Andrew Murray Winery
Santa Barbara County region
A near-perfect role model for anyone desiring to enter the wine business
In the period that extended through the 1970’s and into the mid-80’s, James Murray and his wife Fran were owners of the El Paso Cantina chain of highly profitable Mexican restaurants that existed in Southern California. The restaurants were huge and required a great deal of work to make them successful. At one point, the Murrays decided to travel abroad during their vacations to get away from the rigors of the all-consuming food business.
Their travels eventually brought them to France’s Rhône Valley where the couple found what they felt an absolute blend of factors that contributed to what they considered a near-perfect food environment. The Rhône Valley was the very cradle of French culinary expertise and home to many of France’s celebrated restaurants. In time, the engaging California couple was able to meet and share their endeavors with the likes of Paul Bocuse, Marc Maneau and other culinary luminaries.
What also impressed James and Fran Murray were the remarkable wines of the Rhône, not yet fully known to American palates yet perfectly suited to the complex and often subtle flavors of Rhône dishes and cooking. Many days and nights were spent in the cellars of Rhône chateaux and negotiants sampling the varied wines that were available to compliment the cuisines of the Rhône Valley.
When the couple returned home to Southern California, the interest they gleaned in France was translated into short trips to the Santa Barbara where their daughter was attending school. Santa Barbara’s surrounding wine region was in its infancy and truly appropriate for the Murray’s new found interest in wine and cuisine. Almost immediately, they encountered some of the pioneering members of the early Santa Barbara growing movement including Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat. As the friendship grew and the Murrays’ respect and interest for Santa Barbara’s wines increased, Clendenen urged the couple to join him in the effort to establish the region as a prime coastal growing area for the state.
James Murray realized the existing similarities between Santa Barbara and his beloved Rhône Valley and soon found a piece of property that suited his needs. In 1987, he sold El Paso Cantina and immediately purchased a totally landlocked 200-acre piece of land that reminded him of similar acreage in the Rhône Valley. With the help of Clendenen and others, the land was soon planted in some of James Murray's favorite Rhône varietals.
The Murray Family went about their new endeavor with much enthusiasm. They planted the first vines themselves and for the first few years had but one or two outside helpers. In 1994, work was begun on a small 5,000 square foot winery that would process their wines. By this time, the Murray’s teenage son Andrew had developed a keen interest in wine and winemaking and had emerged as the family’s standard bearer. After a family meeting, a choice was made to name the winery after him. After all, the decision of the Murray Family to enter the wine business was a long-term proposition, and everyone involved figured that Andrew would be around long enough to insure the project’s ultimate success.
The winery’s initial production was limited to only 1,400 cases, with the first release (a 1994 Syrah) coming in 1996. Since then, a combination of extremely good business practices and some marvelous wine reviews have pushed up the winery’s present annual production to a little over 9,000 cases. Also, the Andrew Murray Winery building was recently expanded to include a second barrel room that could conceivably expand its production even more. The winery feels that such expansion, however, will be a result of increased consumer demand and will occur over an extended period of time.
At this time, a total of fifteen states and nine foreign countries carry the distinctive black labeled Andrew Murray wines and Andrew Murray himself is more interested in improving his wines than expanding his distribution base.
The Andrew Murray Winery is a near-perfect role model for anyone desiring to enter the wine business. It is well conceived, perfectly orchestrated and fulfills an ideal niche with its product line. Its founders spent the time and money to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and entered the business with excellent help.
By all indications, the Andrew Murray Winery will be around for a long time to come.
Map of the area
Andrew Murray - Winemaker & Owner
At the tender young age of 30, Andrew Murray has been the spearhead of his successful namesake winery for over a third of his life. He is counted as a leader of the Rhône Boom, Movement, Revival (or whatever you prefer to call it) of California varietals and his wines have caught the attention of this country’s top wine writers. He is the product of a close nit family that has worked hard to fulfill a dream that originated is France’s Rhône Valley over 17 years ago.
It all started when Andrew Murray was a young teenager. According to him, he was forced to accompany his parents to their annual vacations to France (rather than stay home and hang out with his friends) where the Murrays toured and enjoyed gastronomic France.
When he was fifteen, the trips had increased in frequency and so had Andrew’s interest in the food and wine of the Rhône Valley. A tasting at the renowned estate of Philippe Faury proved to be Andrew’s wine epiphany when he tasted a Faury Viognier. The softness and sheer pleasantness of the wine literally blew away young Andrew Murray.
After being accepted at the University of California-Berkley, Andrew endured for less than a year until he transferred to UC Davis where he was able to pursue his love and passion for the grape. At nineteen, he was among the youngest students in his class. By then his parents, James and Fran had already acquired some elevated property in Santa Barbara’s Foxen Canyon and planted some of their favorite Rhône varietals including Andrew’s beloved Viognier.
Before graduating in 1995, Andrew also threw in a stint with noted Western Australian winemaker Roger Bowen in the Margaret River Region. He credits Bowen as being his true mentor and the ‘person who taught me to enjoy wine and really drink it.” Andrew Murray considers his time BB (Before Bowen) as more academia-related than hands on, a most important consideration to the young winemaker.
Upon returning, Murray had the added good fortune to be befriended by Bill Wathen of Foxen Vineyards who became Andrew’s friend and early American adviser. Between the two, Andrew Murray’s Winery’s future and focus was carefully formulated.
The Murray Family originally thought of simply selling the grapes it has planted, but America’s rising interest in Rhône varietals brought about the establishment of Andrew Murray Winery. When the winery was completed in 1994, Andrew was acclaimed the youngest winemaker in the country. He was all of 22.
Today, Andrew is more content with the quality levels his wines have achieved and the reviews they have garnered than of the notoriety he has received as a youthful winemaker. He speaks maturely of the great diversity of wine and of the true competitive nature of the wine business.
He has expanded Andrew Murray Winery’s vineyard base and is eagerly contemplating a new venture with White Hawk Vineyards in Paso Robles that will produce custom fruit for future winery expansion. Such networking is vital, he believes, to an industry that is constantly expanding its plantings base.
Andrew remains firmly committed to the two wines that are closest to his heart, Espérance and Viognier. His winery was originally to be named Espérance but consultants urged the Murray Family to utilize a person’s name instead and the Andrew Murray Winery was formalized.
While deeply committed to the winery, Andrew Murray has his priorities completely in order. With his wife Kristen and their two children, the Andrew Murrays live in a renovated barn in Santa Ynez, some fifteen miles from the winery. He credits his wife with being an ‘amazing woman and mother, and the glue that held the winery together.”
As with most impassioned winemakers, Andrew Murray wants to ‘continue to improve the quality of his wines to be among the finest in the world.” He has set as his goals the marvelous classic offerings of the Rhône, with Hermitage squarely in his sights.
‘I want people to say we make our wines with great style,” he has been quoted as saying.
Those who know Andrew Murray and are familiar with his wines feel he already has achieved that goal, and will continue to do so for many years to come.