California Old Vine Pinot Noir Vineyards: Santa Barbara County
“Older vines have larger carbohydrate reserves in the trunk and root system
that ensure a better start to the growing season. Older vines also have a
better natural balance with modest vigor in the canopy and modest crop levels.”
Jamie Goode, wine journalist
Bien Nacido Vineyards
Location: Santa Maria Valley
Owner: Miller family
Initial Planting: 1973
Acres: Q Block, 23 acres; N Block; G Block
Scion: Multiple selections in G, N and Q blocks - Pommard, Martini 13, Swan and Calera
Producers from these vineyards: multiple
Bien Nacido Vineyards is located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA a few miles east of the town of Santa
Maria in a valley that is open to an east-to-west corridor leading to the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Most of the vineyard blocks are allocated to small producers and farmed according to their standards.
The terroir combines rock soils (sandy loam, chalk, gravelly loam, and marine loam) and an ocean-influenced
cool climate. Today, the vineyards span 800 acres with 250 acres of Pinot Noir. The Bien
Nacido Vineyard remains a major source for certified, variety budwood for other vineyards in
Bien Nacido Vineyards
In 1969, brothers Bob and Steve Miller partnered to develop a world-class
vineyard celebrating their family’s 100th year of California farming. First planted in 1973 in a portion of
the historic Rancho Tepusquet, the vineyard was called Bien Nacido, meaning “well-born” in Spanish.
The oldest Pinot Noir vines are in Block G, Block N, and Block Q. The own-rooted vines in these
blocks were planted in 1973 and are still productive. The oldest sections are said to contain
Pommard, Martini, Swan and Calera clones.
I made multiple inquiries to Bien Nacido sources to determine all of the scion material and acreage
and percentage of currently producing original vines in all of the initial Blocks of Pinot Noir at Bien
Nacido Vineyard but my inquiries were never answered.
My website lists 39 producers who have accessed Bien Nacido Pinot Noir grapes through the years
and I am sure there are several more.
For more than 20 years, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery has sourced Pinot Noir from the legendary
Q Block that is 23 acres of Pommard 4 planted in 1973 and considered the most prestigious Pinot
Noir block on this famous site. Bien Nacido Estate has bottled a limited amount (rarely more than 120
cases) of Old Vines Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir from Blocks G, N, and Q, including a 2014 “Old
Vines LXXIII Bien Nacido Vineyard” Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir from Blocks M and Q ($100).
The Bien Nacido Estate Pinot Noir includes vines planted in 1973, 1996, and 2006. Tantara (G and N
Blocks), Tyler Winery (N Block), The Ojai Vineyard (Q Block, no strictly old vines bottling), Richard
Longoria Wines (Blocks G & N) Timbre (G Block) and Byron (Q Block) have sourced Pinot Noir from
the old blocks. Wines currently available: 2016 Longoria Bien Nacido Vineyard Block N Santa
Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($50), 2016 Scar of the Sea Bien Nacido Vineyard Block Q Santa Maria
Valley Pinot Noir ($70), 2016 Timbre Winery “Lead Vocals” (Block G) Santa Maria Valley Pinot
Noir ($55), and 2017 Byron Bien Nacido Vineyard Q Block Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, as well
as the following wines reviewed in June 2020:
2014 Bien Nacido Estate Old Vines Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $100. Sourced from the oldest
own rooted vines at Bien Nacido.
Moderate garnet color in
the glass. The nose reveals itself over time in the glass to
to offer a marriage of cherry and toasty oak aromas. Light
to mid-weight in style, with flavors of cherry, strawberry,
spice and toasty oak. Elegantly fruited, even close to
shallow with an appealing juiciness. The wine has a rustic,
savory bearing with a modicum of toasty oak in the
background. Better over time in the glass, showing off a
resolute but not especially long finish.
2017 Gary Farrell Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $70. One of the few
wineries to source Pommard clone from the legendary Q
Light garnet color in the glass. The scent of dark red
cherry and berry, oak spice and floral perfume leads to a
mid-weight infusion of oak-kissed Bing cherry and dark
strawberry fruit flavors. Fresh and satisfying without
noticeable tannins, silky in texture, and offering an arrow of
acidity that drives a lip-smacking, extended finish. Note: I
have tasted this wine on three occasions with variable
results and scores ranging from 90-93. This review was
from the best of the three bottles.
2016 Scar of the Sea Bien Nacido Vineyard Q Block Old Vine Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $70.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of
cherry, raspberry, underbrush, slate and toasty oak. Very
gracious on the palate with impeccable balance, offering
the middleweight flavor of darker, well-spiced cherry.
Slightly creamy in texture, with gentle tannins and a
dusting of toasty oak that shows up on the finish.
