Bien Nacido, one of Santa Barbara County’s oldest and most distinguished vineyards, was recognized by two national publications earlier this year.
In January, Wine Enthusiast included Bien Nacido in an article titled “10 Vineyards Behind the World’s Most Famous Wines.” The Santa Maria vineyard was in the company of some historic properties, some of which are in France — Romanée-Conti of Burgundy, of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) fame; Montrachet, a grand cru vineyard famed for chardonnay; and Old Garden Vineyard in Australia’s Barrossa Valley, to name just three.
Bien Nacido topped a compilation of vineyards in another article, this time in Food & Wine. The August story profiled “The 17 Most Important California Vineyards All Wine Lovers Need to Know.”
As author Jonathan Cristaldi noted, “it’s the smaller, boutique wineries that have made the vineyard famous, like the late Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat, Ojai Vineyards, Qupe (now Lindquist Family Wines) Tyler and Gary Farrell.”
Since 1969, when the Miller family, fifth-generation California farmers, purchased a stretch of land that’s now the vineyard and planted it to vines in the early 1970s, it’s truly been the winemakers who source the grapes that have driven Bien Nacido into the hands of wine aficionados the world over.
Yet the site itself represents some of California’s richest lineage.
The history of the land now known as Bien Nacido harkens back to 1837, when Thomas Olivera secured a Spanish land grant of two square leagues from Juan Bautista Alvarado, then gobernadora of Alta California.
In 2012, winemaker Anthony Avila was hired as an intern at Bien Nacido Vineyard. He later became an assistant winemaker and, before the 2019 harvest, was promoted to his current position. (Macduff Everton photo)
The land grant stretched up toward the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama rivers. In 1955, Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet to his son-in-law, Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who had started construction on an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year, according to the Bien Nacido webite.
Ontiveros and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep and several grain crops, as well as grapes for the production of wine. The historic Ontiveros Adobe still stands; today, merlot grapevines are growing outside its stucco wall and around the adjacent winery facility.
While the Millers made a very small amount of wine under the family’s estate labels (Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards) as early as 2005, it was not until 2009 and 2010 that case production was close to that of the 2,500 cases produced in 2019, winemaker Anthony Avila said.
He considers the launch of the current estate wines to be 2011, when the Millers hired winemaker Trey Fletcher and built a winery on the vineyard.