I've been to wineries in California that look like movie sets and others whose proprietors could be characters in a Danielle Steel novel, but until I visited Bien Nacido, I'd never been to a vineyard that put me in mind of the Broadway musical Brigadoon. Indeed, even though Bien Nacido is closer to Santa Barbara than to Scotland and its winemakers don't dance or sing (at least when journalists are around), it's every bit as magicaland unlikelyas the show by Lerner and Loewe.
I hadn't come to the Santa Maria Valley in search of enchantment. My mission was more prosaic than that: I wanted to see the American wine industry's biggest and possibly best-kept secret for myself. Ever since tasting my first Bien Nacido wineQupé Syrahabout 10 years ago, I'd been intrigued that the name Bien Nacido appeared on the labels of so many great wines made by so many talented winemakers. Indeed, the list of 40-odd producers turning out Bien Nacidodesignated Syrahs, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs (either at winemaking facilities on the Bien Nacido property or at their own wineries) reads like an all-star lineup: Jim Clendenen, Adam Tolmach, Gary Farrell, Lane Tanner, Craig Jaffurs, Chris Whitcraft and Jed Steele, to name just a few.
How was it that one vineyard could be the source for so many top wines, made from so many different varietals? Most famous vineyards are home to only one type of grape; even Burgundy's Le Montrachet produces only Chardonnay. And what of the winemakers themselves? Was it frustrating to share the same vineyard with so many others? I decided to find out.