Our Team

Ron and Trish Benza

Ron Benza, Founder

Ron likes to say he’s in his 6th career with Benza Vineyards. Twenty-two years in advertising on two continents and 5 cities, culminating in running McCann Erickson SF for most of the 90’s. Then several years in Silicon Valley as a CMO of a software firm. Another 15 years followed in his own high-volume print production business with Netflix as his biggest client. At that time, circa 2004, he started looking for vineyard property in Sonoma to fulfill a dream he had since working in France. Ironically, one of Ron’s predecessors at McCann Erickson—Fred McCrea–had done the same thing in 1947 buying a 130 acre goat farm in St Helena, Napa and starting Stony Hill. A true inspiration for Ron.

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Career #4 had Ron going to UC Berkeley’s Executive Coaching Institute where he became a certified executive coach. That’s where in 2012, he met Trish while she was there courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The two married in 2015 and Ron thought “Wait, maybe I could fulfill this vineyard dream in little Livermore, CA”, home to 62 wineries. Coaching turned into conducting workshops at both Berkeley and Cal State East Bay. In another strange twist, that led to becoming an adjunct professor at Cal State in Marketing & Entrepreneurship. Ron’s creation of a Design Thinking program for the MBA program was a first for Cal State East Bay.

Just when the wine dream seemed to be slipping away, fate intervened again. Trish was made an offer by Intel to run high performance computing (HPC) in Hillsboro, OR.  The two looked at each other and said, “the Willamette Valley…Pinot Noir…we’re doing this.”

At the very end of 2016, they made the drive up from Livermore with the Three Tuxedos cats in the car. Life has been a bit of a rollercoaster with the creation and nurturing of the business, building-out of the winery and the repurposing of a new spot on their 26 acre property to be the future tasting room.

As folk like to ask Ron…”Is this your retirement job?” He chuckles and says “ha…some retirement…I’ve never worked so hard in my life”. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Trish Damkroger, Founder

We could go on and on with Trish’s storied career. But that’s the stuff of LinkedIn. Trish’s background is in technology and she is Sr. Vice President of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and Chief Product Officer of High Performance Computing and AI. Let’s just say she has her hands full with her job. That said, she loves the wine business and played an integral role in shaping Benza Vineyards with visionary ideas for where the business will go. Trish’s early days at Intel made her doubly appreciate coming home down the 1/4 mile drive of Pinot Place into “Wine Country”. She would often say “I can feel my blood pressure lowering just seeing the place…what if we extended that feeling to all our guests, even if they’re here for a brief time?”. Call it relaxation, tranquility or peace, it has become a hallmark of what Benza bestows to its guests. Of course, the chickens help give that feel too 🙂

Paden West, Winemaker

Paden’s coming to Benza is a natural fit. He will be taking over a successful wine program from Andrew Kirkland who will be next door at Ruby for collaboration. He will be working with Benza’s own planted acreage but also will be consecrating a brand new winery from the ground up. He couldn’t have come to Benza at a better time.
 
Paden West fell in love with music at an early age and began studying, composing, and performing it. Growing up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley gave Paden the opportunity to perform in various venues including wineries, so he learned about wine and its lifestyle firsthand. Performing in tasting rooms led to serving, which led to cellar work and harvest. Between songwriting, music lessons, and terms at schools such as the Berklee College of Music, Paden relaxed by interning at local wineries, working harvest, and in the cellar with some of the best winemakers in the area including Stoller and Penner-Ash. At 17, after releasing an album and being admitted to Berklee, Paden faced a choice: music or winemaking. He chose winemaking.

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Fully focused on winemaking, Paden worked part-time in cellars, vineyards, and tasting rooms while pursuing an associate degree in winemaking and viticulture. After degree completion, he was hired by Roth Winery in Sonoma, giving him the opportunity to work with different varietals and winemaking techniques. But Willamette Valley called him back home. Paden joined De Ponte Winery, honing his winemaking skills and palate under the tutelage of talented Burgundy winemaker Isabelle Dutartre. In 2016, Paden accepted an assistant winemaker position working for highly acclaimed winemaker Isabelle Meunier of Lavinea Wines at the Carlton Winemakers’ Studio managed by Anthony King – now both mentors. After 6 years with Isabelle at the Studio, Paden Left to go be the winemaker for California famed business man/winemaker Ehren Jordan at Failla Oregon.
 
Working with fruit from some of the finest vineyards in the Valley and cutting his teeth under some of Oregons’s finest winemakers, Paden is instrumental in crafting some of the Willamette Valley’s most coveted and awarded Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
 
He may (or may not)  talk shop at home as his wife, Jessica West, is the associate winemaker at Harper Voit and winemaker for Approachment wines in Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Paden West, Benza Winemaker

Alicia Kuehn, Operations Manager

Alicia is a local to say the least. She was born and raised in Oregon and grew up literally on the other side of the fence. From babysitting children across the street (once upon a time) to taking care of neighbors’ horses in able to ride them, she’s been a member of Laurel for a very long time. Thus allowing her to amass a wealth of knowledge on the area. Spending years in customer service, from golf courses to restaurants, she has honed her people and managerial skills. She really seems to have dealt with it all. With all this experience, she still truly cares about the people in front of her and wants them to feel special. Her attention to detail is shown throughout what she does. She is very passionate and excited about her new career in the wine industry, having been around it her entire life; and it will be exciting to see how she and Paden grow Benza to be the bespoke vineyard they both know it to be. Beware if you start talking about dogs though, she loves them to pieces and will probably not stop going on about her two Newfoundlands.
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Alicia Kuehn, Operations Manager