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 a variety of occasions. 

Pieter Ferreira – Graham Beck  

An expert in crafting South Africa’s iconic Méthode 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 Pinor 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.” 


Positive on Paso: Why you should be looking at Paso Robles for Cabernet Sauvignon

Positive on Paso: Why You Should Look to Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

Cab is still ‘king’ in the U.S. wine market, but 2020 has shown it’s time to start looking at the areas these wines come from differently. According to Sovos ShipCompliant data, Cabernet is still the most ordered varietal, but the price per bottle is dropping.

And why is that?

COVID-19 lockdowns drove many people to buy online, and many of those buyers were in the Gen X and Millennial generations, an important demographic for the present and future of the wine industry. Looking for good value in the bottle, they migrated towards Cabernet’s NOT from pricey areas like Napa Valley.

Enter Paso Robles.

This region has long been known as a region that delivers all of the fruit and structure wanted in a Cab for more approachable prices. These are wines to enjoyed with family and friends at any time and not stored away for special occasions. But don’t take our word for it. Explore these Paso Robles clients, their winemakers and wines with our webinar, “BensonLive Presents: Positive on Paso Cab,” an interview with four winemakers taped June 24, 2021, located here on our YouTube channel.

Clockwise from top left: Kip Lorenzetti, Anthony Riboli, Roy Takigawa, Megan McCollough

Megan McCollough, Smith & Hook, Hahn Family Wines
Megan McCollough, Smith & Hook Winemaker, leads Hahn Family Wines’ Central Coast red wines that pay homage to the Hahn family’s first Monterey County properties. With nearly a decade of winemaking experiences under her belt, McCollough is setting an example for other young winemakers in California. Try one of her latest wines from Paso Robles: Smith & Hook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, SRP $45

Kip Lorenzetti, Chronic Cellars
Kip Lorenzetti’s winemaking career has taken him around the world, but he has called Paso Robles home for more than five years. Prior to Chronic Cellars, he was the winemaker at Wild Horse Winery & Vineyard, a pioneer in the Paso Robles area. It is the mission of Chronic Cellars to bring the nuances of the 11 different sub-AVAs in Paso into its wines. Good wine is in the winery’s bones.
Check out something noble with Chronic Cellars Sir Real Cabernet Sauvignon, SRP $15

Rob Takigawa, True Myth
Rob has been making wine in SLO County for over 20 years. Each vintage has furthered his knowledge of growing and making excellent wine in Paso Robles. A native of the Central Coast, Rob is a graduate of Cal Poly with a Soil Science Degree. After first understanding the science side of wine, Rob was inspired to get his hands dirty and ventured into the in winemaking side in 1997. From there he has never looked back. Taste his experience in Paso through the latest vintage of True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon, SRP $24

Anthony Riboli, Highlands 41, Riboli Estates Group
Fourth generation family winemaker Anthony Riboli received his M.S. in Viticulture from the University of California, Davis. Since apprenticing under Michael Weis at Groth in Napa Valley, he has lead winemaking and grape growing for the California portfolio at Riboli Family Wines. Anthony’s foremost goal has been a meticulous focus in the vineyards as well as winemaking at Riboli Family’s state-of-the-art facility in Paso Robles. Start your Paso Robles adventure here: Highlands 41 Cabernet Sauvignon, SRP $15

Contact Thea Schlendorf at to connect with these winemakers and their wines.

Edna Valley Vineyards of Baileyana Winery

Why Cool Climate Edna Valley is Hot

Five things to know about Edna Valley AVA.


The Coolest AVA Around.  Sitting just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean and Morro Bay, Edna Valley is the single coolest AVA in California, as cited in a study from the University of Southern Oregon. This rare transverse valley funnels fog from three entry points keeping the valley particularly cool creating a long growing season. Additionally, the Morro Rock sits at the mouth of the valley. A deep, underwater ravine right off the coast creates a large mass of cool water that feeds afternoon winds and fog that settles in overnight.

Longest Growing Season

Perhaps the longest growing season in the state. Budbreak can occur as early as February and harvest lasting into November. Long, cool growing season = ultimate ripeness of fruit, while maintaining refreshing acidity levels.

Cool Climate Varieties Star

Chardonnay is the leading variety planted in the Edna Valley AVA followed by Pinot Noir. The Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay at $20 showcases the region’s famous style – fruit forward wines balanced by a backbone of acidity.

Baileyana Wines

From Chick Peas to Chardonnay

The modern era of grape growing in Edna Valley started in 1973 when the region was better known for its garbanzo beans than its Chardonnays. The AVA was recognized in 1982. Baileyana Winery’s founder Jack Niven came to the valley in the early 70s. With input from both UC Davis and Fresno State Universities, he began planting wine grapes in 1973. Jack Niven was also instrumental in the Edna Valley becoming officially recognized as an AVA.

