[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Nearly two dozen of the winemakers who get their grapes from Bien Nacido Vineyards joined the Miller family and other guests Saturday night to toast the 40th anniversary of the esteemed Santa Maria Valley vineyard.

Santa Barbara residents Stephen and Ladeen Miller, and their sons, Marshall and Nicholas, hosted the dinner in honor of the historic vineyard, the dedicated employees who farm it and the more than 35 winemakers who craft wine from the 800-acre vineyard, located on Santa Maria Mesa Road east of Santa Maria.

The Millers, a fifth-generation California farming family, in 1969 purchased the land now known as Bien Nacido along with an adjacent parcel that had been included in the original land grant. Together the parcels, which the family christened Rancho Tepusquet, equaled more than 2,000 acres. Included in the deal was the Ontiveros Adobe, which was built starting in 1857.

“We’d like to express our gratitude to you for being here,” Nicholas Miller told the crowd gathered in the adobe’s courtyard while the sun sank against the western edge of the vineyard.

Winemaker Rick Longoria has produced a pinot noir from Bien Nacido’s Block N since 1993, and described the parent company as both a solid corporation and “one that is family run and thus very family oriented.”

Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen and his winemaking partner Bob Lindquist of Qupe have since the early 1980s operated from one of two winery facilities on Bien Nacido itself.

Clendenen praised the Miller family for allowing winemakers to experiment and thrive by planting syrah, and Italian varietals such as barbera and nebbiolo. The vineyard is “just an ideal climate for so many grape varietals,” he said.

Longoria, Clendenen and the other winemakers present Saturday provided attendees with a generous sampling of their Bien Nacido wines, among them a 1993 Makor Pinot Blanc, a 1999 Tantara Chardonnay and a 15-year vertical of pinot noir from Steele Wines of Kelseyville.

In the early 1970s, Stephen Miller and his late brother, Robert, realized that the site’s soils and climate were ideal for growing grapes, and the first vines were planted in 1973, said Nicholas Miller, vice president of marketing and sales for the Thornhill Companies, parent company of Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills and French Camp vineyards as well as Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria and Paso Robles. His brother, Marshall Miller, is the company’s vice president of finance and operations.

Bien Nacido is planted mostly to chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot blanc and syrah.

Solomon Hills Vineyard was planted in 1999 south of East Clark Avenue, and French Camp Vineyard, also planted in 1973, covers more the 1,300 acres east of Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County.

The original vines at both Bien Nacido and French Camp vineyards came from rootstock grown by UC Davis. Today the vineyard remains one of the major viticultural nurseries in California for certified budwood, Nicholas Miller noted.

In 2010, the California State Fair named Bien Nacido “Vineyard of the Year,” and Wine & Spirits Magazine has ranked it among the Top 25 vineyards in the world, he said.

Since 2007, the Millers have produced chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah under the family’s own Bien Nacido Wines label. Production is limited to less than 1,000 cases each year, Miller said.

But with a nod to the many winemakers whose labels display “Bien Nacido,” Nicholas Miller noted that the property is recognized as “the most ‘vineyard-designated’ vineyard in the world.”

— Laurie Jervis is a Noozhawk contributing writer who blogs at www.centralcoastwinepress.com. Contact her at winecountrywriter@gmail.com.