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Bruno Benziger, Founder of Glen Ellen Winery, Dies

Times Wine Writer

Bruno Benziger, founder of the hugely successful Glen Ellen Winery in this Sonoma County town, died in his sleep of a heart attack Monday, a winery spokeswoman said.

Benziger, who founded Glen Ellen near the old Jack London Ranch in the Valley of the Moon, had been suffering heart problems but recently appeared to be in better health and was back operating the winery.

Benziger, who was 65, came to California in 1979 after a long and successful career as a wine and spirits importer and wholesaler in New York with Park Benziger Inc. The first Glen Ellen wines were premium varietals off the family’s 85-acre ranch, but by 1985 the winery was making 380,000 cases of wine using the Proprietors’ Reserve designation.

When Benziger started the winery, he found the state awash in a huge surplus of the product and developed his own special category of “fighting varietals.”

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These came to include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. They sold for under $5 and proved an immediate success. The winery this year is expected to sell more than 3 million cases of wine, up from 2.4 million in 1988.

While in New York, Benziger was also credited with being the first to import Scotch whisky by the barrel and bottle it in this country, which made for lower excise taxes.


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