Santa Maria Sun Profiles Gavin!
Thank you to Wendy Thies Sell for the great write-up in the local Santa Maria Sun!
Pursuing perfection: Five questions for winemaker Gavin Chanin of LUTUM and Chanin Wines
BY WENDY THIES SELL
The first time I met Gavin Chanin was late 2011 at the legendary Qupé/Au Bon Climat (ABC) winemaking compound east of Santa Maria.
We were sitting at the fabled lunch table where cellar workers gather daily for tasty chow prepared by local wine rock star Jim Clendenen.
I was there to interview all-around great guy Bob Lindquist of Qupé, who introduced me to Chanin by saying, “Wendy, have you met Gavin? He’s about to be famous!”
Chanin was soon to be featured in Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” list of America’s top-achievers under the age of 30, a compilation that also included the likes of basketball star LeBron James and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Chanin, then a 25-year old UCLA graduate, had started to make a name for himself in the wine world, after winning high marks from critics for Chanin Wines, which he made afterhours at Qupé/ABC, where he worked each summer and fall since the age of 18.
Now 29 years old, Chanin already has 14 harvests under his belt (11 in Santa Barbara County and a few more harvests worked in South Africa and New Zealand).
He sources pinot noir and chardonnay grapes for Chanin Wines from the oldest organic or sustainably farmed vineyards in Santa Barbara County. His wines are made in a lower-alcohol, balanced style that reflects the vineyard in which the fruit was grown.
A few years ago those wines captured the attention of hugely successful entrepreneur/wine guru Bill Price of Classic Wines and Price Family Vineyards. They met in San Francisco at an event organized by In Pursuit of Balance, and the two learned that they were like-minded in the style of pinot noir they strive to produce.
Chanin and Price soon formed a partnership to make single-vineyard pinot noir and a small amount of chardonnay from prime vineyard sites in California, such as Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, La Rinconada and Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills, as well as Gap’s Crown Vineyard and Durell Vineyard—two revered Price-owned vineyards in Sonoma.
Chanin recently invited me to tour their spacious new winery in Lompoc to catch up since he launched a second wine label and to taste the impressive lineup of 2013 LUTUM wines.
WTS: How did this new winery with Bill Price come about?
Chanin: We did this little experiment. We made those first few wines, about 200 cases. We had a good time doing it and that morphed into a full-blown winery in 2012. I left my position at ABC at that time, found a winery, and started making wine. We manage stuff here at the winery. Bill is based in Sonoma. He’s a great partner. He has a kind of sixth sense for vineyards. He’s incredibly passionate about pinot noir, which is part of the reason we connected in the first place. It was mostly his idea to really focus the winery on a very specific philosophy, very specific varietals, and go after the best fruit we can.
WTS: What’s the story on why you called the winery LUTUM?
Chanin: I told Bill, when we first started going down this road, that it took me three years to come up with [the name] Chanin Wine Company, so I wasn’t going to be much help. I like the idea that we had a philosophy; we had vineyards; we had wines, before we had any brand. It wasn’t something that started as a brand and we said, ‘Well, what should we make to fit this?’ LUTUM is Latin for soil or dirt, and we just thought that was a great tie-in for what we’re after, which is finding these unique sites throughout California for pinot.
WTS: As we taste the fragrant 2013 LUTUM Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir, tell me about this wine and your ’13 vintage overall.
Chanin: That Bien Nacido pepper and cherry cola—it’s going to be fun to take this wine out. I think people are going to like this! We’re really going for a pure expression of pinot; 2013 was a great vintage. We weren’t thrown any weather curveballs or anything crazy like that. The wines have great color, great structure, great fruit. It might be my favorite vintage since ’09 or ’10. I’m a fan!
WTS: Where can the public find these beautiful wines?
Winery’s first open house
LUTUM winery will be open to the public for the first time on Sunday, April 26, from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Those interested in attending the open house should RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. The address is 300 N. 12th St., Suite 1C, Lompoc. The winery’s website is lutumwines.com.
Chanin: The best place is off the mailing list. When we release a wine we’ll send offers out, and people can order directly, but we also sell wine in New York, Hawaii, Texas, California. We’ve been fortunate to place them in some of the best restaurants in those cities: Michael Mina; Gary Danko [in San Francisco]; and in New York, Eleven Madison Park. I almost get more excited about placements in those restaurants than I do about big scores from critics. You have extremely talented wine experts that can order whatever they want for their wine list, so when they choose yours, it’s pretty cool! And then when they share it with their customers; it has a nice domino effect hopefully.
WTS: With so much of your winemaking career still ahead of you, what is your goal for yourself and your wines?
Chanin: It’s a pursuit. Every year we get better. You learn more and more every year. I think the most confident I ever was was my first harvest in 2007—that will humble you really quickly. I feel really blessed to be able to work with all these vineyards, to be able to make a small amount of wine in a very hands-on nature. So I’d like to keep pushing that and see how far we can go. Hopefully every year, make better wines.
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell is always in pursuit of great story ideas. Contact her at email@example.com.