Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Bien Nacido Vineyards Credit Fred SwanSolomon Hills Pinot Noir Credit Fred SwanBien Nacido Chardonnay Credit Fred Swan
by Fred Swan

In Burgundy, vineyards which have proved to be the very best over an extended period of time are designated Grand Cru. They also have distinct personalities, making it possible for experts to identify their wines when tasting blind. The United States doesn’t have any official designation of quality for vineyards.

If we did start nominating vineyards for Grand Cru recognition, the Miller family’s Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley would undoubtedly be among the first. Bien Nacido is now in its fifth decade of providing succulent, expressive grapes. Many vines remain from the original planting, quite a few of those own-rooted. Top California wineries were producing vineyard-designate wines from Bien Nacido before vineyard designates became “a thing.”

Bien Nacido is extensive—more than 800 planted acres—with a variety of soils (15!), slopes, facings and varieties (at least 15!) ranging from Pinot Blanc to Nebbiolo. Best-known, though, are its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. These are so consistent and ubiquitous that many people take their character to represent the Santa Maria Valley AVA as a whole.

But, while wines based on Bien Nacido fruit do demonstrate the general character of the AVA with its long, cool growing season, they really express that particular vineyard or its individual blocks. Differences can be easily discerned while tasting Bien Nacido wines next to those from father south or west in the valley. Another Miller family vineyard, Solomon Hills provides an excellent counterpoint. Exceptional itself, Solomon Hills is several miles west of Bien Nacido and closer to the chilly Pacific than any other vineyard in the AVA.

Bien Nacido Vineyards wines can be distinctly savory. The reds, in particular, are film noir in a glass. They involve us in complex, undulating stories with a brooding, tough-guy hero fighting for justice in a world of ambivalent wines. They are page-turners. Glass emptiers.

Bien Nacido Vineyards is not open to visitors, but they have an estate wines tasting room in adorable, historic downtown Los Olivos. Made by Trey Fletcher,  they are superlative. Try Solomon Hills side-by-side with Bien Nacido. You’ll easily see how distinct the two sites are and how important the Pacific Ocean is as factor in the terroir of California vineyards.

Read our reviews here:

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