Rick Benson: Integritas in Vinum

Writer Amanda Christmann
Photographer Scott Baxter

Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.” If that’s so, Rick Benson is living a very fortunate life.

For Benson, it has little to do with any acquired wealth or prestige he has surely earned in his many years in the wine business; it’s about his love for the challenge of deciphering his clients’ passions and turning them over in his mind until a picture begins to form.

It’s bringing that image to life in such a way that, when it’s completed, gives him great pride in knowing he’s created functional artwork from a shared passion for wine and beauty.

Benson, owner of Wine Cellar Experts, is a true connoisseur—not just of wine, but of life. Sitting down with him and his wife Toinette at their Scottsdale design studio, it only takes a few minutes to realize the couple’s genuine warmth and appreciation for finer things.

There is nothing pretentious about Benson as he cracks open a bottle of limited edition Chardonnay for the three of us to share. In fact, like the beautiful hardwoods and carefully handcrafted shelves and racks that surround him, I get the distinct feeling that Benson has an almost reverence for wine, acknowledging and honoring the nature and process behind it with every sip.

It’s no surprise then that the process of conceiving and building wine cellars is just as rewarding to Benson as seeing the joy on people’s faces when he reveals the finished product.

As he talks about his work, he seems to find great satisfaction in choosing each individual piece of wood, from alder and maple to African-grown Sapele, then shaping and finishing each board to become part of a design, big or small, that stands out in singularity and in practicality.

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Benson honed his design intuitiveness at a young age. “I was fortunate that, as a young boy, I had a little space where I could build things. If I focused on something I wanted to create, I could create it in my mind then make it with my hands—then boom! It was out there in the universe. That was very satisfying to me.”

As a teen, he went into construction, then into building yachts, where he discovered the awe that comes with coaxing the natural beauty from a piece of wood through hours of patience and hard work.

That love has never faded.

“It’s my passion,” Benson says. “I love to create. I love the challenge of, when you meet someone, having an hour or so to find out what’s in their mind, including the space they have, the style of their home and the size of their wine collection, then coming up with an equation that naturally and enthusiastically fits what they came to Wine Cellar Experts for.”

It was Toinette who introduced him to the wine business. Her family owns and operates a Napa Valley winery, purchased by her aunt and uncle in 1969. Benson saw firsthand the work involved in enticing grapes to grow from the land while nature wields its whims. He also learned the careful balancing act between sugars, acidity, alcohol and tannins that must be perfected in order to deliver a quality product.

Like the craftsmanship of woodworking, Benson loved the craftsmanship behind creating wine. He was hooked, and even became a sommelier.

Like everything else he does, Benson takes the time to make sure the residential and commercial projects he completes are functional as well as stunning, and he does it with an honesty and integrity that is rare in business.

“One of the things I battle most is that craftsmen—true craftsmen—are a dying breed. There are people who will build things the cheapest way possible, cutting corners here and there, but I’m not interested in doing that. Then there are people who are pioneers, who take pride in being original and in being the very best at what they do. It takes a lot of work to get there, but when you do, it’s worth it.”

Benson is a pioneer, not only in his unique take on wine cellars, but also on wine storage. This year, he introduced Vinotel, a custodial wine storage option for those whose collections have outgrown their storage capability, or who love wine but don’t have time, space or knowledge to properly care for it.

“Vinotel is the other side of the coin for us,” Benson says. “Not everyone wants a wine cellar in their house. A lot of millenials, for example, want to be part of the wine scene. They want to collect it and enjoy it, but it works out best for them, for a number of reasons, to professionally store it off-site.”

Vinotel allows people to collect wine from anywhere in the world and have it shipped to their cite. A smartphone app allows them to order it to be delivered any time they want to enjoy it. It’s hassle-free and innovative, and may just be the beginning of a convenient trend in owning wine.

“We bring a completely different perspective to the market when it comes to wine,” says Benson. “It’s inspired by and centered completely around our passion for wine and our clients’ passion for wine.”

For the Bensons and their Wine Cellars Experts clients, it’s all about creating experiences.

“When you think about it, wine cellars and walls provide us with a beautiful spontaneity,” Benson says. “When we’re in the middle of entertaining, it’s almost a euphoric experience because we can share stories of where we found certain bottles, or what we were doing when we discovered others. It’s all happening right in front of you, and it allows you to share a part of who you are.”

He holds his glass for a moment in consideration of his next words.

“Ultimately, having our own wine collection provides us with some of our most intimate experiences. It’s kind of like music. It’s irreplaceable.”

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