2016 Tyler Bien Nacido Vineyard Old Vine Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $70.
Moderately light garnet color in the glass. The nose is replete with oak-driven aromas of cigar, pipe
bowl, ash and wood. Light to mid-weight in style, featuring juicy flavors of cherry, strawberry and
savory herbs that are obscured by overbearing oak treatment. The redeeming features are a silky
mouthfeel, gossamer tannins and a decent length of finish.
2017 Tyler Bien Nacido Vineyard - N Block Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $90.
Moderate garnet color
in the glass. The nose is dominated by toasted oak aroma
with a hint of cherry in the rear. Light to mid-weight in style,
offering flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and savory
herbs. The fruit load is shallow on both the mid palate and
finish. Suave in the mouth and easy to drink, but the
aggressive barrel presence spoils the experience.
Clark & Telephone Vineyard
Location: Santa Maria Valley
Owner: Belle Glos (Joseph Wagner)
Initial Planting: 1972
Scion: Martini 13
Producer from this vineyard: Belle Glos
This vineyard, located near the corner of Clark Avenue and Telephone Road, was established in 1972
with own-rooted Martini clone. It is situated at 580-700 feet elevation, 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean
on a west-facing slope, exposed to coastal breezes and cool fog. Soils are sandy loam.
Belle Glos is the sole producer of wine from this vineyard. The wines are widely distributed in the
retail marketplace. Visit www.belleglos.com
Clark & Telephone Vineyard
2018 Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., $55 (often discounted). Released
October 2019. 100% de-stemmed, up to 2-week cold soak,
closed and open-top stainless steel fermenters, punchdowns
and punch-overs. Aged up to 9 months in French
oak barrels (60% new). Racked twice after malolactic
fermentation before making the final blend.
reflects fruit that is left on the vine for an extended time so
that the skins are dark, show orange peel dimpling and the
seeds are brown. The resulting wine is relatively high in
alcohol and resembles the Meomi brand crafted by the
same winemaker, Joe Wagner. Very dark garnet color in
the glass. Not particularly aromatic, with an aloof perfume
of blackberry syrup and damp earth. The full-bodied array of purple and black berry fruits are thick on
the palate. Sweet flavored, with some floral and earth contributions. Very modest dry tannins. The
high alcohol is well-hidden. This wine could have come from anywhere. There are fans of this style of
Pinot Noir, but it is not my cup of tea since it has little redeeming Pinot Noir perfume and refinement..
Location: Santa Maria
Owner: Cambria Estate Winery (Jackson Family Wines)
Initial planting: Early 1970s
Acres: About 50 acres
Scion: Predominantly Pommard 4
Producers from this vineyard: multiple but I believe Byron is the only winery to bottle old vine
Pommard 4 Pinot Noir
Julia’s Vineyard was first planted in the early 1970s (various sources report 1970, 1971, 1972) in part
of the original Tepusquet Bench in Santa Maria by the Louis and George Lucas brothers. In 1986,
Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke (along with the Robert Mondavi Winery) purchased a sizable
section of the benchland part of the plantings at Tepusquet Vineyards and founded Cambria Estate
Winery. Tepusquet Vineyards consisted of a 2,700-acre ranch with more than 1,400 acres of
developed vineyard dating to the 1970s.
The benchland is located between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Sisquoc River, and was
originally denoted as Tepuzil, a Chumash Indian term meaning “copper coin.” Spanish settlers later
renamed it Rancho Tepusquet. The original owners of the rancho, part of an 1838 Mexican land grant,
were the Olivera family who raised cattle and planted Mission grapes.
Cambria Estate vineyards are located 17 miles inland and sit at 400 to 800 feet above sea level. They
are planted in well-drained, ancient alluvial sandy soil that contains limestone and granite. The climate
is cool with moderating maritime influences from the east-west orientation of the valley.
There are five estate vineyards at Cambria, but Julia’s and Katherine’s Vineyards (named after
Banke’s daughters) and Tepusquet Vineyard supply 90% of the grapes to the winery.
Julia's Vineyard old vines
According to John Haeger (Pacific Pinot Noir - 2008), two blocks of original, own-rooted Pinot Noir
vines, B6 and B7, about 50 acres, remain in production as of 2008. Another block, B4, was planted in
1974 to Pommard 4 and this “Bench Break” block has been sourced by Lane Tanner (who said she
sourced a Martin Ray selection or Mount Eden selection from B4), Hitching Post, Foxen, Bonaccorsi,
Kenneth Volk and Byron.
Another 400 acres of Pinot Noir are new plantings or replants of vines established between 1979 and
1989. Clones are mainly Pommard, but also Wädenswil 2A, 23, Martini 15, and Dijon 115, 667, 777
and “828.”. Cambria farms more Pinot Noir than anyone on the Tepusquet Bench.
