J & L Wines Photo

True Believer

As longtime vineyard manager at the acclaimed Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley, Chris Hammell worked his way to the height of his profession, custom farming 750 acres for esteemed wine labels including Sine Qua Non & Ojai  Previously named Wine & Spirits’ Grower of the Year,  Hammell then grappled his way to the top of a grueling sport, winning the black belt world championships in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2012.

“Pick the things you like to do and push it as hard as you can,” he says. Not one to rest on his laurels, he set a lofty new goal—to make the finest Rhône-style wines possible. Hammell partnered with his boss, Steve Miller, to plant an attentively farmed six-acre vineyard on a warmer protected site behind Bien Nacido. “I thought it was the most magnificent place for a vineyard like this, because the soil is light; it’s this big amphitheater and semi-east-facing,” he says. This part of the vineyard is exceptional; a sandy hillside of head-trained Grenache similar to bush vines. Another steep block resembles Hermitage, France; Syrah vines tied to poles, exposing the fruit to direct sun. Yields are miniscule, resulting in intense fruit. “and he’s not sharing; every precious grape goes to his winery, True Believer.

Grateful for guidance from mentor Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non, assistance from the experienced Bien Nacido crew, and support from his wife, Dayna, and their four children, Hammell released his first vintage in 2014 and has not looked back. “I want luscious fruit with all the complexity. I want it to be unique and amazing! I want everything,” professes Hammell.

Wines Produced

  • GSM
  • Petite Sirah
  • Red Blend
  • Rhône Red Blend
  • Rosé