It's no surprise that the delicious Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that Gavin Chanin makes for the Chanin Wine Company get called art. It turns out art is what Chanin studied at UCLA. "I do big abstract paintings, and for me painting is very physical and intuitive," Chanin says. "Wine is very similar. It's obviously very different tools, but it's not like you're sitting down and writing a question and answering it. You're taking a very basic material -- grapes or paint or some medium -- and turning it into something greater than it was before. You're transforming something without altering it or taking something away. It's a great and amazing process in some degree."
At least in Chanin's hands it is. Forbes Magazine recently included him on its "Top 30 Under 30 Food & Wine" list; he was the only winemaker to achieve that honor. "It came at a really busy time; we got the news right after harvest and during bottling," he recalls. "I thought it was cool, but didn't realize how big it was until I got four hundred emails." He quickly adds, "Definitely it's never been a goal of mine to get press. The goals have been on the winemaking side, but it's obviously good to have all the wines well-received."
Those wines tend to come from prized Santa Barbara County properties like the Bien Nacido and Los Alamos Vineyards. "We talk a lot about philosophical things, but at the end of the day you want a wine that pleases you, one with a lot of complexity, structure, and balance," he explains. Older vines help you get that. "They produce less fruit, but the fruit they produce is higher quality. I get to work with some of the oldest commercially planted vines in Santa Barbara in 1973. It's fun to work with vines that are older than you are."
A respect for history and experience runs through Chanin's young career. He started out by volunteering for Bob Lindquist at Qupe and Jim Clendenen at Au Bon Climat and ended up assistant winemaker for both, whom he calls "essentially the first people to go out and make quality wine in Santa Barbara County." Chanin praises the opportunity to learn from the cellar teams there, but working with the two titans, who between them make a wide range of varietals from numerous vineyards, also "helped me get that wide experience, but then that has helped me narrow down now. I got my winemaker ADD out of my system there and got focused."
That doesn't mean he won't have new projects, as he's very excited about his partnership called Lutum Wines with Bill Price, who he describes as behind "some of the iconic properties in Sonoma," think Kistler, for one. (Lutum is Latin for soil or dirt.) "I feel really lucky to build off of all this experience I've had around me," Chanin admits. "In general it's a really exciting time to be making wine in California. Farmers are operating at a level higher than ever before, there are a lot of new winemakers, the older winemakers, vineyards we've been able to figure out."
As part of Local to Global: Celebrate KCETLink, Gavin Chanin will be presenting a selection of his wines June 3rd at Bouchon in Beverly Hills. To learn more about the event, click here.