A Beginning in Napa
Benton-Lane Winery founders Steve and Carol Girard grew up in California’s Bay Area, both raised by parents who loved wine. Steve and Carol are high school sweethearts and shared their passion for wine, even while Steve served in the U.S. Navy. Steve and Carol later began their journey as a married couple in Napa Valley where they learned how to care for vineyards, make fine wine and founded their first winery, Girard Winery together. Girard Winery produced sought-after wines that were enjoyed at state dinners and taken by presidents to heads of state as gifts. Julia Child even selected the winery for one of her events.
Falling in Love with Pinot Noir
It was Carol who first fell for the amazing Pinot Noir grape. She would tempt Steve with tastes of early Oregon Pinots when they attended tastings. As Carol says, “Pinot Noir is a varietal that can get under your skin. It can seduce you.” Steve soon fell for Pinot Noir as well, but the couple realized that their home state California was not the best place to produce the thin-skinned grape. This began their journey to find the perfect location for a Pinot Noir vineyard. They spent five years searching the planet including France, the central California coast and even Tasmania.
Steve and Carol tirelessly studied temperatures, wind, sun strength, degree days and soils and finally decided on a 12-mile-long area on the foothills of the Willamette Valley Coast Range. This is where they discovered Sunnymount Ranch, an old sheep ranch near the village of Monroe. Sunnymount Ranch had gotten its name over 100 years ago due to Prairie Peak to the west that protected the ranch from winter storms. This mountain carves the rain clouds, sending them north and south while the ranch bathes in sun. Old-time pilots called this place “the keyhole” because they knew it was usually sunny there.
The land sloped gently to the east so potential vines could catch the morning sun. The ranch was above the valley fog but below the windy hilltops. It was rich with volcanic Jory soil, high in organic content. And it was located in the southern Willamette Valley where milder weather allowed earlier ripening and more consistent high quality for grapevines. It immediately became apparent that this sheep ranch was placed on the planet for but one purpose–to produce the best Pinot Noir. Sunnymount Ranch straddled the border between Benton and Lane counties and thus the name Benton-Lane was born.
Building Benton-Lane Winery
Steve and Carol purchased the 1,860-acre property in 1988 and planting of Pinot Noir commenced the next year. Steve and Carol’s first Benton-Lane wine was produced in 1991, which their friends and family helped consume. Benton-Lane’s first vintage was 1992 which was custom produced at another local winery. This custom production process continued until 1997 when Benton-Lane Winery’s construction was completed. Designed by award-winning architect Rob Thallon, Benton-Lane Winery offered an exceptional, functional winemaking environment while fitting harmoniously into the agricultural character of the surrounding area.
Over the years, the vineyard has grown to 142 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. The wines are now distributed in all fifty states and several international markets including Canada, Puerto Rico, China, and Japan. These wines are made from 100% estate-grown grapes. Why is this important? Because Benton-Lane does expensive, labor-intensive practices in the vineyard that folks selling grapes won’t do. These practices are the edge that makes Benton-Lane wines exceptional. These practices are why, since 2005, Benton-Lane has received more Top 100 Wines of the Year for still wines than any other Oregon winery.