Niven Family Wine Estates
San Luis Obispo County
Often called the 'Jewel of the Edna Valley', this winery sets the standard for innovation
The first vines planted in the area were the work of Franciscan Father Junipero Serra in 1783 at his Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a tribute to the cleric’s uncanny ability to identify a naturally ideal grape growing area. Fast forward some two hundred plus years to 1973 when Niven Family patriarch, Jack Niven planted the first vineyards in the Central Coast’s now storied Edna Valley. He had sought the advice of two prominent collegiate professors, A.J. Winkler (UC Davis) and Vincent Pertrucci (Fresno State) and made the commitment to plant based on their recommendations.
The rest of the story, so to say, is history. The 547 acres planted more than 40 years ago are the basis for the iconic Paragon Vineyard (currently 1,200 acres), the foundation vineyard of the Niven Family Estate Vineyards. Jack Niven also developed the famous Edna Valley Vineyard in 1981 and his company sold it to Gallo Wines in 2011.
Along the way, Jack Niven championed the effort to establish Edna Valley as an AVA, gaining status in 1982. Niven’s wife Catherine was the first to venture into the winemaking business in what was to eventually become Baileyana, the mainstay winery for the Niven Family.
The 3rd generation of the family was responsible for the company’s road to diversity. John H. Niven and his cousin Michael Blaney transformed the winery operation into a series of unique wine-forward brands to highlight the family’s sundry vineyard fruit and terroirs.
Two of these distinctive endeavors are the ingredients of this month’s Gold Wine Club selections.
Trenza (Spanish for braid) Winery is comprised of New World style red blended wines from various vineyards owned by the family. Its label shows interlocking braids similar to the interlocking varietals in the Trenza Winery’s Red Blends. Several varietals are blended together to provide an avant-garde approach that is both mind blowing and exotic to the palate. It is also a meeting of warmer and cooler climates and their resultant effect when intermixed is outstanding.
Tangent Wines is the white wine equivalent to the aforementioned Trenza Winery. Its existence explores the cool climate effects of several white varietals located in the famed Paragon Vineyard. Paragon has an incredibly special reputation for growing white grapes that produce clean, crisp wines with zesty features. These include Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Pinot Gris, along with some less familiar varietals such as Albariño and Grenache Blanc which are exploding in interest in California and elsewhere. The wines showcase individual varietals which are produced in stainless steel tanks and do not undergo any malolactic fermentation. We hope you enjoy these two superb wines from the Niven Family Wine Estates.
Map of the area
San Luis Obispo County
The vineyards of the San Luis Obispo Wine Growing region unfold along the seafront side of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountain Range that occupies an area almost halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In SLO (locally pronounced as “slow”) the land exhibits a distinct set of growing conditions that bind the region’s wines. The region is California’s third largest producer of wine behind both Sonoma and Napa Counties.
From north to south, the SLO Coast extends from the seaside town of San Simeon to Nipomo. From east to west, it extends from the peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The geographic orientation of SLO‘s growing region insures a continuous influence of marine air from the Pacific Ocean.
The area includes two small adjoining AVA’s (American Viticulture Areas) - the Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley - and other nearby growing areas. Each of these districts shares a unifying proximity to the ocean, as well as to each other.
Edna Valley AVA
Edna Valley, pictured above, is California’s coolest wine growing area, located in the heart of SLO and just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. The northwest-to southwest orientation of the Edna Valley creates a direct path for cool marine air to filter into the valley from the Los Osos/Morro Bay area. This climate, combined with the calcareous and volcanic soils results in wines with intensity, concentration and fresh balancing acidity - perfect for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other aromatic white wines.
Arroyo Grande Valley AVA
The Arroyo Grande Valley is a predominantly northeast-southwest oriented coastal valley that is recognized as one of the most temperate viticultural areas in the world. These ideal conditions result in a long and mild growing season. Wine growing in the valley dates to the 1880’s when Zinfandel was planted in the warmer eastern part of the valley. The modern era began in the 1980’s with plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the hillsides of the western end of the valley, closer to the coast.
John H. Niven - Chief Executive Officer
According to third-generation family member, John H. Niven, spotlight status should be given to the entire Niven Family and not to himself.
“We are truly a family operation,” he related during a recent interview. “My grandfather Jack started it all and his son John and my uncle James are still active in our company’s development. My cousin Michael Blaney and I are the third generation to take part in Niven Family Wine Estates and I’m sure there will be a fourth and fifth generation to follow in our footsteps.”
For the record, James H. Niven has a law background and serves as the Chief Executive Officer for the family’s wine business. John R. Niven formerly ran the family’s Purity grocery store chain and now is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Niven Family Wine Estates. His son, John H. Niven had extensive wine experience with Australia’s Southcorp Wines such as Penfolds, Lindemans and others as well as in the private Real Estate field. Since 1999, he has served as Vice-President of the Sales and Marketing team that has developed the family’s diverse portfolio of brands.
Michael Blaney has been working in the family’s vineyards since he was a
teenager and went on to a career in Las Vegas. In 1997 he moved his family to San Luis Obispo and is currently the Vice-President of Operations.
“We are a really tight-knit family,” continued John H. Niven. “Most of the decisions we make are a result of a consensus of opinions. The direction we take is always for the good of the family and we are generally in agreement as to the course we should take.”
Diversity could be the next brand name the Niven family could utilize should the need arise. “We took a close look at the wine industry and at our vineyards in particular. The idea of cooler versus warmer climates appealed to us and we ventured along that road. The fact that San Luis Obispo County offers an incredible variety of temperatures and soils made our decision all the easier. We always intended to showcase our growing area and Christian (Roguenant)’s experience with numerous grape varietals and an assortment of countries and their winemaking techniques sealed the deal. We went ahead and now feel we are on the cutting edge with many of our wines. The feedback we get from our customers and the scores we receive from the magazines and competitions seem to point out that we made the correct decision to diversify our operation.”
It is easy to see why this company is so successful. The word ‘family’ was never truer than here.
Christian Roguenant - Winemaker
The native of Burgundy, France decided to be a winemaker early on. A graduate of the University of Dijon, Christian Roguenant is the perfect example of a true Burgundian winemaker. He worked with esteemed French Champagne producer Deutz for 15 years and has consulted for wineries around the world. He even made wine in Korea (sparkling wine for the 1988 Olympics) before finally coming to California’s Central Coast where he became winemaker at Maison Deutz in the Arroyo Grande Valley. After Maison Deutz was sold, Roguenant became winemaker at the Niven Family’s Baileyana Winery and the association has proven to be brilliant for several decades.
When the decision was made in 1998 to build a new winery, Christian Roguenant was given a blank slate to build the facility of his dreams. The hilltop location is state-of-the-art with a distinctive double-arched green roof that is visible from a long distance. Its design is light-filled and elegantly functional.
Roguenant prefers the classical Burgundian approach to winemaking that employs numerous open-top fermenters and four climate controlled barrel cellars that are used for separate Niven Family wines under maturity.