What is in this article?:
- 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.
Turning to mechanization, Bien Nacido purchased French-made Pellenc selectiv multi-function equipment three years ago, including the harvester, pre-pruner, and sprayer attachments. The harvester can pick about 150 acres of grapes per season; fruit typically not intended for the Bien Nacido label. This could change over time if effectiveness can be proven at the highest end.
“It is an amazing machine which is amazingly expensive too,” Hammell noted. “We don’t regret buying it. It is a really good unit.”
Many hand-picked grapes are harvested at night with lights to maintain grape quality.
Soils on the ranch vary widely but are mostly light, well-drained soils. Located below the main operation is a riverbed and canyon with sandy soil with cobblestones. The mountain area behind the ranch includes Monterey shale-based sandy loam ground. The “bench land” area is a mixture if eroded shale from mountains mixed with alluvial deposits from the nearby Sisquoc River.
In addition to rainfall, vines receive up to 10-inches of irrigation, depending on the location and variety.
The Miller family and Hammell are proud that Bien Nacido Vineyards is dually certified as sustainable under the Sustainability in Practice and Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing programs.
A few acres of grapes are grown non-certified organically for several clients and for use in Bien Nacido’s small winery which produces about 1,000 cases annually.
“We don’t like to make a big deal out of the organic production since we consider our entire operation as sustainable,” Hammell said.
As the noon hour approached, Hammell summarized his comments, focusing on overall improved wine grape quality across the Santa Maria Valley AVA. He said the area is gaining respect for its grapes; respect which has been earned, not just deserved.
“We have been in the shadow of Napa and Sonoma for a long time. There is a reason for that – we were not as good,” Hammell said.
“Now we are as good. People are now taking notice and we’re gaining a worldwide audience,” Hammell concluded.
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