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.
Great wine starts with the grape
Bien Nacido grapes are grown using various production techniques for different markets.
“We can have the best grapes in the world but the grapes don’t make themselves into wine,” Hammell said.
“Wine quality starts in the vineyard but does not end there. It requires a good competent winemaker, and someone who tells your story and markets the wine through the right channels and places it in front of the right wine critics.”
A factor which benefits Bien Nacido vineyards is the area’s good terrior. Another is the staff’s good understanding of wine grapes and wine culture.
“Wine is our passion,” Hammell said. “We know wine and we know how to make wine and appreciate wine.”
He added, “We consider ourselves wine growers. We are not farmers who also just happen to grow grapes. We drink wine every day. It is a passion with us.”
The Miller family invests financially into good canopy management. The industry-standard vertical-shoot positioning trellis (VSP) system is widely used but with a twist. A cross arm is sometimes added to open up the VSP for enhanced photosynthesis and better airflow through the canopy. Hammell saw this technique used in some Napa vineyards.
In addition, shoot positioning sometimes includes physically tying the shoots back to the cross arm to decrease shoot and cluster crowding and overlap. This is in the experimental phase due to increase labor costs.
A third priority is to pick a clean crop. Frost protection, insect and disease control, and canopy management are all crucial.
That said, the Santa Maria Valley has perfect summer weather conditions for powdery mildew disease development, including a dew (fog) which burns off in the late morning followed by daytime temperatures in the 70’s, ideal for mildew development.
The valley is also a target for the mealybug which is difficult to control. The insect is well established in certain Bien Nacido blocks and is hard to eradicate. Well-timed sustainable control methods have proven effective to mitigate problems associated with its presence.
At harvest, workers carefully remove fruit from the canopy with eaves and other material vine material left behind. This is done, Hammell says, to sends a positive message to the winemaker.
“We try to set ourselves a part from other growers at the winery level by making a clean pick a high priority,” Hammell said.
In addition, cluster-filled bins are washed out at the ranch before transport to the winery.
“We send out clean fruit and hope the winemaker notices the extra effort.”
Hammell is proud of the company’s close relationships with clients – consultants, buyers, and others.
“We have an open dialogue with our clients. I listen to their suggestions very closely,” Hammell said. “I am constantly learning new information which helps me produce higher quality wine grapes year after year.”