Bon Niche Cellars and Birdland Cellars
Joyce and Wally Murray, owners of Bon Niche Cellars and Birdland Cellars, have built their business up by immersing themselves in their environment—and through the realization that the Paso Robles aviation is an opportunity to provide a good niche in life. Their vineyard was planted to take advantage of the qualities of the soil on their estate and the area’s climate, and their knowledge of the wine business has been bolstered by the information their wine industry neighbors shared with them over the years.
Both Joyce and Wally Murray come from careers in fields other than the wine industry. Wally worked in sales as the Vice President of International Sales at Scantron before making the move to the wine business. Throughout his sales career, Wally had a chance to travel extensively and learn about the wines of the world firsthand. He started collecting wine in the early 1970s after a chef friend got him interested in wine, and over the course of his career he amassed a collection of over 1,200 bottles of wine.
It was also during this time that Wally became familiar with Paso Robles, while travelling to the area on business. When it drew near time to retire, and Wally began looking for land to start a small vineyard as his retirement vocation, Paso Robles made the list of areas of interest. After exploring Santa Ynez and Sonoma, the Murrays decided on the Paso Robles/San Miguel area. Joyce says, “It was a good choice.”
Joyce had also worked in sales as well as public relations, and this experience prepared her for the change in vocation. She is at home running a winery and enjoys working in their adopted industry. Joyce and Wally say they enjoy doing much of the work in the vineyards themselves—even taking on the pruning of the vines, a laborious part of vineyard maintenance that requires a skilled hand.
Wally is the winemaker for and manages the farming of Bon Niche Cellars, while Joyce runs the business aspect of the winery. Although winemaking was new to Wally, he and Joyce have learned much from other more experienced farmers in the area and have taken advantage of local seminars and classes.
The Murrays purchased the property where their winery now stands in 2006, and in 2007 they oversaw the planting of the 7 acres of Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc vines that make up their estate vineyard. Their first vintage was in 2009.
Wally and Joyce also have a second label, Birdland Cellars. Joyce describes these wines, which are made from grapes sourced from other area farmers, as having an “entry-level price point.”
Their winery is open by appointment only and during industry event weekends, and Joyce says that most of their customers hear about the winery through friends who have visited as well as through the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Says Joyce, “Truly, it has to do with people finding out how good the wine is and passing the word along.”
The Bon Niche Cellars wines all have a photo on the label with an image that corresponds to the name of the wine. For instance, the 2009 Fenêtres, or “windows,” has a photos of a window on the label. The photos on the labels come from around the world, and the Murrays encourage their customers and wine club members to submit photos to them to be entered into a contest for upcoming label images.
The Birdland wines all have bird-themed names, a reflection of the bird-themed streets in the Murrays’ neighborhood. In these ways, and in many others, the Murrays have embraced the area in which they have chosen to make their wine, and the people who make up their winemaking community and customer base.
“Bon Niche” means “good place” in French, and the Murrays’ choices, both in naming their winery and in building the business, seem to be a subtle nod towards the concept of terroir. Joyce and Wally Murray of Bon Niche Cellars and Birdland Cellars have embraced their environment and their wines and the winery reflect this attitude.
The success that the Murrays have felt in building their business has been mirrored by the reception they have received at the wine competitions they have entered. While the wines submitted into competition have received either a gold or silver medal, their Voûtes captured a 95 rating at the California State competition in Sacramento, and Bon Niche Cellars could easily “put Paso Robles on the map” as the newest area for outstanding Malbecs.
Visit Bon Niche and Birdland by appointment; call (805) 286-7798. Visit bonniche.com for more information.
— Kate Joyce