Julia’s eponymous vineyard parcel was created in 1991. There is both a regular Cambria Estate
Julia’s Vineyard (35,000 cases) and Cambria Estate Signature Julia’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley
Pinot Noir produced but it is most likely these bottlings contain little of the original plantings. The blend
is usually made up of 8 clones including Pommard 4, 2A, 23, 667, 115, 777, and “828.” Julia’s
Pinot Noir is a standard-bearer for Central Coast Pinot Noir, at 35,000 cases annually and it is widely
available and value-priced.
A currently available old vine bottling is the 2017 Byron Julia’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot
Noir (50 cases, allocation) Sourced from two rows of old vine Pommard 4 presumably planted in the
early 1970s - www.byronwines.com
Sanford & Benedict Vineyard
Location: Sta. Rita Hills
Owner: Sanford Winery (Terlato)
Initial planting: 1970
Scion: Mount Eden selection direct from Mount Eden and FPS 18 (Gamay Beaujolais)
Producers from this vineyard: multiple but only the owners, Sanford Winery, have produced an Old
Vines bottling in recent years that is stated as made from 100% old vines.
Geographer Richard Sanford and partner botanist Michael Benedict purchased a 473-acre piece of
Rancho Santa Rosa that had once been dry farmed for beans and barley. They acquired cuttings in
1970, grew them into rootings and planted them in the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1971-1972.
The initial planting of 120 acres along Santa Rosa Road included Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling,
Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Michael Benedict had developed a model for an ideal vineyard environment and he traveled from Baja
California, Mexico, to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada, looking for land. He found
the best location with friend Richard Sanford, a site nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and
San Rafael Mountains in an east to the west valley.
Richard Sanford was a pioneer in Santa Barbara County viticulture and is often referred to as the
“Godfather of Central Coast Pinot Noir.” He and Benedict were the first to see the potential of the Sta.
Rita Hills as a region for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, realizing that the transverse mountain range
where the valleys are west-to-east lying and open to the Pacific Ocean provides an optimal maritime
influence for these two varieties to thrive. Richard Sanford was named 2020 Vintner of the Year by the
Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance.
The 1976 Sanford Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir was the first commercial Pinot Noir release
in the Sta. Rita Hills. The wine was critically acclaimed by Dan Berger and others, as the first
California Pinot Noir that was “Burgundian in style.”
The partners had a falling out by 1980 and the two parted ways with Benedict retaining ownership of
the vineyard. The Sanfords regained management of Sanford & Benedict Vineyard under the
ownership of Robert Atkin in 1988 only to lose the vineyard once again in 2007 to Sanford's then
business partners at Sanford Winery, Terlato Wine Group.
The current owner, Sanford Winery, still farms 51 acres of the original planting. There are more than
20 blocks and 11 different clones. The own-rooted original vines are planted in calcium-rich clay loam
soils that contain fractured shale and chert.
Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
Original Pinot Noir vines at Sanford & Benedict Vineyard
There is a lengthy list of wineries that have sourced Pinot Noir from this vineyard including D’Alfonso-
Curren, Arnot-Roberts, Au Bon Climat, Bonaccorsi, Chanin, Deovlet, Fess Parker, Gary Farrell,
Hitching Post, Ken Brown, Longoria, Lumen, Lutum, Racines, Sanford, Sandhi, Testarossa, Tyler,
Wedell Cellars and Windrun. I am not certain which of the winery’s bottlings are sourced from
completely original Pinot Noir plantings because of replanting and interplanting in the original vineyard
and newer plantings at the site over the past years. You would need to inquire with the winery about
the proportion of original vine inclusion. The 2014 Sanford Founders' Vines bottling reviewed recently is composed
completely from the original plantings. The 2016 Sanford Founders' Vines Pinot Noir ($120) may be available by the time you read this.Visit www.sanfordwinery.com. The Au Bon Climat bottling
was reviewed in July 2019 and the amount of original plantings is uncertain. See
2016 Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Historic Vineyards Collection Santa Ynez Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $50. Extended cold soak, aged 20
months in Francois Frères French oak barrels.
in color in the glass. Reserved initially, but pleasant
aromas of oak-kissed red cherry and berry. Admirable in
every way, with impressive harmony and class. Red fruits
enhanced with baking spices are featured in a
middleweight styled wine that offers elegance, hidden
tannins and a persistent finish. This is one of the best
examples of a wine from this vineyard that I have tasted in
2014 Sanford Single Block Founders' Vines Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $115.
Inviting nose that
exudes wondrous aromas of cherry, raspberry and sous
bois. Beautifully composed, with mid-weight flavors of
fresh cherry, ripe strawberry and purple grape and some
earthiness adding gravitas. Silky on the palate with a mere
shadow of tannins at this stage stout acidity and a hint of
welcome oak. The finish is grand befitting the maturity of