Reality TV star ‘Envolved’ in wine promo
It seems more and more celebrities and sports stars are attaching themselves to the wine industry. Even here in Northern Michigan, Madonna partnered with her father to release a series of wines at the Ciccone Winery on the Leelanau Peninsula. Now, the star of the most recent The Bachelor (and runner up on The Bachelorette) Ben Flajnik has joined those ranks.
But in reality, this reality TV star was in the wine business long before he considered show business. In fact Flajnik and his business partner Mike Benziger launched Envolve Winery in 2008. In reality it was Benziger who was the celebrity, not Flajnik, at the time the winery opened. Benziger is part of one of the most famous wine families in California.
The two will travel to Northern Michigan early next week to release their wines to the region. On Monday, June 25 they will host a winemakers dinner with the culinary team at Arcadia Bluffs. Then Tuesday, June 26 they will do a bottle signing at Meijer in Traverse City from 10 am to noon before traveling to Petoskey to sign bottles at Glen’s Market from 2 to 4 pm.
LONG TIME IN WINE
Benziger and Flajnik have been friends since childhood, growing up in Sonoma County and both worked in the wine business through high school.
“I have been involved with winemaking since I was in diapers, working for my family right through high school,” said Benziger. “I did everything, from pounding posts to cleaning toilets to working in the tasting room. Ben also worked for my family.”
But Benziger tired of the wine business and was a star high school basketball player who was receiving recruiting offers all over the country.
“When I was in high school I wanted to get as far away from the business as possible and ended up getting a college basketball scholarship in New York,” said Benziger. “I was in New York for four years and didn’t have any involvement with the family business; but when I turned 21, I started to enjoy good wine and food with friends and got bit by the wine bug.”
After graduating from college Benziger returned home and went back to work for his family. He joined the winemaking team and eventually worked in sales before he decided it was time to leave the family business again.
“In 2008 I kind of got tired of my dad telling me what to do and decided to spread my wings,” laughs Benziger. “Ben has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and was a homebrewer and made his own wines. I had been thinking about starting my own label for awhile. Ben and I became roommates in 2007 and one day while sitting on a San Francisco rooftop drinking Sauvignon Blanc we decided to go for it.”
Figuring wine was in their blood, growing up in Sonoma and having a lot of resources in the industry, they launched Envolve Winery in 2008 with 350 cases.
“It was basically a side project. We both still had our day jobs,” said Benziger. “That first vintage sold out so we looked at each other and said we can do this. So we quit our jobs and made it happen. Now we are on our fifth harvest and up to 20,000 cases annually.
In addition to the Envolve label which produces premium single vineyard wines, they launched the Epilogue label last year.
The Epilogue label is more widely distributed and is a larger production label what we refer to more as our entry level wines,” said Ben Flajnik. “We contract and lease from a handful of vineyards in Sonoma. Mike and I have similar palates and this is a very ego driven business so having the two of us takes the ego out of the decision process. We spend a lot of time sourcing the highest quality fruit and because of that we don’t want to interfere with the natural quality of the fruit.”
Both Flajnik and Benziger share in the winemaking and sales responsibilities and a third partner, Danny Fay, oversees brand development and marketing while Mike’s younger sister, Kate, oversees customer relations.
Recently much of the marketing and customer relations has centered around Flajnik appearing and starring in last year’s The Bachelorette and then the most recent The Bachelor.
ONCE IN A LIFETIME
“It is crazy when you think about how many people watch the show,” said Flajnik. “People were asking me why did you do it? Do you want to be famous and move to LA? I am like no, life is good in Northern California working with my best friends and making wine.”
So why did Flajnik decide to compete first on The Bachelorette where he was the runnerup leading to him becoming The Bachelor?
“I was a young guy, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Basically I did the show for an experience and as a story to tell,” said Flajnik. “There have been a lot of positives and a few negatives that have come with it but in the end the juice was worth the squeeze.”
Flajik ultimately chose Courtney Robertson, a model from California. He proposed to her on the show’s finale and she said yes. The two called off the engagement in February but he recently proposed to her again and the engagement is back on.
“It is up to my fiancé and I to decide whether or not we are right for each other,” said Flanjik. “We got engaged pretty quickly so we are taking our time and really getting to know each other. It was a real interesting experience in that you fall in love with someone you don’t know and that is why I think some of those relationships don’t work out. Things are going well for us now.”
Just as important to Flajnik and Benziger, things are going well for their winery.
“It is all good we have doors open because the Bachelorette/Bachelor programs,” said Flajnik. “But in reality Mike’s family name is more important because we are in the wine business and that name is synonymous with wine in California and throughout the country. Regardless of all that, at the end of the day what really matters is what’s in the bottle and to feel good about that.”
To get an opportunity to taste wines from Envolve winery and meet the “famous” winemakers join them next Monday June 25 at Arcadia Bluff’s Golf Golf Club for a fi ve course winemakers dinner. The dinner starts at 6 pm and reservations are required (see Tastemakers for more details) by calling 231-889-3009.
Flajnik and Benziger will also host bottling signings on Tuesday June 26 fi rst at Meijer in Traverse City from 10 am to Noon before traveling to Petoskey to sign bottles at Glen’s Market from 2 to 4 pm. For more information on their winery check out envolvewinery.com.