You’d be hard-pressed to find a vintner as simultaneously young and experienced as Gavin Chanin, the 27-year-old wonder boy of the California wine world who’s been working with Santa Barbara County grapes since he graduated high school 10 years ago. With 13 harvests under Chanin’s belt — his first eight for Au Bon Climat and Qupé wineries in the Santa Maria Valley, with extras coming from New Zealand and South Africa, not to mention visits to Burgundy and Italy — his baby face belies an industry-leading wisdom that employs high-acidity, low-alcohol wines to better show off the nuances of specific and often historic vineyards like Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills and Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley.
“When I started on my own in 2007, people thought I was crazy,” he explained of his first solo releases under the Chanin Wine Co. label, which were lean and vibrant as compared to opulent and overripe. He explained, “If you want to make wines that show place and terroir, they can’t be too sweet.” Thankfully, the wine-drinking public is evolving away from the big, juicy pinots of the past to appreciate balanced ripeness. “I’ve never had anyone complain about my wines being too acidic,” said Chanin, a North Hollywood native who actually studied painting at UCLA before devoting himself to wine full-time in 2009. “They are rich wines; they’re just not rich by being too sweet.”
So enamored of Chanin’s approach was Sonoma County vineyard investor Bill Price — the money behind Kistler Vineyard, Three Sticks, and Kosta Browne — that he sent Chanin grapes from his renowned Durell Vineyard in 2011. Liking the result, Price teamed with Chanin to form a new brand called Lutum, a Latin word referring to loamy soil, and those first releases, all hailing from older vines in historic vineyards, are due out this year. Said Chanin, “For someone working on pinot noir, I don’t think there could be a more compelling winery project.”
For now, Chanin expects to make about 1,500 cases of Lutum and 1,500 cases of Chanin Wine Co. each year, with any expansion related strictly to whether he can obtain premium pinot or chardonnay grapes. “We’ll probably grow as we find equal or better sources of fruit, which is not an easy thing,” said Chanin, who loves his old-vine Bien Nacido fruit (“For the style I like to make,” he divulged, “old vines are one of the secrets”) but is particularly excited about making wines from the three Sta. Rita Hills properties established by Richard Sanford: Sanford & Benedict, La Rinconada, and La Encantada. “That will be a great terroir experiment,” he explained. “They’re right next door, but they’re so different.”
Chanin, whose dad actually worked at Zaca Mesa Winery in the late 1970s, recently set up shop next door to friend Justin Willett of Tyler Winery in the new facility owned by the Zotovich family across the street from the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, and is busy these days making the somewhat vacuous warehouse comfortable for both himself and his wines. He’s proud to be part of the shift toward balance, and with so many more harvests on his horizon, it’s certain that Chanin’s influence will only grow in the years to come. He explained, “I’m glad the styles are shifting because, one, competition is good and, two, I like drinking these wines better.”
See chaninwine.com and facebook.com/lutumwines.