DEREK BENHAM – Owner/CEO
Derek Benham grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley where his family tended pistachio groves and vineyards. In the late 70s, Benham headed west to UC Berkeley, were he majored in Philosophy and English Literature earning a double degree in 1982. During this time, the business climate in the Bay Area was challenging. Interest rates had soared and the job market was grim. It was during this difficult time in California history that Derek entered the wine industry taking a sales position with a Lodi based winery.
Times were tough and Derek was trying his best to sell wine with little training and no marketing support. Armed with a case of wine, sell sheets and a phone book, Derek hit the streets and found a niche for his wines in local grocery stores, restaurants and independent wine shops. Eventually, he assumed the role of General Manager. After six years on the job, Derek managed to turn the winery around with sales exceeding several hundred thousand cases. The winery was sold to the former owners of La Crema Winery and Derek moved onto his next wine project.
In 1990, Derek and his brother Courtney founded the Codera Wine Group and created the Blackstone Merlot brand. Two years later, the brothers purchased the old Hallberg apple cannery in Graton, California which had been converted to a winery in 1979. After seven successful years, Blackstone was sold in 2001. That same year, Codera was dissolved and Derek started Purple Wine Company based in Graton.
Derek’s intuitive understanding of consumer expectations fueled his interest in several exciting projects. He would cast off the misconception that wine was only for the privileged. He launched Avalon, the go-to-brand for Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition he would bring the most elusive of grapes — Pinot Noir— to the people. Derek created Mark West in 2001 and built it into a successful brand, which twice earned the Impact Hot Brand Award from M. Shanken Communications. Derek later sold Mark West to Constellation Brands. In 2010, Derek purchased Four Vines, a zinfandel led portfolio from Paso Robles, and relocated production to Sonoma County. Seeing the popularity of Riesling, Derek developed BEX Riesling from Nahe, Germany. Several years later, Cryptic, a dry red wine was launched. In 2014, Derek introduced three new wine brands: Raeburn, Calista and Flint & Steel as well as broke ground on a new distillery at the Graton winery called Graton Distilling Company with plans to produce small lot, craft spirits. In 2016 he launched his spirit first brands Benham’s Gin & Vodka and Redwood Empire Whiskey in 2017.
When not creating new wine and spirit offerings, Derek is on the slopes skiing or paddling out to catch his next wave. He enjoys traveling with his wife and three children and is especially passionate about Barcelona, Spain. The Benhams journey there often to soak up the Catalan culture. Derek adores “gin tonics”, Catalonia’s famous cocktail, and loves to share his passion with friends and family.