Ballard Lane Wines
Central Coast AVA
Award-winning wines at a super value
Ballard Lane Wines is a recent entry into the California wine industry, and has made incredible strides since its inception in late 2011. At that time, a mere two hundred cases were released that were intended for the California on premise restaurant market.
“It’s a fact that Ballard Lane first saw light as a restaurant wine,” declared Nicholas Miller, one of the owners of Ballard Lane Wines. “We saw a need for a popular priced wine from the Central Coast region that represented a really excellent price/value relationship and we took it from there. What we didn’t expect was the trade’s incredible response to our product. It’s been nothing short of amazing and we are absolutely delighted.”
From humble beginnings just two years ago, Ballard Lane Wines has grown to a production of more than 24,000 cases for this year. In wine industry terms, such a startling increase is remarkable to say the least.
“The idea behind Ballard Lane Wines is to provide a truly food-friendly wine for consumers (and restaurants) that is reasonably priced,” Miller continued. “We are fortunate to be able to draw from a number of our family-owned vineyards for most of our fruit and our family is now in its fifth generation of growing vines. But, at the same time we have also been able to maintain an excellent relationship with a number of our neighbors who can supply us with additional fruit. That’s one reason we have been able to expand Ballard Lane Wines so rapidly. We had a ready supply of great fruit to draw from and an excellent winemaking staff (see Spotlight for an article about Winemaker Chris Brown) to put everything together.”
Ballard Lane Wines already has an expansion plan in place that calls for continued increases in production for the next five years. If the plan reaches fruition, Ballard Lane Wines will produce around 40,000 cases by 2017.
“Our customers have told us what they like and dislike about our wines,” Miller continued. “We have taken their consul into account and have produced wines that have satisfied their needs. Like most businesses, the restaurant business works on referrals and word-of-mouth, and we have been most fortunate in that respect. We have kept our initial customer base and have increased that base significantly since we first started.”
Ballard Lane Wines is named after the affluent Seattle neighborhood that includes numerous dining spots and also shopping stores. Its most attractive label was designed by the noted California graphic design studio, Kraftwerks. “We wanted our label to express an upscale product that truly appeared more expensive than its actual cost,” related Miller. “I think the designers really succeeded in that regard. The feedback from our customers is really positive and the results speak for themselves.”
Wineries such as Ballard Lane are the core and backbone of today’s modern California wine industry. When correctly planned and executed, they provide excellent alternatives to more established wineries. The fact that many customers prefer to experience new wineries and their portfolios and explore alternatives to their usual wine choices is a major factor in the wine business. In the highly competitive restaurant arena, the emergence of a new winery is even more important. A business that is able to provide a really good wine at a realistic value point for its customers is way ahead in the ongoing game of pleasing its customers.
Gold Medal Wine Club salutes Ballard Lane Wines for its exceptional wines and the opportunity to introduce them to our Gold Series Wine Club members. We believe this winery will become an important spoke in the wheel that is California’s always-spiraling wine industry and are delighted to share it with you. Enjoy!
Winemaker Chris Brown
Winemaker Chris Brown works closely with the Miller family and a group of acclaimed assistant winemakers to produce the exceptional line of Ballard Lane Wines. His approach to winemaking is very traditional and ‘hands-off’, allowing the site and fruit to speak for themselves. He has been involved with the Ballard Lane wines since its inaugural vintage and looks forward to growing the brand further in the coming years.
More from Chris
Not many of us are able to say that we have truly found the job that has elevated our lives and fulfilled our dreams to the ultimate degree. In the case of Ballard Lane Wines’ winemaker Chris Brown, no statement could be truer.
Brown, a youngish 47, is almost exuberant when he describes his association with his company. “I am a very lucky man, and I finally found the perfect job for myself and my family. It took me a while, but I am extremely grateful for the way it all worked out.”
Born and raised in San Jose, Brown started in the restaurant business as a busboy during his youth. He worked a number of jobs and eventually wound up managing the restaurant in which he began his career.
“I enjoyed the work and other jobs at different restaurants eventually were offered to me,” Brown continued. “I was making decent money but I eventually realized the long hours were killing me. I simply didn’t see myself counting out cash each morning at 2 a.m.”
A job offer with a small wine broker in Northern California materialized and Brown accepted the challenge. His territory included Silicon Valley and its plethora of fine restaurants and high caliber wine stores. It was in 1980, and the wine boom in California was in full bloom.
After a year and a half, Chris Brown was ready to get out of the wine business.
“I guess I realized that my love of wines didn’t translate into the sale of wines,” he joked during a recent interview. “I still loved wines but I hated the idea of having to go out and sell them. It simply wasn’t a good fit for me. The experience also made me realize just how important good marketing was to the success of any wine or winery.”
At that point, Fate intervened in the form of Fresno State University and its well-regarded winemaker program. “I guess I was the oldest freshman at the school at the time,” Brown continued. “I loved the place and I respected its hands-on approach to winemaking. I really got into the school’s curriculum and realized that I had finally found my niche in the business. I was also looking for a position that offered reasonable job hours, but I was certainly wrong about that aspect.”
Upon graduation, Brown secured a job with Jeff O’Neill at Golden State Vintners, a role he was able to fulfill for the next seven years. A position opened up at the huge Trinchero Family Estates operation in Napa Valley and Brown and his family headed for Calistoga in the upper reaches of Napa Valley. Brown became the processing winemaker for the likes of Sutter Home and other Trinchero Family brands.
“It was a great experience for me, and I was finally in the big time,” Brown related. “I was even able to assist in opening the Trincheros’ new winery in Lodi that was a valuable experience for me.”
In July of 2005, Central Coast Wine Services (the corporate shell for all the Miller Family wine operations) beckoned and Chris Brown jumped at the opportunity.
“The facilities and the people in Santa Maria were just fabulous,” Brown added. “While we were mostly a production facility, we were also making wines for a number of clients. Some clients were bigger than others but each was determined to have their own particular style. What I learned from all this was the fact that great attention to detail was necessary to produce exceptional wines.”
The Miller family had been primarily growers to that point, but eventually decided to enter the vintner side of the wine business. Ballard Lane Wines was the family’s first venture into the incredibly competitive side of the wine industry. “We knew we could make some really good wines because the family owned some exceptional vineyards. We put together an accurate business plan and then let the chips fall as they may. The way our wines have been embraced speaks worlds about our wines and our plan,” Brown stated.
Brown has a staff of winemakers that helps with the winemaking process and also includes amateur winemakers from around the Central Coast area. This unique approach provided its own rewards.
“These people are basically consumers and give me great input as to the best blends. I have always believed in consensus of opinion and will continue to do so. The process of making great wines always involves a number of people.”