Santa Barbara News Press- Comprehensive Chanin Tasting
Chanin Wine: An artist in the cellar
by Dennis Schaefer
There’s an art to these wines SCHAEFER ON WINE
June 2, 2011
Gavin Chanin started on the road to winemaking before he was legally able to buy a drink. While an art major at UCLA, he signed on as a harvest intern at Au Bon Climat and Qupe wineries, located at Bien Nacido Vineyard, when he was only 18. He worked hard enough to be invited back the next year. Now he’s an assistant winemaker there, looking forward to his eighth harvest.
In the 2007 vintage, he decided to make a few barrels of wine under his own moniker, Chanin Wine Co. Having access to grapes from great Santa Barbara County vineyards, through his Au Bon Climate/Qupe connections, making it easy for him to get started.
He began sourcing from Los Alamos Vineyard and Le Bon Climat Vineyard and, in 2008, added Bien Nacido Vineyard. In 2008, he made 38 barrels of wine (about 800 cases), a quantity small enough to still handmake the wines and keep track of what’s going on in every barrel. To help with his supplies, he may be on the lookout for large wooden wine barrels as well as small and half, to make sure his wine is aged the correct way in the right vessel.
His winemaking approach could be described as “hands-off” or minimal, as would befit a student of Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) and Bob Lindquist (Qupe). The protocol for the chardonnay is to buy the best grapes, press them and put the juice directly into barrels, mostly neutral, for 14 to 16 months.
With pinot noir, the idea is to, again, get the best grapes, let them macerate in bins for three to five days, punch down the must twice a day and then put the juice in barrels, about one-third new French oak from Francois Freres, also for extended aging.
Unlike 90 percent of his peers, Mr. Chanin makes wine in what could be termed a European style, that is, lighter, more elegant and structured as well as lower in alcohol and higher in acids.
These are not your “pop and pour,” grocery store wines; they are wines to be contemplated over a well thought-out meal, or even individually over several days. After three days on my kitchen counter, the wines were still going strong and, in fact, revealed new facets of aromas and flavors.
With such a small production, the wines are not widely distributed but can generally be found a places like Wine Cask, East Beach Wine Co., Wandering Dog Wine Bar and Full of Life Flatbread. The wines from the 2008 vintage are the current releases and the 2009 vintage will be available shortly. Perhaps these wines could be found on wine of the month club subscriptions to get distributed to a wider audience of wine tasters.
For the latest news and updates on upcoming releases and direct ordering, you can get on the email list at the website,www.chaninwine.com.
By the way, the labels on each bottling feature a different painting by Mr. Chanin. He sees a definite connection between making wine and making art in that they are both intuitive, at least for him. In other words, he doesn’t determine the ending first and then go back and determine how to get there. He starts at the beginning with a blank canvas and a vineyard, both being clean slates.
Some thoughts on the Chanin wines, which I suggest will show even better when decanted.
Chanin Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard 2008 ($30): Minerally intense aromas are augmented by crushed rock, wet stone and lemon zest. In the mouth. it’s rich and viscous, showing lemony citrus, roasted nut and mineral flavors with only a hint of pineapple and green apple in the background. More Old World than California New World wine, it has less upfront fruit and instead is more focused on building to a midpalate flavor crescendo. The concentration is there without anything extraneous. Nothing is out of place; it’s all of a piece and the oak influenced caramel-creme brulee notes are embedded in the fabric of it all. Darkly toned and complex, it’s not showy or meant to be a cocktail chardonnay but rather meant to accompany food at the daily dining table.
Chanin Chardonnay, Los Alamos Vineyard 2008 ($30): A minerality informs this chardonnay too but here it manifests itself as a kind of briny salinity, almost like a seasoning that makes your mouth water for savory bites of food. Citrusy flavors are front and center, starting with high-toned lemon chiffon but also showing variations of lemon rind, lemon zest and lemon oil that have a cumulative flavor effect. Not a light wine by a long shot, but comparatively lighter and a higher flier than the Bien Nacido chardonnay. There’s great fruit focus on the midpalate: the wine fills the mouth and comes to a high point with laser-like precision and then does a slow fade with caramel and honey as grace notes on the finish. A fine cut of acidity rounds it all out and invites another sip.
Chanin Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard 2008 ($45): The grapes, prized by winemakers who are fortunate enough to get them, came from special Bien Nacido vineyard blocks at the top of the slope. The color of the wine is light garnet, as you might find in many Burgundies. The nose is aromatic with black cherry and raspberry, showing peppery and floral attributes, as well as cola, root beer, beet root and tree bark. In the mouth, it’s rich but light on its feet. A burst of flavors comes through at once, including black cherry and boysenberry along with earthy spices. Delicate, light and spicy, it seems bright and supple now but a big undertow of latent flavors lurk beneath it all, awaiting more time in the bottle to materialize. Yes, it’s silky, seductive and somewhat subtle on the palate but it’s no wimp.
Chanin Pinot Noir, Le Bon Climat Vineyard 2009 ($45): The grapes for this wine come from Jim Clendenen’s certified-organic vineyard, right across the river from Bien Nacido Vineyard, but the wines are worlds apart, reflecting the differing terroirs of each vineyard. Darker, more saturated color is the first thing that’s apparent. The spicy dark cherry aromatics are deeper and more intense and much more in your face. In the mouth, black cherry, strawberry, brewed tea and hard brown baking spices are all in the flavor mix. It’s a much heavier and darker-toned pinot though, and by design, not freewheeling and fruit-forward. Well structured with a lot of meat on its bones, the wine is very concentrated and tightly wound at this point, suggesting a few years aging in the bottle would be in order.
Wine expert Dennis Schaefer’s column appears every other week in the Food section. Email: email@example.com.