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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Imagery Winery: A Parthenon of rare wines and expressive art

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Imagery: The use of expressive or evocative images in art, literature, or music...or wine?  

Imagery Winery’s name evokes the unique expression of the art and wine it cultivates. Joe Benziger, of the famed Benziger Winery family, intended Imagery Winery to be contrary to the mainstream wineries offering popular varietals.  Joe, who grew up drinking traditional varietals Cabernet and Merlot, claims that the first uncommon varietal he tasted left such a lasting impression it led him to alight on his own and found Imagery in Sonoma Valley, Benziger Winery’s little sister.  Imagery was founded in 2000 and produces about 1/10th the production of Benziger (between 12,000 and 14,000 cases per year) all exclusively sold through the tasting room and wine club.  The winery’s credo embodies a fearless approach to shining the spotlight on grape varietals that are usually absorbed into blends.  As such, Imagery’s winemaking focuses on esoteric wine varietals, such as Lagrein, Mourvedre, Primitivo, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Albarino.  There is high energy at the winery and a modus operandi to take risks, have fun, and experiment.  

There is something at Imagery for everyone, starting at the tasting room. For fans of the more traditional wines, Imagery has a beautiful Bordeaux Blend from the varietals grown right on the winery’s Glen Ellen Estate.  Imagery’s Cabernet, Merlot and Bordeaux blends, are first class in quality – in fact, The Pallas Merlot from the Estate wine collection won Best in Class from San Francisco Chronicle’s wine competition in 2011.  For the more adventurous, Imagery offers 33 different varietals of wine to taste - which could make for a long afternoon.  Fortunately, the tasting room overlooks beautiful grounds and offers a wonderful assortment of bites - more on that in a moment.  The wines are sourced almost exclusively from Sonoma vineyards, save for one vineyard in Paso Robles and one in Lake County.  All of Imagery’s wines do have one thing in common, they’re made from grapes exclusively sourced from organic and sustainably produced vineyards, so you can feel earth friendly while imbibing!
The creativity at Imagery doesn’t end with what’s inside the bottle, in fact, one of the more interesting  interesting features appears outside of the bottle - each label is custom designed by an artist, some local and others from around the world.  All but two vintages and specific varietals receive a new label design annually.  The idea behind this approach is that each person’s response to art is different, similar to each person’s response to wine.  Art for the labels is “commissioned” by Bob Nugent, Imagery’s Art Director.  Why the quotes around “commissioned,” because they’re paid with five cases of the specific wine which features their art as its label.  Bob receives approximately 300 portfolios submissions, from which he must select the top artist to commission the custom art to be showcased on Imagery’s labels.  The artists have creative freedom - with one catch, they must incorporate the Parthenon somewhere in the design (this is the Benziger emblem).  

Once all the art has been submitted, Bob and Joe together review the finished commissioned art and determine which piece of art piece will adorn each bottle. Though each label is open to subjective interpretation, there is typically an annual favorite. According to my host, Alec Hodgdon, 2013’s most popular bottle was Code Blue, a unique wine that blends in 20% fermented blueberry juice into the wine and whose label features a coi fish blowing bubbles made of blueberries. With less than 250 cases produced, it provides even more incentive to rush over to Imagery for a taste of this unique wine! There are currently 250 artists in Imagery’s collection and many of the original works are displayed around the winery.  The two labels that remain consistent year over year are Imagery’s Estate wines, traditional Bordeaux blends, that have labels featuring the Parthenon.   
Imagery winery is a beautiful destination to visit, close to central Sonoma, and a uniquely satisfying experience for people of all backgrounds seeking a range of experiences. Approaching the wine tasting room, there is a lovely outdoor patio and lawn with picnic tables, bocce courts and a horseshoe pit. When we arrived, families, couples, and groups of friends were picnicking with bottles of chilled white wine and cheese, and children were playing on the expansive lawn.  A beautiful kinetic sculpture beckons to the tasting room which is bustling with a four-sided tasting bar, where the jovial staff will gladly taste you through all the featured wines – warning, this can take a while! recall the 33 varieties.  

The tasting bar is framed - no pun intended - by works of art which have been previously featured on Imagery wine bottles. Take a glass of wine and stroll through the two galleries or even visit the charcuterie fridge or the wood-fired oven out on the back patio where pizzas are made to order!  

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