Santa Maria Valley
Since 1991 I’ve purchased Bien Nacido chardonnay from I block, which is down in the flatter part of the site closer to the riverbed, so the vines there are planted on sandier alluvial soil. It’s planted to “California clone” 4, a productive, high acidity and fruit infused clone that was selected by UC Davis from old French stock brought to this country in the 1880’s. The 40-year-old vines rows planted 12ft on center alternate with rows of younger vines of the same clone but on rootstock.
Because of this, our chardonnay block is farmed like two vineyards, really. The younger vines on rootstock have struggled to compete with the more established roots of the older vines, so the two are harvested on different dates, watered differently, and the fruit has a different profile. This gives our Bien Nacido chardonnay great tension; the old vines bring richer, fatter fruitier facets while the younger vines keep the wine taut and driven. Bien Nacido gives a deliciously unique expression of California chardonnay, and to keep that expression uncluttered and food-friendly we ferment and age this chardonnay in neutral French oak barrels.
The 2015 vintage marked the fourth year of warm drought weather, so again we picked our Bien Nacido chardonnay about 3 weeks earlier than in years past. The big difference in 2015 was that the vines produced a tiny crop, and that gave us a particularly intense wine. The fruit here is exuberant, it’s no doubt the most punchy of our 2015 chardonnays, yet it’s beautifully balanced. In warm years like these the biggest issue is picking the fruit in time to preserve delicate salty aromas and a lively structure—and that’s just what we did. It’s powerful in a brisk way, and should age exceptionally well. We’ve recently poured beautiful 15-20 year old examples of this wine on our tasting room’s library flights.
Blend: 100% Chardonnay | Alc: 13.0% | Vinification: Barrel Fermented in Neutral French Oak | Barrel Aging: 11 Months | Total Production: 441 cases
Bien Nacido Vineyard was planted by the Miller family in 1973, amidst the first wave of Santa Barbara County vineyard plantings, out in the eastern part of Santa Maria Valley where the foothills rise out of the coastal flood plain. It’s a site with an impeccable climate for gently ripening both Rhone and Burgundian varietals, graced both by warm sun and cool, fog laced ocean breezes. And there’s an array of great soil types for winemaking.
I’ve been working with this site since 1988, sourcing chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, and most recently, roussanne. Our grapes are purchased not through tonnage contracts, where you get what has been grown for you, but instead through more hands-on long-term acreage contracts, which allow us to farm the fruit to our liking and maintain the same rows from year to year (or decade to decade, as is the case at Bien Nacido). Because of this we’ve become intimately acquainted with our blocks and have figured out how to get intensely flavored fruit at relatively moderate levels of sugar ripeness. While talented vineyard manager Chris Hammell probably needs no advice, he has been very patient and diligent with accommodating my exacting requests.
“The 2015 Chardonnay Bien Nacido is pure class, with plenty of ripe apple, brioche, hints of buttered apple, and even a hint of exotic green citrus, on the nose. Fresh, concentrated and layered, with bright acidity, it will be even better in a few years and keep for a decade or more. This is a true white Burgundy lover’s Chardonnay. ” – JD 94 points
Antonio Galloni’s Vinous
“The 2015 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard is juicy, supple and forward. Apricot, peach and lightly tropical notes give the 2015 much of its exotic, voluptuous personality. Even so, it retains the classic Ojai midweight style. The 2015 is very pretty, but it needs bottle age to be at its best.” – AG 92 points