Small but Mighty

The AVA is home to less than two dozen wineries, including client Baileyana Winery. 25,000 acres are planted in total within the AVA. (For context, there are approximately 637,000 acres under vine throughout California according to the Wine Institute – 2018. Napa Valley, another small AVA, has 46,000 acres planted to vines).


The San Luis Obispo region, as a whole, is a favorite with filmmakers. The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, for example, were used in the 2007 Pirates of the Caribbean installment

Expert Source: John H. Niven, Baileyana Brand Ambassador. John H. Niven, grandson of the late Baileyana founders, has lived and breathed Edna Valley wines for the last 20 years.

panoramic view of Santa Lucia Highlands

5 Things to Know About the Santa Lucia Highlands

The Santa Lucia Highlands flies under the radar for many wine lovers, but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay enthusiasts know to look to this region for remarkably consistent wines. Here are five more facts to get you oriented to Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) AVA.

  • Cool Climate Varieties Dominate: The SLH AVA is comprised of 6,400 planted acres, with a majority being Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is worth noting that the appellation stretches roughly 18-miles long, two miles wide, and 22,000 total acres, much of it unplantable mountainside.
  • The Pioneers: In 1973, the first commercial plantings began with early pioneers, such as Hahn Family Wines founder, Nicky Hahn, established the first quality, modern-era vineyards. In 1991, compelled by the application submitted by pioneers like, Mr. Hahn, the SLH was officially recognized as an American Viticulture Area.
  • Cool+Dry+Wind = Loooong Growing Season: It’s not atypical for a Santa Lucia Highland growing season to stretch from February through November.
  • More about that Wind: A defining feature of the region, strong daily 5-25 mph winds off Monterey Bay are key factor in long “hang time” and phenolic ripeness – winds diminish photosynthesis early in the day, extending the growing season.
  • Location, location, location: Located in Monterey County adjacent to the famed Salinas Valley, the eastern facing vineyards of the SLH stretch between 50’ and 1,650’ above sea level.

Expert Source: Paul Clifton, Director of Winemaking for Hahn Family Wines, has spent a career understanding the wind, sun and soils of the Santa Lucia Highlands.  If you’re looking for more information regarding the SLH or about Hahn Family Wines for any upcoming features please contact Alex Parker at to schedule an interview.

Paul Clifton beside wine barrels
Paul Clifton, Director of Winemaking for Hahn Family Wines

5 Fun Facts about Wine Direct Shipping

Here are five fun facts about winery DTC shipments, and some resources for stories on wine direct shipping.

Wineries Everywhere!

Over the past three decades, the number of U.S. wineries has increased five fold to more than 10,000. There’s one in every U.S. state!

What drives the DTC Issue?

Consumer choice. America’s wineries produce more than 100,000 new labels each vintage, more than any wholesaler or retailer could stock. It’s all about consumer choice, not, as many believe, the rise of e-commerce although that has certainly contributed.

Why do so few states allow for retailer DTC Shipments?

Over the years, wineries cooperated and supported a common “model” direct shipment bill. Additionally, many powerful local retailers oppose DTC shipping. Read our blog post

What is a “Capacity Cap?

Some states have implemented arbitrary rules banning shipments from wine companies producing, in aggregate, more than 250k gallons, about 106k cases, each vintage. This reduces consumer choice since more than 90% of U.S. total wine production is from wineries and companies producing in excess of the capacity cap. As of September 2020, two states continue the ban (NJ, OH), while others have repealed them (MA, OH).

How Many Legal States are There?

Free the Grapes! has worked with industry lobbyists, regional associations, and the Coalition for Free Trade’s legal team to streamline onerous regulations and to increase the number of legal states from 17 to 45 as of September 2020. Kentucky is expected to be number 46 by year end. (CFT “retired” in 2014 after achieving its goals. And that’s a fun fact: how many wine industry associations have shut down upon success?).

What Does Free the Grapes! Do, Anyway?

Free the Grapes! is a client of Benson Marketing Group, hired by the industry way back in 1998 to run this campaign. The coalition advocates for augmenting, not replacing, the three-tier system with limited, regulated direct-to-consumer shipments.

Free the Grapes! focuses on two strategies:

First, the coalition engages consumers to actively advocate for DTC bills that support wineries, consumer choice and meet the needs of state regulators and tax collectors. Second, Free the Grapes! keeps the issue alive in the media, especially in states with pending legislation.

Free the Grapes! was founded by five wine industry associations which together represent thousands of U.S wineries. A 501c(6) non-profit California trade association, Free the Grapes’ operations are funded exclusively by contributions from wineries and net income from the Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium, an annual conference.

Expert Sources and Resources