Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley AVA California
There is one vineyard that stands out when it comes to wines designated by a single vineyard: Bien Nacido.
A single vineyard superstar
This place is at the origin of 15,000 rejections of wines designated by a single vineyard during its 43 years of history. This includes estate wines made by the owner, the Miller family, as well as those produced by partners who have purchased fruit for their own bottlings. This list includes names like Au Bon Climat, QupÃ©, MacRostie, Sanguis, Bedrock Wine Co. and many more. In fact, Bien Nacido has the most unique wine appellations in the world.
âThe cool coastal vineyard has been highly sought after by winemakers from the early days due to its unique cool climate, rocky soil and mysterious wine-making qualities,â says Theresa Heredia, chief winemaker at Gary Farrell Winery. Heredia produces a Pinot Noir with the coveted Q block, planted in 1973 in Pommard. âThe soil is very diverse, composed of sandy loam, chalk, gravelly loam and marine loam, creating intense wines, extremely focused on the terroir, at the same time powerful, polished, exotic and sexy.
Located in Santa Maria AVA, on the central coast of California, Bien Nacido is considered a cool climate region. To put that in perspective, this location has a similar thermal summation to Central Otago in New Zealand, Champagne in France, and Rheingau in Germany.
Bien Nacido occupies a unique position, situated in a rare chain of coastal transverse mountains on a stretch of cold water 16 miles west of the Pacific Ocean. âThe mountains have turned sideways,â says Will Costello MS, ambassador for Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Estates. “They allow all the cold air to flow on the way to the desert.”
That cold air can push vines into winter dormancy – frost is common this time of year – which isn’t always possible in the New World, Costello notes. An article published by the Arnold’s Arboretum explains that these âcool hoursâ spent at cool temperatures help the vines to regulate bud break, a particularly important phase in the vine’s life cycle. This is a consideration for wine growers, as some parts of the world are experiencing climate change and rising temperatures.
There are three main environments within the vineyard: a front bench, steep hillsides and flat lands. âWe can match location to style,â says Nicholas Miller, second generation owner of the vineyard and estate. “This is not a ticket to play.”
Californian viticulture pioneers
Planted by Stephen Miller and his late brother Robert in the late 1960s, the Bien Nacido land has an agricultural history dating back to 1837 when Tomas Olivera obtained the plot through a land grant. The ranch supported livestock and grain crops, as well as wine grapes. The Adobe Ontiveros of that time, still standing today, has significance for the wine community of Santa Maria.
The Millers, a farming family since 1871, had a vision for what this piece of land might be. As pioneers of post-ban planting in Santa Maria, they decided to “plant their flag on quality first, in Bien Nacido,” according to Miller. They are at the origin of the name Bien Nacido, which means “well born”.
These were ungrafted UC Davis vines, planted on their own rootstock. Indeed, the vineyard functioned as a nursery for grafts. Costello notes that there are few ungrafted vineyards in the world, isolating these original Bien Nacido plantations as âpure expressionâ of what the varieties can be. The rootstock, while often essential in protecting a vineyard from soil pests, is like a âmaskâ according to Costello, potentially diminishing that expression.
The vineyard had early success with Chardonnay, with many producers of sparkling wines eager to acquire this fruit. Millers began to take advantage of some of these buying packages to sell Pinot Noir, which eventually became the variety of choice for many big names in winemaking associated with Bien Nacido vineyards. That and the cool climate Syrah which Miller says can “perform at world class level in cool and warm climates.”
In the 2000s, the Meuniers began to make their own wines from this vineyard under the Bien Nacido Estate label. âWe also wanted to tell our own story as a window to our vineyard,â says Miller. Winemaker Anthony Avilla, who started out as a grape harvest intern, is now part of that story, as is vineyard manager Chris Hammell. âChris grew up in the area very close to the vineyard and lives on the property, always keeping an eye on everything,â Heredia explains. âHe works with each winegrower, ensuring that cultivation practices comply with their specifications.
With exceptional wines sourced from the estate and many other wineries, Bien Nacido vineyard is one of the most influential of our time, with bottles to suit the tastes and budgets of many consumers. Each block is cultivated to client’s standards, using pristine and sustainable farming methods. âThis is a unique model,â says Miller. âAn era and a place that are not reproduced anywhere else in the world. “