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Bien Nacido Estate, SyrahSanta Maria Valley, California 2018 (750mL)

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Bien Nacido Estate, Syrah Santa Maria Valley, California 2018 (750mL)

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Today’s Syrah collectible hails from what is arguably the most famous raw material in the United States, a site that’s been branded “Top Grand Cru Vineyard,” “Vineyard of the Year,” and most recently, “Top 10 Vineyard of the World” alongside Romanée-Conti, Montrachet, To Kalon, and Coulée de Serrant. Accordingly, hordes of top California producers have jockeyed to slap “Bien Nacido” on their Santa Maria Valley labels because extraordinary wines and high critical acclaim always seem to follow lockstep. In recent years, however, one producer has completely stolen the show in this sprawling, globally revered site: Bien Nacido Estate.


Who better to understand these vines than the stewards themselves? These wines, if you can find them, are region-defining icons that (1) exist at the top of the California/Washington Syrah pyramid and (2) have quickly joined the peerless ranks of Northern Rhône’s finest. At $60, I cannot stress enough how great of a wine investment this is.



 In the mid-1850s, the Ontiveros family was granted a deed to a parcel originally called Rancho Tepusquet, near Santa Barbara in California. This was a land grant offered by the then-Governor of Mexico as a homestead for his daughter and new son-in-law to create a future and family. From the first days of their time at Rancho Tepusquet, the Ontiveros family had raised cows, horses, and other livestock next to a small tributary of the Santa Maria River. With a crystalline water source and nearly 2,000 acres of pasture land, the family started building their home. Then came Bob and Steve Miller, members of their own fourth-generation farming family, both of whom found this pristine property in 1969 when they were offered two contiguous parcels of land that were part of the original Rancho Tepusquet. With the chance to continue a tradition of farming sustainably and focusing on the highest quality, the two original parcels were reunited and rechristened “Bien Nacido.” Directly (and appropriately) translated as “well-born,” Bien Nacido is about as purebred as vineyards come. 

 
Bob and Steve saw this land as a perfect home for wine grapes. Santa Maria Valley, which lies within Santa Barbara County, is technically classified as a “Winkler Region 1b.” This is as cold, in terms of average temperature, as Champagne; the Mosel Valley in Germany; Kremstal in Austria; and Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. Understanding this, the Millers planted the vineyard with the first certified virus-free clones of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from UC Davis in 1973—the Syrah came in the ’80s and ’90s.
 
Bien Nacido proudly claims to be the United States’ most influential single-vineyard source, with more than 160 producers over 44 years having used “Bien Nacido” on their labels. Only top vineyards in Burgundy have been designated more, and I am certain that has something to do with their 700-year history. Having been inspired by this, Steve Miller’s youngest son, Nicholas (now the fifth generation) decided to make some of their very own small-production wines starting in the late 2000s. 


Bien Nacido Estate’s wines are made to showcase their sustainably farmed, cool-climate terroir by minimizing hands-on factors in the winery. This 2018 comes predominantly from their “Z Block” (plus 1% of co-planted, co-fermented Viognier), a sprawling parcel that lies at 700 feet elevation just 16 miles from the Pacific. Additionally, a smaller portion of their famous ungrafted “X Block” Syrah was utilized as well. These vines produce thick-skinned, intensely concentrated berries that are hand-harvested at night to ensure only cool grapes arrive at their onsite winery. The grapes fermented (partial whole cluster) via ambient yeasts and then matured for 16 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered. 


Rule #1 if drinking within the next two years: Decant, decant, decant! I’ve been fortunate enough to taste a large portion of Bien Nacido Estate’s wines now, and while I can say they represent some of the finest Syrah bottlings in America, they are tight and reductive in their youth (just like Côte-Rôtie). So if you do pull the cork, I strongly recommend decanting at least two hours and saving half of the bottle for consumption on day two. Only then will you get a sneak preview of the genuine, breathtaking beauty that lies ahead—I think 2025 will be a sensational year for this wine, and it’ll be peaking around 2028. As for right now, powerful yet subtle waves of fruit and savoriness lurk beneath a curtain of smoky, peppery reduction: brambly berries, spiced blue plum, dried black cherry, wild game, fresh violets, baking spice, potting soil, olive brine, crushed stone and herbs. The palate is full and muscular but not extracted or concentrated (only 13.1% ABV!); it’s in beautiful, superb harmony. Serve around 60 degrees in large Bordeaux stems. Cheers!




Bien Nacido Estate, Syrah Santa Maria Valley, California 2018 - SommSelect

  • CountryUnited States
  • RegionCentral Coast
  • Sub-RegionSanta Maria Valley
  • SoilShale & Loam
  • FarmingOrganic
  • BlendSyrah
  • Alcohol13.1%
  • OakFrench Barrels, 25% New
  • Service Temp.60° F
  • GlasswareLarge Bordeaux Stem
  • DrinkNow-2028
  • Decanting2+ Hours
  • PairingLamb Burgers

  • CountryUnited States
  • RegionCentral Coast
  • Sub-RegionSanta Maria Valley
  • SoilShale & Loam
  • FarmingOrganic
  • BlendSyrah
  • Alcohol13.1%
  • OakFrench Barrels, 25% New
  • Temp.Serve at 60° F
  • GlasswareLarge Bordeaux Stem
  • DrinkingNow-2028
  • Decanting2+ Hours
  • PairingLamb Burgers