Bien Nacido Historic Vineyard Continues To Be Recognized Nationally | Homes and Lifestyle


Bien Nacido, one of Santa Barbara County’s oldest and most distinguished wineries, was recognized by two national publications earlier this year.

In January, Wine Enthusiast included Bien Nacido in an article titled “10 Vineyards Behind the World’s Most Famous Wines”. The Santa Maria vineyard was in the company of a few historic properties, including some in France – Romanée-Conti de Bourgogne, renowned Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC); Montrachet, a grand cru vineyard renowned for chardonnay; and Old Garden Vineyard in Australia’s Barrossa Valley, to name just three.

Although Nacido topped a compilation of vineyards in another article, this time in Food & Wine. The August article featured “The 17 Most Important California Wineries Every Wine Lover Should Know.”

As author Jonathan Cristaldi noted, “It was the small wineries that made the vineyard famous, like the late Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat, Ojai Vineyards, Qupe (now Lindquist Family Wines) Tyler and Gary Farrell.

Since 1969, when the Miller family, fifth generation Californian farmers, bought an expanse of land that is now the vineyard and planted it with vines in the early 1970s, it really has been the winemakers who source the grapes. which brought Bien Nacido into the hands. wine lovers from all over the world.

Yet the site itself represents one of the richest bloodlines in California.

The history of the land now known as Bien Nacido dates back to 1837, when Thomas Olivera obtained a Spanish concession of two square leagues from Juan Bautista Alvarado, then gobernadora of Alta California.

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In 2012, the winemaker Anthony Avila was hired as an intern at Vignoble Bien Nacido. He then became assistant winemaker and, before the 2019 harvest, was promoted to his current position. (Photo by Macduff Everton)

The land grant extended to the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama rivers. In 1955, Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet to his son-in-law, Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who had started building an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year, according to the Bien Nacido website.

Ontiveros and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, and several grain crops, as well as grapes for wine production. The historic Adobe Ontiveros is still standing; today, Merlot vines grow outside its stucco wall and around the adjacent cellar.

While the Meuniers produced a very small quantity of wine under the names of the family estate (Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards) from 2005, it was not until 2009 and 2010 that the production of cases was close to that of 2,500. cases produced in 2019, said winemaker Anthony Avila.

He considers that the launch of the wines from the current estate dates back to 2011, when the Millers hired winemaker Trey Fletcher and built a cellar on the vineyard.

An estate tasting room is under construction near the entrance to the vineyard and, when it opens around March, will likely replace the Los Olivos site, Avila said.

When I visited Bien Nacido on October 19, Avila tasted me the 2019 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as several barrel samples from the 2020 vintage.

The 2019 vintage was one of the coldest in recent memory, he said – “only four or five days (the whole season) was above 80 degrees”. This cold growing season resulted in small berries and clusters, but also “really ripe fruit”, which Avila prefers. “I like the richness of the mid-palate” which suggests the maturity, he said.

This 2019 Chardonnay is made from clean vines planted in 1973, and the juice spent 12 months in oak barrels before being transferred to stainless steel vats for six months, he noted.

This year has mimicked 2019 when it comes to cooler weather, but probably even more so: “2021 was even less ripe due to the coldness” of the growing season, Avila said. “The fog persisted until harvest this year. Typically, the coastal marine layer dissipates in August.

“Typical” years offer Mexican “tropical” heat around mid-August, followed by a Labor Day “peak heat”, he suggested. “But not this year.”

The 2019 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir benefited from 45% new French oak in aging in larger barrels, Avila told me.

I characterized this wine as being deep and elegant with a black cherry on the palate – a rich and balanced wine.

Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills wines have secure blocks in the respective vineyards. At Bien Nacido, there are four distinct types of soils, moving from west to east: tectonic (outcrop), sand, near sand to shale, he said. “We have length and width” when it comes to soil; basically, “a bit of everything”. And this diversity is reflected in the diversity for which the vineyard is respected.

Of the 640 acres planted, several blocks are under contract with the many wineries who source Bien Nacido Vineyard grapes, Avila told me. “We have our same blocks for our estate wines, and our customers with existing long-term blocks (contracts) will keep them.”

Bien Nacido vineyard.
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A landmark at Bien Nacido is an outcrop of tectonic rock known in the industry as “white rock”. It rises above the western edge of the vineyard. (Photo by Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk)

The 2020 vintage created a unique challenge for Avila, longtime Vineyard Manager Chris Hammell and their respective teams due to adjacent wildfires.

Bien Nacido’s regular practice of using whole fruit in bunches through fermentation was banned last year, Avila said. “In 2020, we destemmed all our fruits because of the risk of damage to the stems by fires”, because it is the wood stems of the bunch that reflect the damage caused by the smoke.

Avila, a Cal Poly graduate with a degree in corporate finance, started as a grape harvest intern at Bien Nacido in 2012. He worked his way up to become an assistant winemaker and, in 2019, a winemaker when Fletcher moved to another winery. . Between his internship at Bien Nacido and his work as an assistant winemaker, Avila worked a harvest in Argentina, he said.

While the Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards are only eight miles apart and the wines are produced similarly, he said, the end results echo Solomon Hills’ distinct cooler climate. “The wines from the two vineyards could not be more different.”

When asked if he could pick the best grape from each site, Avila replied: Syrah for Bien Nacido and Pinot Noir for Solomon Hills. The schist that encompasses the slopes of Bien Nacido lends itself to Rhône varietals, in particular, Syrah and Grenache, he said.

Although still in the throes of the harvest, Avila took the time to drive around the steep hills for which Bien Nacido is known. Blocks of vines surround pockets of avocado orchards. “Having multiple cultures allows us to stay on full-time teams all year round. “

The vineyard is home to 20 sheep and 20 goats, which make a living from organic weeding.

While the 2021 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes were already heading into the barrel, the Syrah grapes were still heavy and plump on some hillside blocks, including the famous ‘Z Block’, which is co-planted. with viognier.

An older man – “Cowboy Jim” – leads his herd of cattle through rolling hills and valleys unplanted with vines.

Back in the barrel room down the road from the cellar, Avila extracted samples of Bien Nacido 2020 pinot noir barrels to contrast the Mount Eden clone and another with clones 828 and 667 from a special block of eight acres, followed by a third from Salomon Hills, which he pronounced “brambles,” a reflection of the pronounced colder climate of this site.

An Alban-clone Grenache aged in 500-liter barrels expressed the classic fresh fruit essence for which the grape is known, and a Syrah from the X Block, where rooted Riesling vines planted in 1973 have since been grafted to Syrah was elegant and loaded with spice followed by a hint of cocoa and lavender.

We ended our tasting with two chardonnays which were racked in September. The first, from Solomon Hills, was pretty, with wet gravel, minerality and saline on the mid-palate. The second, from Bien Nacido, had settled down better in the vat, observes Avila, and was brighter, more lemony and with that “classic” structure and acidity for which the vineyard is known.

My visit to Bien Nacido, with the estate’s wines obviously in excellent hands with the know-how of Avila, reminded me that the AVA Santa Maria Valley is another diamond destination, a place to be. disconnect to soak up a wine phenomenon.

– Laurie Jervis tweets @lauriejervis and can be contacted via [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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