2015 "The Captain" Pinot Noir, The Pillars Series

Bien Nacido

Santa Maria Valley
In 1969, brothers Bob and Steve Miller found a parcel of land they immediately knew had incredible potential for grape growing. Their vision was simple, to develop a vineyard that would be acknowledged as amongst the most recognised vineyards of the world. It took them four years of hard work to set up the 121 hectares of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The combination of rocky soils, cool climate and ocean influence as well as the talented winemaker, Trey Fletcher, make the Bien Nacido wines a superb, handcrafted range whose pedigree is simply unparalleled. From one of the vineyard's highest-altitude and most exposed plantings, the 2015 Pinot Noir The Captain reveals a lifted bouquet of orange rind and spicy red fruit, subtly framed by classy new oak. On the palate, it's medium-bodied and tensile, more edgy in style than the wines from further down the slope, with a bright core of fruit and a tangy, mouthwatering finish. This will need some time to unwind, but it's a very distinctive expression of Bien Nacido. 172 cases were produced. The Miller family's Bien Nacido Vineyard comprises over 800 acres of vines and is best known as the source of cool-climate grapes—above all, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah—for a multitude of California wineries. But winemaker Trey Fletcher also ably presides over an exciting program of estate wines that are worthy of attention. Fletcher has selected fine blocks, emphasizing old vines, and superintends their farming himself on organic principles (the rest of the vineyard is managed by Chris Hammell, with farming practices adapted according to client preferences). A Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Miller family's Solomon Hills Estate are also bottled under a separate label. The wine program's aspiration, as Fletcher describes it, is to offer "a genuine representation of the vineyard," eschewing stylistic extremes. I found them to be classy, classically balanced and impressively consistent wines that should have a good future in bottle. This is our highest portion of Bien Nacido, which we planted in 2006. Thanks to advancements in farm equipment, we use a special tractor armed with tank tracks, in order to work this portion. Block 40 has the highest density of vines, nearing 10,000 vines per acre, and contains each of the clones found on our property. Block 40 is considered a Monopole, and will always be one of the Pillars of Bien Nacido. We were honored with having the highest scoring Pinot Noir ever in the Central Coast, and the elements are easy to recognize. The Captain is always effortlessly balanced. With lifted hibiscus, Bing cherry and bright cranberry, but seamlessly shows the pipe tobacco, black cherry and clove. The fermentations are always done separately and with native yeasts. The aging tends to see a higher percentage of French oak, topping 50% in most vintages with 18 months spent in barrel. As is noted for all of the Estate wines, The Captain is never fined or filtered.
Pinot Noir
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California is the largest and most important wine region in the USA. It accounts for the southern two-thirds (850 miles or 1370 kilometers) of the country's west coast. (Oregon and Washington make up the rest.) The state also spans almost ten degrees of latitude. With mountains, valleys, plains and plateaux, California's topography is as complex as its climate, offering winegrowers a bewildering choice of terroir.

Californian wines only rose to global renown in the past few decades (notably after the Paris Judgment of 1976). However the state's viticultural history dates back more than 200 years. European vines were first planted here in the 18th Century, as settlers and missionaries made their way up and down the west coast. They brought with them the Mission grape – the vinifera variety also instrumental in establishing viniculture in Central and South America. Although very few Mission vines are to be found in California today, it remains a cornerstone of Californian wine.

The first half of the 20th Century brought war, Prohibition and the Great Depression to the United States. Collectively these suffocated the nation's wine industry. It wasn't until the significant social, cultural and economic developments that followed World War 2 that things began to change. In the 1970s, Californian wine industry leaders brought about renewed winemaking passion in other US states, in turn sparking the national wine renaissance. This period saw a proliferation of new, small-scale wineries throughout the country and the upscaling of longer-established operations. Momentum has continued into the 21st century.

Today, California hosts some of the world's largest wine companies. It is also home to a number of boutique wineries, some of which attract astronomical prices for their cult wines. Whether through mass production or single-vineyard artisanal winemaking, California produces 90 percent of American-made wine. It also supplies more than 60 percent of all wine consumed in the country. A record 211.9 million cases were produced in 2011.

The principal varieties grown in California are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. A wide range of traditional European (Vitis vinifera) vines also flourish, including Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. Zinfandel can also be included in the list as it is genetically identical to Tribidrag in Croatia and Primitivo in Italy. Among white grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc is a distant second to Chardonnay. These are grafted to hardy American rootstocks which are resistant to phylloxera. Less well known are American/European hybrids producing wines mainly for local consumption.

Santa Maria Valley

Santa Maria Valley

Santa Maria Valley is an American Viticultural Area located in the northernmost part of Santa Barbara County, just east of Santa Maria city and 15 miles (24km) inland from the Pacific Coast. It was the first in the county to receive official AVA approval in 1981, and is renowned for producing some of California's finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines – the appellation's two flagship varieties.
The east–west orientation of the wide, open valley means cool winds and fog flow in freely from the Pacific Ocean, settling most noticeably in lower-lying areas. This climatic effect is significant in several viticultural areas along California's Pacific coast, as the cool maritime influence lengthens the growing season and contributes to the eventual sugar/acid balance in Santa Maria Valley's wines. Indeed, Santa Maria Valley's extended grape-growing season is among the longest in the world.
The dominant grape variety in Santa Maria Valley's vineyards is unquestionably Pinot Noir, with it performing particularly well in the AVA's cooler mesoclimates. Leaner, more elegant styles of Pinot Noir are made from vines planted at higher elevations (more than 600ft) at the eastern end of the valley, in the peripheries of the fog line. Pinot Noir's white Burgundian counterpart, Chardonnay, is also widely planted throughout the AVA and is the grape variety behind roughly one-third of Santa Maria Valley's white wines.

Such well-known vineyards as Au Bon Climat and Bien Nacido are located here, just a few miles upriver from Santa Maria city.