Posted on | May 2, 2012
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Sonoma’s harvest is worth over $200 million annually, and it yields some of the highest-scoring winesin the country, yet Ben Flajnik feels Sonoma still doesn’t get the respect it deserves. “We have a unique opportunity right now, because of the TV show, to bring the spotlight to Sonoma.”
The TV show that Flajnik refers to—if you weren’t one of the estimated 20 million-plus Americans who watched—is ABC’s The Bachelor, in which Flajnik stars (the show ended in March).
And if harnessing that spotlight involves dozens of bachelorettes clawing each other’s eyes out to win Ben’s love (this season was particularly high-drama), that’s fine with Flajnik and partners Mike Benziger and Danny Fay. “The show was a life experience—I learned a ton and don’t regret it,” says Flajnik.
But those who think that Envolve was created to capitalize on Flajnik’s reality show fame are mistaken: The brand was created four years prior to the show, in 2008, by Flajnik and Benziger (Fay joined a year later), Sonoma natives and childhood friends. “There are some who think this is a gimmick, but once they taste our wines they see we are for real,” says Benziger.
For a start-up, having access to the Benziger family winery didn’t hurt, nor did apprenticing under head winemaker Joe Benziger. For Envolve, Flajnik, Benziger and Fay contract exclusively with Sonoma growers who are farming organically and in many cases biodynamically. (“Envolve” refers to the evolution of farming, and a return to the practices used 100 years ago.) “Getting such high-quality fruit means that we are just the stewards for our wines; our goal is that they express a real sense of place,” says Fay.
In addition to Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, Envolve just unveiled their first rosé made with free-run biodynamically-farmed Syrah. “It’s high-acid and super crisp, like all our wines,” says Benziger. “We’re big fans of Burgundy; our Chardonnay and Pinot are particularly French in style.”
Envolve wines have not automatically been selling like hotcakes since the show went on the air. “The reality is, these wines are expensive,” says Flajnik. “What we have gained is more interest from distributors in new markets.”
The trio recently unveiled Epilogue, a second more accessibly-priced label (with the possibility of ramping up, as opposed to the Envolve brand which will never get larger than 5,000 cases). “With Epilogue we can reach a wider demographic,” says Flajnik. “We want to target the consumer who isn’t drinking $6 White Zinfandel anymore, but still doesn’t want to pay $20 for a bottle.” His motto: “You can know a lot about wine and not be pretentious. And you can know nothing about wine and still really enjoy it.”
Now that Bachelor dust has begun to settle, Flajnik has returned to his life as a winemaker. Immediate plans for all three partners include being on the road developing new markets, and connecting with millennial consumers through a well-developed social media platform—“young consumers today are willing to spend more money on wine and they’re more likely to grab wine than a Bud Light,” Benziger believes—and continuing to promote Sonoma.
“We’re not tech billionaires who built a showcase winery in Napa; we are making wine in the place we grew up and we’re thrilled to be part of the positive things happening here,” Flajnik says.