate the craft, consistently producing bottle fermented sparkling wines which rank among the best in the world. Join Cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira and Winemaker Pierre de Klerk as they celebrate 50 golden years of Cap Classique on August 31, 2021 with conversation and tasting. (Watch the YouTube recording of this tasting.)

Taste “the Graham Beck Way” through the Blanc de Blancs 2015, SRP $30

Listen to Pieter Ferreira give a master class on Graham Beck.

Hahn Family Wines — Defining the SLH for 40 years

A quarter century ago, Nicky Hahn had the foresight to rally his neighbors and spearhead the process of creating a defined appellation that could gain recognition from wine lovers and wine professionals alike. In 1991, Santa Lucia Highlands was granted AVA status. Today, Hahn Family Wines vineyards equal more than 650 acres in the SLH, one of the largest shares of planted vines in the region. Hahn Family Wines’ SLH vineyards — Lone Oak, Smith, Doctor’s, and Hook — are planted on a narrow bench at elevations ranging from 200 to 1,200 feet above sea level. Plentiful sun and well-drained soils along with a long and dry growing season result in wines with remarkable depth, complexity and lush fruit flavors.

Santa Lucia Highlands AVAFor Hahn Family Wines, sustainability isn’t a trend or a passing fad. It’s a way of life. Everyone at Hahn Family Wines is committed to the idea that quality winemaking and sustainability go hand-on-hand. In 2008, Hahn Family Wines was one of the first wineries in the area to become certified sustainable under the Sustainability in Practice (or SIP) certification program. SIP’s pilot program required a rigorous three-year process that evaluated sustainability beyond the vineyards. It also ensures certified wineries care for their employees and community by holistically gauging three factors: Environmental Health, Social Equality and Economic Viability. Today, Hahn Estate operates as a 100% solar-powered winery.

Taste Hahn’s leadership in the Santa Lucia Highlands through their coveted Lucienne, small lot, single vineyard expressions of Chardonnay (SRP $40) and Pinot Noir (SRP $50)


Steenberg Vineyards – History of strong, female leadership in Constantia

Recognized as the oldest registered farm in South Africa, and situated in the historic Constantia Valley, Steenberg Vineyards produces some of the best Sauvignon Blanc wines in the country. It is also one of the top South African wine tourism destinations. The Steenberg story starts with its founder, Catharina Ras, who is among the most remarkable figures ever to settle in the western cape. Her personal history includes 5 husbands, most of whom met unfortunate ends; one was trampled by an elephant, one was mauled by a lion, and so forth. Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, this brave young woman persevered and became a landowner, receiving the title deed to the farm in 1682 and turning it into a thriving venture.

Elunda BassonThis history of strong female leadership at Steenberg continues under Cellarmaster Elunda Basson. She joined the team in June 2019 at the pinnacle of a long career, which includes crafting both still and sparkling wines. To complete the triumvirate, both the General Manager and Executive Chef are also women! Tying each woman’s contributions into one experience, Tryn, Steenberg’s signature restaurant brings Catharina’s narrative into the dining experience connecting the founder’s free spirit with fabulous food by Chef Kerry Kilpin, as well as GM Catherine Shulze’s design and management touches and, of course, Elunda Basson’s wines.

Taste Steenberg’s innovation through the Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, a bottle fermented version of this classic variety, SRP $18.

Learn more about the property today and hear Elunda talk about the Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc here.

St. George Spirits – Independent in spirit and in fact

St. George Spirits is a true American original, defining and propelling the art of distillation in the U.S. for the last 40 years. Today, the extensive St. George Spirits portfolio of gins, vodkas, whiskeys, liqueurs, brandies and eaux de vie stands apart for not only its excellence in every category but also its expression of creativity and an uncompromising point of view. The exacting standards and commitment to raw, fresh ingredients established by founder Jörg Rupf in 1982 form the foundations by which the distillery still operates. St. George’s family of spirits has grown over the decades, and the American craft distillation movement has grown with it. The more that the landscape has changed, the more important St. George’s philosophy has become: make amazing spirits, unlike anything else available on the market, with innovation, quality, and integrity.

Passionate about the art of distillation, master distiller Lance Winters and head distiller Dave Smith are dedicated to making the absolute best spirits they can through a process of experimentation, exploration, and discovery. Some experiments become part of the esteemed St. George Spirits portfolio, some find their way onto the shelves of St. George laboratory to inspire the next extraordinary expression, but through it all, Lance and Dave create spirits that are truly unique, unlike anything you will find on the market. “We think of distillation as a conversation. Those before us had something to say, and we want to add something to that conversation, never replicating, always innovating,” says Lance.

Discover St. George’s uncompromising standards in their flagship St. George Pear Brandy (SRP $40) and St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur (SRP $35)

Taste their innovation in Baller Single Malt Whiskey (SRP $50)

Hear more from the distilling team here.

