Sonoma winemaker picked for next ‘Bachelor’
By CATHY BUSSEWITZ
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It’s official: Ben Flajnik, the Sonoma winemaker who captured viewers’ hearts when he was dumped by Ashley Hebert on ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” will star on the next season of “The Bachelor,” the network announced Tuesday.
Ben is “ready to put all the disappointment and hurt behind him in order to move on with his life, his phenomenal success as a businessman and his search for the right woman to be his wife,” ABC said in a statement posted on its website.
The hit TV series, which gives two-dozen women the opportunity to compete for a marriage proposal from a single man, will begin its 16th season in January.
Flajnik, 28, grew up in Sonoma until high school, when his family moved to Tucson, Ariz. He now lives in San Francisco and works in Sonoma producing wine with business partner Mike Benziger, 28. Sales of their wine label, Evolve, jumped this summer after Flajnik became an overnight celebrity on the reality TV show, which drew 9.5 million viewers for its Aug. 1 finale.
Rumors that Flajnik would become the next “Bachelor” began swirling through Wine Country almost immediately after Hebert rejected his marriage proposal in the finale. Tabloids and fansites buzzed with reports that film crews were following Flajnik in San Francisco filming footage for the new season.
Flajnik did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday. On Twitter, he embraced his new role: “Secret is out. Looking forward to my new journey as the new bachelor!”
Flajnik has fallen in love three times, but only proposed once — on “The Bachelorette,” according to the network.
His mother, Barbara Flajnik, declined to comment Tuesday. In an interview with The Press Democrat last month, she said she was skeptical when the show began, and initially wasn’t pleased that her son could become engaged on a reality television series. But she was pleasantly surprised at how her son’s journey was portrayed in the show.
“I think he lucked out,” Barbara Flajnik said at the time. “I never thought that he would work through so many of the issues with his dad’s death, and come out the other side.”
Ben’s father, Joe Flajnik, died in 2006. A longtime youth soccer coach in Sonoma, he helped the league grow from 400 to about 1,000 players, said Sam Morphy, owner of The Red Grape, a restaurant in Sonoma. After his death, a memorial scholarship was established in his name to help families that couldn’t afford soccer registration fees.
“He was really the pioneer for youth soccer in the Sonoma Valley, and also a very good friend of ours,” Morphy said. “He was big and gregarious, and just well-organized, and really loved soccer and he loved the kids. We certainly miss him.”
Morphy said he had lunch recently with Ben Flajnik, who was excited about his upcoming role on “The Bachelor.”
“I think he loves the opportunity to be able to travel and see new places,” Morphy said. “I know he had a great time on ‘The Bachelorette.’”
ABC called Flajnik a “modern Renaissance man” who dabbles in crab fishing, sailing, golf, skateboarding, playing piano and singing in a tribute band. One of his great loves is his Jack Russell terrier named Scotch, according to the release.
Whether he finds love or not, his selection as the next “Bachelor” is already being celebrated by local tourism promoters.
The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau has been working with the show’s producers to suggest filming locations, from the small towns in Sonoma Valley to the redwoods and the coast, said Tim Zahner, a spokesman for the bureau.
“This is totally awesome. This is fantastic,” Zahner said. “We plan on using this to showcase that this is a great spot for visiting winemakers.”