Oldest Continually Producing Vineyard in the Edna Valley
As the 2013 harvest comes to a close, Paragon Vineyard marks its 40th anniversary. Planted by Jack Niven in 1973, it is one of the first, and is the oldest continually producing vineyard in the region. Niven was instrumental in establishing the Edna Valley AVA, and three generations of his family have helped bring acclaim to the Edna Valley over the past 40 years.
Members of the second and third generations of Niven’s wine industry family have fully invested themselves in the future of Paragon Vineyard. His two sons, James and John R. Niven, remain highly involved today, while cousins John H. Niven and Michael Blaney currently represent the third generation’s commitment. “My father’s vision was to build a thriving business that would sustain itself, and be passed down the line as our family grows,” said James Niven. “We are proud to be a part of it, and to foster it moving forward.”
In the summer of 1969, Niven employed now widely lauded professors A.J. Winkler (UC Davis) and Vincent Petrucci (Fresno State), to determine yet-to-be-discovered areas to plant vines on California’s Central Coast. They came back to him with glowing reports, both independently recommending the area that is now the Edna Valley. Niven then hired vineyard manager Jim Efird and jumped right in, planting 547 acres to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Saugivnon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Gamay Beaujolais, and Chenin Blanc.
Recognizing the unique and tremendous potential of the region, Niven championed the process of petitioning for an official AVA. He researched and determined boundary lines, and took the name from the local Old Edna Townsite that was established back in the 1800s. The application was approved in 1982, and the Edna Valley came to be.
In 1980 Niven struck a deal with Chalone Winery, and co-founded Edna Valley Vineyard Winery. Niven’s Paragon Vineyard supplied fruit and its name to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir labels, and Chalone distributed the wines across the nation, establishing Paragon and the Edna Valley as a credible, go-to vineyard and region for these Burgundian varietals. Chalone eventually sold their portion to Diageo. Then in 2011, Gallo purchased the winery partnership, and the Niven family continued its outright ownership of Paragon Vineyard.
In order to most effectively manage the vineyard, as well as a few others, Niven and Efird founded Pacific Vineyard Company in 1988. George Donati was later added to the team, and took over when Efird retired in 2004. By paying attention and learning from the early vintages of those first plantings, calculated adjustments were made over the years. Some varietals have been grafted over to others, while some blocks were ripped out and planted with newer clones and rootstocks. Trellising techniques have also evolved. Simultaneously, the family has added to Paragon’s acreage, purchasing neighboring land as it became available.
Niven and Efird had sustainability top-of-mind when first planting Paragon. They realized not only its lesser influence on the surrounding environment, but that it made good business sense as well. Water management was high priority, so Niven looked into drip irrigation. But he found that no one in the U.S. had systems on hillside vineyards. Pressure regulation was the issue, but Niven was sure it could work properly. So he sent Efird to both Israel and South Africa, where they had perfected it, and eventually installed the largest single domestic hillside drip irrigation system. Thirty-five years later, in 2008, the Central Coast Vineyard Team introduced their cutting-edge certification program. Paragon participated as a pilot vineyard, and became one of the first to be awarded the Sustainability in PracticeTM (SIPTM) Vineyard Certification.
Today, in keeping with Jack Niven’s pioneering spirit, Paragon leads the exploration of cool climate white varietals. The vineyard spans 1200 acres, and is planted to ten carefully chosen varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Grenache Blanc, Riesling, and Syrah. The Nivens continue to sell fruit to a number of award winning wineries, but much of it goes into the wines of Niven Family Wine Estates where veteran Burgundian winemaker Christian Roguenant makes more than 20 distinct wines for their six innovative labels.
ABOUT PARAGON VINEYARD COMPANY
Based in the Edna Valley on the Central Coast of California, Paragon Vineyard Company is managed by members of the second and third generations of the Niven family. They collectively believe in sustainability, quality, community, tradition when warranted, and keeping consumers interested in the ever-changing world of wine. Holdings of the company include Orcutt Road Cellars, Pacific Vineyard Company, Paragon Vineyard, Firepeak Vineyard, and Niven Family Wine Estates, whose labels are Baileyana Winery, Tangent Winery, Zocker Winery, Cadre Vineyards, Trenza Winery, and a new project released in July 2013, True Myth Winery. Learn more at www.nivenfamilywines.com.