Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners 2016
Chris Hammell of Bien Nacido
Chris Hammell is the Vineyard Manager for Bien Nacido Vineyards. Bien Nacido is located in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County. This vineyard is distinctive. Once you have tasted a Pinot Noir from grapes made from Bien Nacido, you don’t forget it, and forever more you will be able to pick out a Pinot made from these grapes. But…during this episode we will be talking about Syrah from this renowned vineyard.
Bien Nacido is a little magical. When you drive out there, you find little to let you know that, that is where you are. If you happen to get the secret directions to one of the bi-annual BBQ’s at Au Bon Climat, you will drive out through part of the vineyard. Au Bon Climat & Qupe have their shared winery on the vineyard.
Bien Nacido is owned by the Millers, who have been growing grapes here since the 70’s. They primarily grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Syrah. But its history goes back much further. It was part of a Spanish land grant back in 1837, given to Tomas Olivera. He sold it in 1855 to Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, who was his son in law. Ontiveros raised horses, cattle, sheep, grew grains AND grapes for wine. The vineyard is 900 acres of the over 3000 acres of Ranch, and as Wendy mentions below “It is considered the most “vineyard designated” vineyard in the world”.
Chris spoke on two wines made from Bien Nacido Grapes. The first is a 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah made by their winemaker Trey Fletcher, who joined them to start the wine making side of the business in 2011. Before that, Bien Nacido was a vineyard that did not make wine, but sold their amazing fruit to some of the most distinguished wineries and winemakers in California, including; Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach, Gary Farrell, Paul Lato, Sine Qua Non and Bob Lindquist of Qupe.
Episode 3 Part 1: Chris Hammel,
Vineyard Manager Bien Nacido Vineyards speaking on the Bien Nacido 2012 Syrah
Qupe 2011 Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah
Bob Lindquist has been making Syrah from Bien Nacido for 30 years. We heard him speak at last years Seminar – Zaca Mesa University. Here is the video from the segment with Bob and Jim Clendenen. http://wp.me/p2UhpO-2cQ which includes the story of how Jim got Bob fired and hired over the Kinks. Bob Lindquist is a Syrah legend in Santa Barbara.
Chris had the 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah. This was Bob’s 30th consecutive bottling of Syrah and the coolest vintage he had ever seen.
Episode 3 Part 2: Chris Hammel
Vineyard Manager Bien Nacido Vineyards speaking on Bob Lindquist and the Qupe 2011 Bien Nacido Hillside Syrah
Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners will have one during the Celebration of Harvest Festival, which happens October 7-10. Here’s a link to more information. http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/
You can see more about Bien Nacido at their site http://biennacidoestate.com/
The Transcript (with a little more than the video)
Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): We are now going to move to the north. The northernmost AVA in Santa Barbara County is the Santa Maria Valley home to the renowned Bien Nacido Vineyards, first planted more than 40 years ago. In 1993 and 94 Bien Nacido planted the “Z” Block which is where all Bien Nacido’s Syrah is sourced as well as Qupe’s Hillside Vineyards, Paul Lato’s Syrahs, Sine Qua Non sourced fruit there and other big names. And we are happy to have with us today acclaimed vineyard manager, Chris Hammell of Bien Nacido, where he custom farms more than 600 acres for dozens of wineries. It is considered the most “vineyard designated” vineyard in the world, meaning, Chris masterfully juggles a huge customer base (Pete Stolpman: For the next 5 minutes Chris Hammell will juggle) He has the muscles to do it, right.
Today we taste two wines made from fruit grown at Bien Nacido. We will start with the 2012 Bien Nacido Syrah made by the Estates winemaker Trey Fletcher. Chris works hand in hand with Trey. I don’t know if they actually “hold hands”. Chris, tell us about the grape growing and the winemaking philosophy at Bien Nacido.
