Grape Farming the South Central Coast Wine Country of California with Nicholas Miller on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show©

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This week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© is 5th generation farmer Nicholas Miller.  The Miller family began farming in California growing lemons and avocados, but in the late 1960’s Nicholas’s Late Uncle and Father purchased land in the Santa Maria Valley AVA in the South Central Coast of California.

Originally Franciscan Missionaries from Mexico traveled North to what is now California in the late 18th century.  Wine was a daily staple and was part of a daily ritual with each of the missions.  The Padres planted vineyards that supported the mission’s use of wine.  Between 1848 – 1855 the California Gold Rush brought many Europeans to California and the focus on wine became even more important.

Farming grapes in the South Central Coast wine country region of California began in earnest in the early 1960’s when William De Mattie and Uriel J. Nielson bought 100 acres of cattle ranch followed by Bill Collins who planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sylvaner.  These vineyards were the first commercial operations in the Santa Maria Valley.

The Santa Maria Valley AVA is the Nothernmost area of Santa Barbara County, not to mention that it is one of the most unique viticulture areas in the world.  The Miller Families Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards are located in this unique Santa Maria Valley AVA.  What makes this area so unusual are the way the mountains run perpendicular to the coast as opposed to  all other mountain ranges in California that run parallel to the coast line.  This is the only occurrence of transverse mountain ranges on the coast of North or South America. The San Rafael mountains on the North and Solomon Hills on the South literally create a natural funnel of cool air and moisture that is like a pipeline to the Santa Maria Valley AVA.  This is a Region 1 zone with 1 being the coolest and Region 5 being the warmest.

The cool northwest maritime breezes and the Santa Maria pipeline push this cool moist air directly into the Bien Nacido Vineyards while Solomon hills is situated in the western most area on the Santa Maria Valley AVA and enjoys the constant cool breeze from the Pacific Ocean.  Being located in this Region 1 zone provides the grapes in this area the longest possible growing season or as its known, hang time, of any grapes in California.  What does this translate to in the bottle of wine you and I will enjoy; wines that are complex, nice acidity and a balance of fruit with intense flavor due to a naturally low yield.

The vineyards in this Santa Maria Valley AVA are planted mid-slope and plentiful with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals.  The Eastern area of this AVA supports Bordeaux and Rhone type varietals.

In 1969 the Miller family decided to get into the business of growing grapes and with their expertise of citrus and avocado orchards they had a good idea about where to grow grapes, in some of the best grape terrior in the world, the Santa Maria Valley AVA.  The Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills vineyards are known and respected world wide.

It was an honor to have grape farming expert and Thornhill Companies spokesperson(Miller Family Companies), Nicholas Miller, on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© this week.  Nicholas was kind enough to walk me through the family operations. 

Let’s start with the Bien Nacido Vineyard; this vineyard is planted primarily with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Syrah. The original plantings came from stock grown by the University of California at Davis and grow on their own rootstock. Bien Nacido also has the distinction of being the first vineyard in California to grow cool climate Syrah.

Solomon Hills Vineyards is the most recently developed vineyard by the Miller family.  Soils in the Solomon Hills Vineyards are composed primarily of ocean floor sandy loams.  The maritime influence results in wines that are crisp, bright, and an elegant balance.  Two of the highest rated Pinot Noirs by Robert Parker Jr. have come from this vineyard in the Santa Maria valley AVA.

What I really took away from this story besides the fact that the Miller family produces world class grapes in their vineyards from the South Central Coast wine region is their level of commitment to the wine industry.

Thornhill companies which is the parent company umbrella of not only the vineyards but other Miller family companies that provide a complete array of  support facilities and services.   These facilities and services have been   made available to small boutique labels and larger winemakers alike.

Central Coast Wine Services supports the Wine Industry by providing a full Wine Service business.  This operation assists both grape growers and wineries by expanding their alternatives for fermenting, aging, storing, finishing, bottling, tasting with their clients, and storing their case goods production. In addition, the Miller family provides a quality wine laboratory, a retail delivery service, local consolidation, less expensive nationwide shipping, direct shipping to reciprocal states, and wine club operations that now can operate under a single roof.

Central Coast Wine Services has a truck size scale, a crusher-destemmer, multiple presses, almost 2,000,000 gallons of stainless steel tanks, space to store more than 10,000 barrels, two bottling lines, room for approximately 485,00 cases of wine, a small producers crush pad, a rail siding, numerous truck docks, a conference room with an attached kitchen for wine tasting, and space rented both to other wineries and wine related, services businesses, including one of the foremost wine labs in California, currently comprises over 250,000 square feet.

The remarkable growth of the Central Coast Wine Services has paralleled the growth and recognition of Central Coast wine production.  The Central Coast Wine Services has recently started a sister organization; The Paso Robles Wine Services, which is located in Paso Robles, to serve small and moderate size wineries in that area.

When I asked Nicholas to suggest a few great winemakers that you and I should watch for he had these recommendations to share:

Qupé; is dedicated to producing handcrafted Rhône varietals and Chardonnay from California’s Central Coast. They employ traditional winemaking techniques to make wines that are true to type and exhibit terrior. Their goal is to make wines with impeccable balance that can be enjoyed in their youth, yet because of the good acidity from cool vineyard sites can also benefit from ageing.

Au Bon Climat; The winery has cultivated an international reputation for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Jim Clendenen, the “Mind Behind” Au Bon Climat, is recognized worldwide for his classically-styled wines (in addition to his Burgundian-focused ABC wines, Jim is also highly regarded for his Italian and other French varietals). In 1989 and 1990 Au Bon Climat was on Robert Parker’s short list of Best Wineries in the World.

Tantara; Since 1997, Tantara has been dedicated to producing the very finest Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.  Located on the beautiful Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County), our wines are sourced from top Central Coast growers and vineyard designate from vineyards such as Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills.

J Wilkes; They are dedicated to producing only small lots of handcrafted wines from the Santa Maria Valley while maintaining the natural delicacy of the grapes. Over the past two decades, J. Wilkes wines have been made by sourcing high quality fruit from Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Vineyards.

I would like to thank Nicholas Miller for joining me on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© this week and sharing the rich history and story from 5 generations of the Miller Family.  Congratulations Nicholas to you and your wife on the birth of your new baby, the next generation.

"from my table to yours"

"from my table to yours"


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