What is in this article?:
- Wine grape strategies improve Bien Nacido Vineyards
- Grape production changes
- Great wine starts with the grape
- Bien Nacido Vineyard farms 900 acres of premium wine grapes in California's Santa Maria Valley.
- Canopy management is crucial to generate more grape value.
- Private label programs are highly successful.
Chris Hammell manages about 900 acres of premium wine grapes at Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria in Southern California. Harvest should kick off in early September and wrap up in late October.
Grape production changes
During his 13 years with Bien Nacido, Hammell has helped implement grape production changes which have increased the number of interested buyers.
About 75 percent of the grape production is sold for blending to wineries. Of that amount, about half of the grapes are sold to Santa Barbara County wineries. The other half is sold to wineries in Ventura, Napa, Monterey, San Luis, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake counties.
Several Oregon wineries also purchase grapes.
Ultra premium grapes, which represent about 25 percent of Bien Nacido’s production, are crafted into wine with the Bien Nacido label.
“Bien Nacido is best known for the production of premium wine grapes to create high end designate wines in the market,” Hammell said.
These wines capture higher price points: Chardonnay in the mid $20 to mid $60-per-bottle range and Pinot from $35-$100. Syrah fetches $38-$145.
For these vineyard designate wines, the yield target is 2-3 tons per acre for Pinot; 3-4 tons for Chardonnay, and 1.5-2 tons per acre for Syrah.
Over the years, Bien Nacido has incorporated many innovations. In 2007, the company launched private label programs with Trader Joe’s and other companies to blend its Santa Maria-grown grapes with grapes from the Miller family’s French Camp Vineyards in Paso Robles to the north.
“We take the grapes, essentially skip the middle man, sell directly to different companies, and save costs. It’s a huge business for us as a company overall,” Hammell said, “totaling more than a hundred thousand cases annually.”