Wine Notes: Bien Nacido Vineyards

A new ‘well-born’ wine

Special to The TribuneAugust 26, 2010 

For close to 40 years, Bien Nacido Vineyards has been revered for the quality of grapes it grows in the Santa Maria Valley. As the “most vineyard-designated vineyard in the world,” the Bien Nacido name appears on such renowned brands as Au Bon Climat, Byron, Qupe, Foxen, Edna Valley Vineyard and many more.

Now the coveted vineyard name is about to be designated on a new brand: Bien Nacido. After decades of selling its grapes to other respected wineries along the Central Coast, the Miller family is finally introducing its own brand, with son Nicholas leading the way with both winemaking and marketing efforts.

“It’s very exciting to actually be making our own wine,” Miller explained.

As a member of the fifth generation of this iconic California farming family, Miller sees the label as not just a new direction for the company, but one that reinforces the strength of the Bien Nacido name on all of its customers’ wines.

“One of the goals was to act as marketing for the brand and the vineyards and not to compete directly with our customers,” Miller said.

The name Bien Nacido dates back to the early 1970s, when Steve Miller and his brother, Robert, started planting what is now a 600-acre vineyard. It was nicknamed “well born” by the Mexican vineyard laborers who worked on the property because it was said to be as coddled as a privileged child. From the start, the Millers used quality nursery stock, steel stakes, drip irrigation and night harvesting techniques — all considered extravagant at the time.

Miller said his father’s philosophy is that “everything we do for the grapes will hopefully give them the advantage to achieve the highest potential they can.”

At first they sold to wineries such as Korbel and other large wineries in Northern California. Then in the 1980s, the Millers began recruiting smaller, local, artisan winemakers such as Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Lindquist of Qupe to make wines from their fruit.

Today, Bien Nacido sells to more than 40 wineries, mostly between Monterey and Santa Barbara. The Millers also own the French Camp and Solomon Hills vineyards, bringing their total property to about 800 acres.

They have helped “incubate” many smaller wineries by starting two large custom crush facilities: first Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria and most recently the expanded Paso Robles Wine Services. Together, the two facilities process more than 1.9 million gallons of wine a year, or more than 700,000 cases.

Still family owned and operated and led by father Steve Miller, the company has been successful thanks to a tight team of managers and employees, Nicholas Miller said. Recognizing that success just last month, the California State Fair named Bien Nacido the California Vineyard of the Year.

The first release of Bien Nacido wines next month will be very small: only 420 cases of chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah. Miller hopes to increase the production slowly over the next few years but doesn’t expect it to ever top 5,000 cases.

“The direction of the program is never one that I see us becoming a significant user of our own fruit,” Miller explained.

As far as their customers are concerned, Miller said he has been pleased with their feedback. “People really do seem excited, and they think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “And they see it really working in concert with them instead of in competition with them.”

Bien Nacido Vineyards

Address: 132 E. Carrillo St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Phone: 805-969-5503

Owner/CEO: Steve Miller

Winemaker/marketing: Nicholas Miller

Vineyards: Bien Nacido, French Camp, Solomon Hills

Custom crush facilities: Central Coast Wine Services, Paso Robles Wine Services

Online: www.biennacidovineyards.com

Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at janisswitzer@yahoo.com.

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