Chris Hammell: Well first of all, I would like to say that it’s really nice to be up here, with you guys and with these panelist. Santa Maria is kind of a unique spot, a little on the cooler side. I applaud what these guys are doing in Ballard Canyon and although I have kind of a love hate relationship with the AVA concept and system, I kinda don’t want it there unless it’s pure and like my AVA, I say mine because they don’t let me off the farm very often, the Santa Maria Valley, you can see these strange straight lines that are like arbitrarily drawn by county divisions going up and down hills that really leave one somewhat disillusioned if you’re a purist. I’ve been a tremendous fan of the Ballard Canyon area, the people and the wines and quite particularly the Syrah coming off of there. That’s AVA done right. And I’m a huge fan of White Hawk. Also of the region where Chad is, where he and his family have Melville right down here off of the 246. So pretty sweet for me to be up here. I love these wines and I love Syrah and to see them in a line up like this is a big honor. Back in the late 2000’s Nicolas Miller part of the family who I work for, that owns Bien Nacido, he decided he wanted, for whatever reason, to do an estate project. He recruited this guy named Trey Fletcher, an up and coming younger wine maker, full of talent and vision and we converted an old dairy barn, in the middle of the vineyard to be the winery. He gets free run to do what he wants with Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay and Syrah. So this is his 2012. I don’t know how techie we should get and as Wendy said I’m the vineyard manager so I’m just basically farming these two wines and they are kind enough to let me present them. Unlike, Michael who kind of does for his project he kind of sees both sides. But I’m around enough to know, and I pay attention enough to know, kind of what these guys are up to. Trey’s philosophy would be since he doesn’t have to really pay for the grapes, he drops them to like a ton per acre. That just stays between us, okay? (to Michael filming in the back) You’re a good editor right? He drops them really low, because we think, especially in climates like Bien Nacido for example, which is sometimes, in some years, especially in 2011, pushing the limits as far as getting the variety of Syrah to a ripeness, to potential alcohol ripeness and phenolic ripeness. And so we typically see yields that are very low, either from nature or from us going in there and basically lowering the crop down to make sure that we can achieve the ripeness that in most years that the winemakers are looking for. So he’s the guy that will shoot for maybe 13%, which as Pete was mentioning, that kind of coincides with this trend that I’m seeing of a little more elegance a little more what people would call arbitrarily balance. Basically a shift from, how ripe can we go to, stylistically what really turns these winemakers on. Who are some of their fans, that they are trying to emulate throughout the world. In 2012, 13, 14 and pretty much 15, we had the luxury of basically choosing ripeness. So Trey is pretty much a Pinot & Chardonnay guy, pretty much a second shot at doing Syrah, where he is fully in control. You see a wine that is probably about 13.1, probably 30% whole cluster, probably about 30% new oak, and this is something that we’ve seen him in the last few years change to a larger format barrels for whatever reason, but these would all be in the standard burgundy 228 liter, normal barrels that we all see everywhere. This would have been in barrel for about 18 months. Pumpovers, punchdowns both and his big thing in fermentation other than managing it responsibly, has to do with tannin, especially at the end. He is going, I can’t speak to how he does it, but he’s obsessed with tannin management. Whether he gets it right, you guys can be the judge. That’s his big thing. He loves making Syrah, he considers personally, Bien Nacido to be a better Syrah vineyard than Pinot. He thinks the magic is Syrah and Chardonnay for him and for the styles that he likes to do. I’m not supposed to go on record with that either. (Michael LarnerS: that’s why they don’t let him off the ranch very often) Why did I get smaller pours than everybody else? It’s like a conspiracy theory. He’s pulling out all the stops to do what he can. He’s super inspired by Northern Rhone, Cornas which is pretty in vogue these days. His Sommelier buddies like it. I think he’s doing an awesome job and I’ve learned alot from him, both in the vineyard and in the winery. I love the wine. Santa Maria wine is super distinct. Not always so user friendly right off the bat. Especially they don’t show so much fruit, they show herbs and spice and hopefully everything else nice. I don’t know why I have two wines too.
