“There is nothing permanent except change,” – Heraclitus
The rumors have been traveling the Sonoma circuit for months now – Envolve Winery was bought by the Stewart Family – the folks who own Madrone Estate Winery (formally Valley of the Moon), Lake Sonoma Winery and the British Columbia-based winery, Quail’s Gate.
Envolve has been a long-time favorite with locals, who have enjoyed the laidback atmosphere, and good, quality, affordable wines for purchase.
The small winery went through many changes over the years. Started by childhood friends, Mike Benziger and Ben “the bachelor” Flajnik in 2008, eventually a third childhood friend, Danny Fay joined the business as winemaker.
Like any business, friendships evolve and Flajnik left the winery, with Kate Benziger and Chris Benziger taking larger leadership roles and becoming co-owners with their brother, and Danny Fay serving as winemaker. It could only be up and up from here – a true family business, that supports local charities with wine sales and gives locals and tourists alike a great place to visit.
Months ago, we toasted Envolve Winery for the next step they were taking to grow – relocating to a new tasting room space in downtown Sonoma and creating another great place to not only taste and buy wine, but to hang out and socialize.
We found out who would take over Envolve’s Vine Alley tasting room: Sonoma Loeb, owned by Chappellet Vineyard, would take over the space in January and Envolve would take over their new tasting location on the other side of the Square.
Just as quickly as we were toasting the “next phase,” we were raising eyebrows: the folks who recently bought Valley of the Moon Winery, transforming it into Madrone Estate Winery, swooped in and purchased Envolve.
The new tasting room has opened Envolve is being sold alongside Lake Sonoma wines. Envolve’s staff was offered jobs at the tasting room, so we’ll see Envolve’s tasting room manager Hannah Moll’s smiling face as we ask for a pour of the famed “patio pounder” Sauvignon Blanc.
Danny Fay is out as winemaker. He’ll focus on his own projects, including consulting for Corner 103. His wines are still available up to the 2014 vintage at Envolve.
Winemaking duties for Envolve will be taken over by Kat Adams, winemaker for Lake Sonoma. She’s been working with the label since 2006.
Press releases tout this as a merger of two families. However, anyone who knows about sale of the Benizger Family Winery knows two things: they sold that winery to a mega corporation and while the family is still involved in the winery, for locals, it will never be the same.
Envolve Winery was a new hope for locals who love supporting local families, and admire the blood, sweat, and tears that our friends put into making and selling quality local wine. And the Benziger kids were involved – investing their time and energy into their own winery, just like their parents did back in the day.
It is always weird when a new kid comes into town, buys up a bunch of local wineries, and says “we love this place like you do.”
Tourism is a key component to Sonoma Valley’s economic success, yet, residents are also strangely xenophobic when it comes to “new faces” showing up and throwing down money and purchasing labels and names and products we have come to call our own.
For example, many Sonomans got huffy when the eccentric Jean-Charles Boisset moved into town and bought Buena Vista Winery. We eventually calmed down and let him work his magic – he resurrected the old winery from near death and brought it back to its glory.
We can’t gauge what it will be like until we actually walk into that new tasting room, try the wines, have the experience, and see what happens, right?
Remember Sonoma Valley: a huge portion of us are not born Sonomans – we moved here for work, for love, for life and for Wine Country. We were all outsiders once.
If you have seen what the Stewart family has done for Valley of the Moon, now Madrone Estate Winery, you’d be impressed. The building has been renovated, the heritage of the space is being celebrated, and they’re making it as local as possible – inviting local musicians to perform onsite, serving local foods, and focusing on making quality estate produced wines.
Heck, a little birdie told me Lake Sonoma owner Tyler Galts got down and dirty painting the walls of the new tasting room with the staff this past weekend. That is a good sign.
So, let’s bite our lips, let’s toast to the Benzigers and Danny Fay for what they’ve brought us with Envolve, and let’s give a warm greeting to the Stewart Family, Galts, and Lake Sonoma.
The new tasting room is open now at 134 Church St., Sonoma.