Often it’s the people you meet on wine trips that you remember just as much as the wine. This was certainly the case with Brian Benson Cellars.
Since second generation winemaker Brian Benson is the only employee at his winery, there is a very good chance he’ll be the one pouring for you at his tasting room. And this was exactly the case when we walked in on a recent Saturday.
We had the tasting room to ourselves and Brian was indeed behind the counter. He is young (probably around 28 or 29 now), laid back, extremely knowledgable, and is already producing great wine using grapes from some of the most respected vineyards in the area, including Denner and Glenrose.
Brian Benson got into the wine industry early. Having spent a great deal of his youth hanging out in his grandparent’s vineyard and later his father’s winery, Brian started to learn about the winemaking process and business before he was out of elementary school. Starting in 1995, when Brian’s father Norm Benson bought 10 acres in Westside Paso Robles, Brian worked part-time on the weekends learning the ins and outs of the business. And in 1997, at the ripe age of twelve, made his first wine – a Cabernet.
In October of 2000 Brian became the full-time assistant winemaker for his father at Dark Star Cellars. With just Brian and his father working at the winery, Brian got a priceless crash course in all aspects of the wine business. In 2001, at age 19, Brian decided he wanted to start making his own wines. Starting with a little less than $2000, Brian worked deals with local Paso Robles growers and made his first commercial vintage, a Cabernet and a Zinfandel, totaling 147 Cases.
Nearly 10 years later, Brian has increased his production, designed an incredible label that pays homage to 2 very important people in his life who are no longer with him but who greatly influenced his decision to start his own label – his grandfather and one of his closest friends, moved his production operation to the new state-of-the-art gravity winery at Denner Vineyards, and opened his own tasting room right next door to Dark Star Cellars.
A serious hot rod and custom car fan, Brian has also partnered with world-famous pin striper Doug Dorr. Each year, Brian will build a custom car or hot rod and create a special custom blended wine and bottle to match the design of the vehicle. These limited edition wines – called the Brian Benson Cellars Kustom Series – allow Brian to bring his dream of combining two of his greatest passions to reality.
So back to our visit…
We spent over an hour at Brian Benson Cellars tasting his most recent releases (no whites) which included Kandy Red, an ’07 Cabernet, a series of 3 different vintages of Denner Vineyard Syrah (’05, ’06, ’07), an ’07 Glenrose Vineyard Syrah, and an ’07 S & M (67% Syrah, 33% Mourvedre) which Robert Parker rated 91 points. I couldn’t help but walk away with a couple bottles of Kandy Red in their unique pinstriped bottles. I still can’t decide if I want to drink them or just collect them.
While we tasted the fantastic wines, we also had great conversation with Brian about how he got into wine, about his passion for old hot rods, about his family, about why he loves Paso Robles and about which other wineries he recommends in the area. He had fun stories to tell about many of his fellow wine makers in the area – many of which seemed to be personal friends of his. I got such a sense of his love of winemaking and his pride in being part of the Paso Robles winemaking community.
I felt like we walked away with not only some great bottles of wine, but with a new friend in the area. Stop by and say hello to Brian next time you’re in town. You’ll be glad you did…
BRIAN BENSON CELLARS
2985 Anderson Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 296-9463
Tasting room hours: 10:30AM – 5PM Friday through Sunday