WTS: We are staying with Chris here, but I wanted to mention that Bien Nacido has a tasting room in Los Olivos. Larner has a tasting room in the Los Olivos General Store, I forgot to mention that earlier. Our next wine #4, we are sticking with Chris here, because he also farms the Hillside Syrah at Bien Nacido for Qupe. The next wine is the 2011 Qupe Bien Nacido Vineyard Hillside Syrah. This vintage has special meaning for Qupe’s winemaker Bob Lindquist. 2011 was his 30th vintage and his 30th consecutive bottling of Syrah. He told me 2011 was an extremely cool vintage, one of the coolest on record and probably one of the coolest Bob had seen in 37 years of making wine on the central coast. It was a very small crop 1.3 tons an acre in Z block where this Syrah comes from. Harvest was late. Bob remembers taking his son trick or treating Halloween night and then picking this Syrah the next morning November 1st. And Chris was out there picking this Syrah that you are about to taste. (Chris: All by myself) Single handedly. Chris tell us what is it like to work with Bob and you probably, after all these years know exactly what he wants, right?
Chris Hammell: Yeah, more and more. First of all if I start talking so much and then Larry Schaffer starts mad doggin’ me, just give me some kind of sign, cause I can’t really see him. You guys know what I’m talking about. Bob is a true pioneer it’s interesting, Syrah is still kind of finding it’s place and is still kind of young in a sense. With Pinot and Chardonnay we had all these people, an amazing kind of group of winemakers, more or less the same age coming from the same philosophy and it was amazing. We didn’t have that as much with Syrah. You had Bob Lindquist and probably a couple others. You see on this panel, myself excluded, a second wave of pioneers. All of us look up to Bob a lot. I’m not a name dropping guy, but I went to France and we got, for some reason, invited to go see Jean-Louis Chave, who’s like the most famous Syrah guy in the whole world, by everyone’s admission pretty much. He’s a really nice guy and we’re in the cellar throwin’ it up with Jean-Louis Chave the 22nd. Honestly, he’s like the 22nd Jean-Louis. And he says, he speaks perfect English almost without any accent, “Hi Chris, thanks for coming. How’s Bob Lindquist? I love Bob Lindquist.” And then half the conversation was about Bob and not Chave and the amazing legacy that they’ve produced. He’s a legend and this is the second time, interestingly enough that I’ve been able to talk about his wines in front of a group. I spoke with him on the way down and he’s the most gracious wonderful person that one could meet. Many of you probably know him and if you don’t, seek him out today and get a chance to spend time around a real legend, who makes fantastic long lived wonderful wines. He’s never really changed his approach. It’s an honor for me. What he was telling Dayna and I on the way down was, reminding us of this strange vintage that was 2011, which despite the extremely low yields, Is Larry doing…is he..okay, (WTS: He’s good). We had to pick on November 1st because of the rain. I think it was like 22 and a half brix, and he’s kind of a low 23’s guy. There can be differences, so you taste some notes that are leaner and this and that. Interestingly enough, what Bob does and he was fine that I shared this with you, that’s kind of unusual, is he’ll take let’s say 10% right off the bat of the juice before it’s started to ferment and he’ll put it in brand new Francois Frere heavy toast barrels and make it like a rose, but that’s after cold soak so it has some extraction already. And then he’ll take all or a portion of that at first racking which is about a year later, and blend that back into the wine. It’s like a style thing, which I think is pretty cool. He’s done it all along and still does. Also, this wine, even in a lean year like that, for whatever reason, he has about 35% full cluster, of that 90% that he did ferment on the skin. And then the whole Cuvee ended up being, because of the short crop and probably he had a lot of new barrels, who knows, about 65% new Francois Frere heavy toast. Bien Nacido’s, probably all these wines frankly, it seems most years to be able to withstand, that’s a bad word, it makes it seem like using oak is not good, but everybody talks like that for some reason. But, it can integrate and it can be pleasant. As Pete was saying, these wines can be extraordinarily interesting with age. Because we’re friends with Bob and his winery is on the vineyard where we live, we’ve been able to try countless numbers of old Qupe Syrahs and whites, frankly and they can be just extraordinary. It’s fascinating, but the best years of this wine are probably in the future. Thank you guys.
WTS: Thank you Chris.