I had the ocean on my mind as I drove from the Pacific Coast to visit my friend Colby Eierman at Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, one of a handful of certified biodynamic wineries in the region. Colby is in charge of the gardens and livestock at the winery and called to ask of my interest in making an outdoor table by one of the ponds on the 85 acre property.
It was already quite warm at 7 AM by the time I arrived and took a stroll through the Insectary to orient myself while I waited for Colby. The Insectary at Benziger (pictured above and below) is a kind of labyrinth on a prominent mound within the winery’s tiered growing valley, and offers views of the patterned rows of grapes, wild hills and open skies beyond. It is planted with an exotic range of herbs and flowering plants and is designed to attract beneficial insects as a strategy to eliminate harmful ones, a cornerstone of integrated pest management (IPM).
It is difficult to know exactly why, but the land at Benziger expressed iteself clearly to me; everything was in order without being ‘orderly’ in an imposed way. The plants and birds seemed happy and the place infected me with a feeling of calm well-being as soon as I had time to walk around and take it in. Unfortunately, my time was tight so I was not able to take the full tour, despite Colby’s invitation upon his arrival. Instead, we proceeded directly to the site by the pond, and Colby explained how water is recycled on the farm (through a sequence of ponds and wetlands) and how the table would be used.
The ‘Copia Cart’ I designed and made in 2004 to showcase Colby’s harvest. (Photo by Colby Eierman)
Ene and I had worked closely with Colby when he was head gardener at Copia and we were designing elements for their Children’s Garden and other exhibits, including a mobile produce cart for the museum (pictured above). We love working with Colby and appreciate his easy wit, intelligence and enthusiasm for growing food. So Colby and I were able to skip some steps at Benziger and focus on the program for the table. I was pleased to learn that the table would be for the people who live and work at Benziger, and that it would function as a place to gather, as a kind of muse in the landscape, and as a place to ponder the pond and relax to the sound of gently flowing water.
Colby by the pond , near the site for the proposed table
My immediate thought was to connect the table to the ocean metaphorically, perhaps by using driftwood or by evoking the seaside tangle of flotsam in its structure. Regardless, I would design the table to be a surprise to encounter from any angle of approach. We agreed that I would work up some ideas and present them to the Benziger family, and I feel honored at the opportunity to apply my Deep Craft principles in such an extraordinary, biodynamic setting. I have been collecting driftwood incidentally on my excursions to the coast, and will now begin to look at my collection with fresh eyes.