Hundreds of Metro Detroit fans stood in lines last week to get a look at Ben Flajnik, aka “The Bachelor” on ABC’s Monday night reality show, and to get a taste of his wine.
Little did they know they would also get to meet his best friend and business partner, Mike Benziger, of the highly regarded Sonoma County wine family.
Flajnik and Benziger, boyhood friends since the sixth-grade, and Danny Fay (who came along in seventh-grade) produce the line called Envolve, running $20-$40 a bottle, and Epilogue in the $15 range. Production has been limited, but now they are debuting the wines around the country, and Detroit was the pair’s first official market visit.
At local bottle signings at select Kroger stores and Hollywood Market, they were treated like rock stars with fans shooting pictures of them with cellphones. To meet them, you had to buy a bottle, and they sold 500 cases in three days.
“I’m the happiest when somebody says, ‘Gentlemen, you make great wine,’ and never say the word ‘Bachelor,’” said Flajnik (pronounced “Flannick”) when the two stopped by The News.
And if the wine passion they displayed in Detroit is any sign of their seriousness as winemakers, they have a future.
“Friendship, Sonoma and organic — that’s what we’re all about,” Benziger said. All their wines are produced sustainably, certified organic or biodynamic by small family growers in Sonoma County. “It makes a difference; it gives the wines a sense of place,” Flajnik says.
The three partners are 29 and bachelors, and Benziger and Flajnik grew up together in Sonoma and soaked up all their wine savvy doing every menial chore there was at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, Calif., which by the way is on the ground floor of promoting healthy vineyards by sustainable, organic and biodynamic means.
The Envolve wines (the brand started out as Evolve) are produced at Benziger in a space they lease; they have their own contracts with growers. It’s all their baby.
“We want to be the next generation of winemakers,” Flajnik said.
Explains Benziger: “Ben and I are in the vineyard and cellar. We are the dreamers. Danny is the numbers guy.
“We have no formal winemaking studies. We learned it all at the winery (Benziger). Uncle Joe (Benziger) is our mentor.”
And they seem to have learned well. Wine Enthusiast gave the 2010 Evolve Pinot Noir 90 points; there are 14 cases allotted to Michigan. The San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition awarded their 2010 Envolve Sauvignon Blanc a gold medal. And the local division wine steward at Kroger, Karen Bloomer, loves them. “They make very good wines,” she said this week.
And speaking of love, I had to ask The Bachelor one last question: “Ben: Is Courtney really the one?”
His lips were sealed.
The finale airs at 8 p.m. Monday on WXYZ-TV (Channel 7).
The wines are available at Kroger stores that have wine stewards: Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Troy, Grosse Pointe, Grand Blanc, Grosse Isle, Ann Arbor, Novi, Oakland Township, and New Baltimore.
Also Hollywood Market will carry them.
‘The Bachelor’ wines
The brands are named Envolve (or Evolve) and Epilogue. They are in limited distribution. The wholesaler is National Wine & Spirits. Kroger still has autographed bottles to sell and has restocked displays; Hollywood Market is taking names of people who want them. Here’s a taste:
Envolve Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley 2011, $22.49: This is pure Sonoma in style: grassy, grapefruit, gooseberry, with lime and green herbs. It’s made in the French style — very dry, tart and crisp.
Evolve Pinot Noir Russian River 2010, $36.49: It’s a storm of cherry, raspberry, blackberry and vanilla; tightly woven, very young and has the right stuff to age. It comes off a nine-acre family-owned vineyard on the southern edge of the Russian River Valley. It has Burgundian backbone.