We’ve Made the Holidays Easy With This Gift Guide

Perfect Holiday Gifts

The holiday season is quickly approaching and we’re quite familiar with the struggle to find the perfect gift for everyone. Looking for gifts for the host? We’ve got it. Crowd pleasers and absolute standouts? Of course! Finding gifts for every occasion can be hard, but we’ve made things easier for you.

As you begin looking ahead to the upcoming holiday season, be sure to keep Benson Marketing Group’s portfolio in mind.

Gifts To Bring the Host:

Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay Edna Valley  SRP: $28  Leaders in the Edna Valley since before the AVA’s recognition, today’s Baileyana wines represent the best of truly cool climate viticulture, a rarity in California. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay shine under the careful attention of winemaker Rob Takigawa, who has been making these wines for 20 years. The Acacia Baileyana flower graces the labels and hints at the elegant style of these wines

Chateau Magnol AOC Haut-Medoc Bordeaux SRP $29.99  With almost three centuries of experience in winemaking, Barton & Guestier is the oldest winehouse of Bordeaux and producer of the first French wines that reached American soil. In fact, American president Thomas Jefferson was one of the customers of the company. Its long-standing reputation for making great wines shows in this traditional Bordeaux blend from Chateau Magnol. Will age beautifully with some cellaring as well! 

Sir Real Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles  SRP: $16  Founded in 2004, Chronic Cellars uses the best or “chronic” grapes to make seriously good wine for people who don’t take themselves too seriously. The Sir Real is the most gallant Cabernet Sauvignon of all the land, delivering striking layers of black fruit with a sliver of toasted spice. Unflinching notes of ripe plum and bright cassis lead the way to a rich backbone of harmonious tannin. This wine will make a statement with its beautifully etched label that will stands out amongst the crowd.

True Myth Ryder Cup Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles SRP: $24.99  For all the golf lovers out there, whether active players or spectators, the True Myth Ryder Cup Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon is a partnership between the Professional Golf Association of America (PGA) and Baileyana Winery. Created in Paso Robles, the wine is rich yet smooth and will make everyone feel like a champ. There is also an Edna Valley Chardonnay available for the white wine loving golfer in your life! (SRP $18.99) 

St. George Spirits Gin Collection  SRP: $30   Perfect for stocking stuffers! This collection features the St. George Botanivore, Terroir, and Dry Rye Gins packaged together in 200ml bottles. Perfect for the spirits enthusiast in your life, and as an approachable way to sample three new spirits. These three provide a perfect glimpse of the artistry and expression of the St. George distilling team. 

Bottles That Make a Statement:

Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Orchestral SRP: $90 Celebrating 40 years of winemaking, Hahn Family Wines raises the bar with their coveted SLH Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Carefully crafted in small lots, Hahn SLH wines feature bright aromatics, a rich mouthfeel, intriguing minerality, and balanced acidity. Orchestral is a small production Pinot Noir that reflects the cool climate and well-drained soils of Lone Oak Vineyard. On the nose aromas of spice and earthiness, vibrant red fruit, hints of cherry and cracked black pepper attest to the multi-layered nature of the wine. The structured palate provides a full, round mouthfeel, bright balanced acidity, red cherry flavor and soft tannins on the finish.

Bread & Butter Atlas Peak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon  SRP: $100  Bread & Butter introduces a line of wines from small, beloved micro-regions within the Napa Valley affectionally known as their “Go-To” wines made by veteran winemaker Linda Trotta. Meant to impress, these wines are heavy-hitters that don’t just make a night better, they make the entire night. This collection is available only on the winery’s website or at their new Napa Valley Tasting Room located in the heart of Napa Valley on the famed Silverado Trail. 

Redwood Empire Whiskey SRP $45  Redwood Empire Whiskey has the largest inventory of ageing whiskey in California. For whiskey consumers who are looking for new brands, Redwood Empire stands out from traditional whiskies. Their “forest” includes Pipe Dream, Emerald Giant, and Lost Monarch. Three different and unique takes on bourbon and rye whiskey. If you’re looking for gift for that special someone, look for their Bottled-in-Bond whiskies, Rocket Top and Grizzly Beast that will be released in Fall 2021.

St. George Single Malt Whiskey Lot 21   SRP: $100  For 21 years, St. George Single Malt Whiskey has been an American original, distilled, aged, blended, and bottled out of love for what a handcrafted single malt can be. Various roast levels of two-row barley elicit rich aromas of hazelnut and cocoa. A portion of the unroasted barley is smoked over beech and alder wood to add base notes and additional complexity. A variety of cooperage types contribute an even greater depth of flavor. This is a very limited annual release and is truly unique gift for the whiskey connoisseur.