Chris Dearden grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, with farming
and agriculture in his blood. Soon after graduating from UC Davis
with a degree in enology, he assumed his first winemaking post in
the Napa Valley at William Hill Winery.
Not satisfied with knowing only the enological aspects of the
wine business, Dearden returned to school, attending the Haas
School of Business at UC Berkeley, where he received his Master’s
Degree in business administration. Currently, all of Dearden’s
passion for the wine “business” — not just the winemaking and
viticultural aspects of operating a winery, but also the
administrative facets that are vital to the successful operation of
a winery — is focused on his role as winemaker and general manager
at Benessere Vineyards in the Napa Valley.
Benessere, Italian for “well-being” or “prosperity,” is a
lovely, quaint little winery set back off of the congested Highway
29 corridor in St. Helena, California. “Just off the 29,” as locals
say, the more adventurous visitor will find Big Tree Road, the
proverbial tree-lined country road upon which Benessere is located.
A peaceful, idyllic tableau of California oak trees and rolling
vineyards, this road is everything wine country brochures often
promise but rarely deliver — an authentic “getaway” for true
At Benessere Vineyards since 1995, Dearden has, during the past
decade, created a portfolio of Italian-style wines that have
steadily gained critical acclaim and an increasing popularity
amongst die-hard Italian-style wine fans. His approach to
winemaking is measured and vineyard-centric. His wines are never
heavy-handed or overly wrought. Instead, they are representative of
the vineyards that Dearden manages and cares for. The Benessere
Vineyard is comprised of 34 acres, and flanks the picturesque Napa
River. The soil composition there includes clay-loam with gravelly
bands — the perfect type of soil for sangiovese. Dearden has hired
famed Italian winemaking consultant, Alberto Antonini, to assist
him in his quest to continually improve upon his already wonderful
selection of wines. Antonini has also consulted for Frescobaldi and
Piero Antinori in Italy, and Seghesio in the Napa Valley. My
favorite offering from Benessere Vineyards is the 2003 Benessere
Phenomenon, a Super-Tuscan style blend, comprised of sangiovese,
cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and merlot. This is not a wine for the
faint-hearted. Though it has great structure, a long, bold finish,
and layers upon layers of flavor, it is never tiresome to drink.
This is due to Dearden’s love affair with well-balanced wines. The
Phenomenon begs to be enjoyed by wine lovers who are not in a rush.
During a period of about two hours, it revealed, at turns, notes of
bacon fat, eucalyptus, violets, kir, and leather. It is simply
A visit to the Benessere Vineyard Web site is a must for anyone
planning to stop by. Not only are directions to the winery vital,
but a general overview of the wines it offers for tasting is
helpful to the serious wine lover who wants to make the most of
their visit to this first-rate producer. Visit www.benesserevineyards.com. 2003 Benessere Napa
Valley Sangiovese ($30)
A lovely, hallmark sangiovese with ample notes of backyard plum
and crème brûlée on the nose. Never too overpowering, this
sangiovese manages to be fruit-forward and exciting without ever
being cloying. Perfect with aged cheeses, a fresh loaf of sourdough
bread, and a picnic blanket.
2004 Pinot Grigio ($22) I love this wine. It
has an attractive green apple and ripe pear nose, with a great acid
note that literally dances on the palate. It pairs well not only
with sharp cheeses, but also with Hog Island Oysters, or other,
briny oysters from the Pacific Northwest.
2005 Rosato de Sangiovese ($12) This sangiovese
rosato deserves a mild chill, a leisurely afternoon, and a
wide-mouthed wine glass that can do justice to its heady,
suggestive nose. Look for hints of watermelon, white peaches, and
strawberries. Bone dry and well-structured, this is a rosato for
serious rosé lovers.