New Access: Bien Nacido Vineyard Welcomes Guests for First Time

By Gabe Saglie   |   May 30, 2023
The Gatehouse features large floor-to-ceiling windows that open, revealing expansive vineyard and mountain views (photo by Silas Fallstich Photography)

The newest wine tasting destination in Santa Barbara County is, actually, 50 years in the making.

The Gatehouse at Bien Nacido Vineyard officially opens to the public this Memorial Day weekend. It’s a brand-new structure – two-stories, plenty of indoor and outdoor spaces, sustainably built from the ground up – located right at the entrance of the sprawling estate. Among its most significant distinctions? The fact that it’s welcoming guests – for the first time ever – right onto the grounds of what is one of the most revered vineyards in the world.

Bien Nacido’s fairy tale story stretches back to 1973, when brothers Steve and Bob Miller planted 300 acres of pinot noir and chardonnay on a Santa Maria Valley plot that they’d purchased a few years earlier. They were cultivating a historic site – an 1830s Spanish land grant that had been in the hands of only two other families before the Millers acquired it. A remarkable terroir, combined with decades of careful stewardship, including organic farming techniques, have made the wine grapes grown here uber sought-after. In fact, Bien Nacido is the most designated vineyard in the world, meaning more producers source grapes here, and spotlight the vineyard on their labels, than any other grape source.

An adobe still sits on the heart of the estate, built in 1857. “It’s the spiritual home of Bien Nacido,” Nicholas Miller tells me during the MJ’s preview of The Gatehouse earlier this month. He and brother Marshall, sons of Steve Miller, represent the new generation at the helm of Santa Barbara-based Miller Wine Company, whose portfolio, among other vineyards and various wine brands, includes Bien Nacido. Inside that adobe is a testament to the vineyard’s wide, impressive designation – a wall featuring dozens of bottles from the many producers who source Bien Nacido fruit, including Au Bon Climat, Daou, Qupe, Epiphany, and Paul Lato.

If the adobe honors Bien Nacido’s past, then the Gatehouse marks its future. It’s a sleek and airy visitor center, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that open into an expansive courtyard, with tables both inside and out. With vineyard and mountain views that stretch as far as the eye can see, the Gatehouse has the feel of blending into the lush terrain, while providing visitors with an elegant and cozy spot to pause and sip. A large, stylish bar anchors the downstairs lounge, while an upstairs room is available for private events. The small parking lot features EV chargers.

Winemaker Anthony Avila, MJ wine writer Gabe Saglie, senior marketing director Tommy Gaeta and owner Nicholas Miller

Tasting appointments are required, and guests can choose from a variety of experiences. The Estate Tasting Flight ($45) gets you sipping on Bien’s Nacido’s estate wines. Under the direction of winemaker Anthony Avila, the eponymous brand earmarks enough of its own fruit to produce about 2500 cases a year – sumptuous pinots and chardonnays, of course, but a few Rhône superstars, too. The wines are made inside a state-of-the-art facility built in 2011, repurposed from an old dairy farm. 

During our preview visit, I sat down to an al fresco lunch with the Bien Nacido team, including Avila and Miller, and tasted through a few of the estate selections. The 2020 Chardonnay ($50) is grown on the estate’s windswept easternmost bench, vines planted on their own roots back in 1973; it’s rich and sophisticated, with citrus and tropical notes and a refreshing acidity. The 2020 Pinot Noir ($75) is made with grapes from five different sections of Bien Nacido – a true snapshot of the vineyard’s potential – and features a supple mouthfeel and lots of delicious dark berry flavors. The 2020 Syrah ($75) grows in a sunny, breezy section of the vineyard known as Block Z, the most sought-after spot by third-party producers; the wine is fleshy and flavorous.

Other experiences include the Burgundy Tasting Flight ($60) and the Rhône Tasting Flight ($60), which feature wines from both the Bien Nacido label as well as the brand’s Black Label Collection, which feature premium wines grown on specific vines and blocks that garner special acclaim for the quality fruit they produce. Usually reserved for purchase by Bien Nacido wine club members – and seeing an annual production of only about 100 cases – these wines carry catchy titles, like “The Captain” Pinot Noir and the “XO” Syrah, both grown on Bien Nacido, and the “Belle of the Ball” Chardonnay, grown on its sister vineyard, Solomon Hills, located about eight miles away. Our lunch group tastes the 2020 Bien Nacido “Succession,” a GSM blend – about a third each of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre – that oozes blue fruit notes, exotic spice aromas and silky tannins. 

The top-tier experience is the Private Tour and Tasting ($150), available for groups of up to five, which includes a guided tasting and a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery and the vineyard, which is now planted to more than 800 acres of grapes, all aboard the estate’s brand-new electric ATV. For more information, go to

With The Gatehouse now open, Bien Nacido has moved out of the tasting room it occupied for more than seven years in Los Olivos. The “optic” label has taken that over as a pop-up tasting location through the summer (maybe longer), featuring wines made by Joey Tensley with fruit sourced from all three Miller Family vineyards – Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills, both in the Santa Maria Valley, and French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles. Check out


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