The conclusion of Ben Flajnik's stint on the 16th season of ABC's "reality" television series The Bachelor hasn't stopped the rumors from flying. Down the street, I'm told that unruly bachelorette parties crowd Envolve Winery's tasting room on weekends, mad to see Ben. "But I think he's actually been there one or two times," or so goes the rumor.
Envolve anchors a warren of shops off Sonoma Plaza that's lately become an all-wine gauntlet. Attractive young women slink in and out of the place. A pair of dudes drop in, taste, network and fly out within five minutes. A wide-screen television blares in the back room. It could almost be the hopped-up, TV-stoked reality winery of one's imagination. But then, behind the bar, here's Ben Flajnik.
As seen on TV, he's got sleepy-eyed, suntanned good looks and sports longish, 1970s heartthrob hair. But he perks up when the subject is wine; he's almost as busy living down his televised persona as he is building up his brand, 100 hours a week, which he cofounded with childhood friends Mike Benziger and Danny Fay. Flajnik says he doesn't get much flak around town about the show, in which he traveled the world while breaking hearts and cracking coconuts. "People don't really bring it up," he says. "It's a story, and that story's done. We never said, 'Come to Envolve Winery.' We said, 'Come to Sonoma.'"
An unscripted scene unfolds when the erstwhile celebrity jumps around the bar to retrieve a bottle of Pinot Noir, followed by the eyes of several women. "Is that him?" they consult. Sniffing the wine, Flajnik frankly admits it's a bit off; maybe suffering from Brett. A less earnest wine booster might have tried to pass that off as "the terroir." "We're not claiming to be almighty winemakers by any means," Flajnik says. "We've got a long way to go." Humble is a wise hat for these twenty-somethings to don, having zoomed from zero to 20,000 cases in five years. But do they themselves make the wine? "Mike and I are punching down," Flajnik affirms.
Envolve is committed to organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines. The first wine they made is still being poured at the bar, a warm and rich 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($39.99), while the crisp, slightly sweet, broadly appealing Epilogue 2011 California Sauvignon Blanc ($13.99) is their bread-and-butter. Step up to the Envolve 2011 Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) for a more zippy, New Zealand–style quaff. A tasting room favorite, the Envolve 2011 Sonoma Mountain Rosé ($24.99) is sweetly balanced with watermelon and strawberry flavors. "Girls scream over the rosé," says Flajnik.
Envolve Winery, 27 East Napa St., Ste. A, Sonoma. Open daily, 11am–6pm. Tasting fees, $5–$15. 707.939.5385.