It has been said that if a man is successful once, he will be successful again. Well, Chris Hammell is a man going for the trifecta.
As longtime vineyard manager at the acclaimed Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley, Hammell worked his way to the height of his profession, custom farming 750 acres for esteemed wine labels such as Sine Qua Non, Au Bon Climat, Qupé, Foxen, Longoria, Ojai and Migration. Named Wine & Spirits’ Grower of the Year in 2008, 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.
The four-year-old 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. “For my project, I want to take these warmer-climate grapes, grow them in such a fashion that no one will even believe it.” Hammell makes no compromises in the vineyard, and he’s not sharing; every precious grape goes to his winery, Hammell Wine Alliance.
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. His next wine release is this spring. The handcrafted flagship cuvee called True Believer ($80), a bold blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, is fully ripe with character, just how Hammell likes wine. “I want luscious fruit with all the complexity. I want it to be unique and amazing! I want everything,” professes Hammell.
This resolute yet reflective man is striving for the summit again, truly believing that anything is possible when you tune out the naysayers and don’t fear much, least of all hard work. “No, especially when the work is cool.”
For more information, go to HammellWineAlliance.com
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Spring 2015.