A masterclass with Gavin Chanin

Published: 09-12-2016

Masterclass with Gavin Chanin of Chanin Wines  & LUTUM at 67 Pallmall

Thanks to Gavin’s visit last month, we were happy to host our second masterclass on Californian wines at the prestigious and exclusive wine members club 67 Pallmall. Despite the fact that Gavin is only 30 years of age, 2016 marks his 10th year as owner and winemaker of Chanin Wines.

In 2011 Bill Price, who used to be part of Beringer Wines and now focuses on small, high end Pinot and Chardonnay, asked Gavin if he wanted to make a Durell Pinot Noir as a research project. The results were outstanding and the rest is history, LUTUM was born!

The hardest thing about winemaking for Gavin?

To bottle a wine, which has been aged for 14 months on its lees,  unfiltered and, yet, crystal clear. And the bottling process as such! Gavin uses a bottling track and points out that a small mistake during bottling could cause big trouble. This is partly due to the sheer speed at which wine is filled and these bottling lines run. In case of an accident, large amounts of wine can get lost very quickly.

After finishing his studies in winemaking and art at the UCLA, Gavin spent a good amount of time gaining work experience in several wine regions around the world. He worked with some of the best winemakers from the Cape, for example in 2007 Gavin did the harvest at Hamilton Russell, he also worked the 2007 harvest in New Zealand at both Carrick and Bell Hill. After 3 harvests within one year, Gavin then traveled through France and Italy and returned to California to start Chanin Wines in September of 2007. Gavin is an extremely hard working young man!

Much has changed in California since Gavin started off and, in fact, very much so what people enjoyed to drink back then versus today. Gavin recalls that when he started off with his vision to create balanced, elegant and light wines, he was told fairly frequently that he won’t be successful and that it was pretty much a foolish idea to attempt to make them in the first place. But Gavin was determined to keep going. Firstly because he knew the area of Santa Barbara like the back of his hand and secondly because he already knew from his work experience with Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat that the area was perfectly suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which can not only be balanced but also age gracefully.

When talking about the coastal climate Gavin smiles “Many tourists come here and expect it to be warm by the beach. But our climate is 10 - 12 degrees cooler than further inland. We do have sunshine without a single cloud on a daily basis as well as foggy mornings. These are ideal growing conditions for our grapes.”

The proximity to the coast is key and lots of vineyard soils are alluvial because they have been formed by water.

Let’s have a look at Gavin’s most important vineyards: 

The Bien Nacido vineyard was planted in 1973 on hilly gravelly terrain, mixed with limestone. Only half an hour further south soild would be dominated by gravel.

Los Alamos, a  very unique sight planted very close to the coast on ancient sand dunes, is one of the oldest vineyards in Santa Barbara, but its owner hardly ever sells to small wine producers and Gavin feels very lucky about having a good relationship with them and being able to source some grapes from here.

Sanford & Benedict has deep roots due to the fact that the core of the vineyard is dry farmed and Gavin got access to some of its fine grapes for the first time in 2012. Due to warm/ hot weather conditions in 2012 & 2013 some vines suffered due to drought, but due to their deep roots they were thriving despite that.

It took 9 years until the the first grapes could be harvested (which is from a financial point somewhat insane!). Grapes are sold to only 7 different growers and it is important to Gavin to have long-term contracts to be sure he gets the best quality of grapes. Realistically, if a winemakers buy in their grapes, like Gavin does, their relationship with grape growers is built on trust. Gavin works with 6 different grape growers, and he says all of them are amazing and he has been very happy with the great quality of grapes they supply to him year after year.

Duvarita Vineyard in Santa Rita, an amalgamation of the owner's sisters' names, was a densely planted vineyard (1m x 1.5m) for Californian standards 18 years ago though meanwhile most vineyards in California are planted with similar densities.

Both of LUTUMS’ vineyards, Gaps Crown and Durell, are located in Sonoma. The quantities produced are tiny (even in a good vintage there would be no more than 6 barrels of each!). The soils are vastly different, even though they are only located 4 miles apart from each other.

Gaps Crown is a relatively young vine vineyard of 11 year old vines, based on gravel and rock soil, and, generally produces very mineral wines.

Durell Vineyard (which you might have heard of because of Kistler Wines) always produces bigger and richer wines. The soil here is made up from heavy clay, limestone and rock and also volcanic rock.

While listening to Gavin, and this might sound cheesy, I thought that making wine, really, is not too dissimilar to raising children. Due to the fact that multiple winemakers work with the grapes from the same vineyard the subtle differences between each of the wines are much more apparent than in wines from different vineyards. For example if a winemaker is more uptight his wines would show very different characteristics to his relaxed neighbour. And if a winemaker is a very direct person, like one of Gavin’s winemaker friends, his wines would always be polished and precise.

Recent Vintages in California 

2009 and 2010 were two of Gavin’s favourite vintages since he started his own winery.

2009 was a great vintage throughout California.

2010 was marked by heat spikes during the month of September. Gavin ‘s Chardonnay was picked on the 1st hot day, whereas a lot of people still picked their Pinot Noir (which subsequently ended up at 16-17 degrees abv!). Funnily enough by tasting the wines most would presume that it was the other way round and 2009 was actually the hotter year.

2013s are better than the 2012s and the 2014s are again slightly better than the 2013s.

2016 was a year with picture-perfect harvest conditions. It was fairly cool and every day was sunny and dry. Gavin is extremely happy with the quality of  his wines so far and has high hopes and expectations of his wines.

Tasting Notes

2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay, Chanin

This has a pale golden colour and aromas of white honey, honeysuckle, orange juice and a lovely zesty-ness, reminiscent of bitter lemon jump out of the glass. On the palate it is dry, medium-bodied and has a medium plus acidity. Citrus flavours are balanced with a prominent minerality as well as flavours of button mushrooms & very classy sweet spices such as vanilla, cinnamon and tonka bean.

2010 Bien Nacido chardonnay, Chanin

A wine of medium golden colour which offers opulent floral aromas of white blossom, coriander, citrus, kumquat, mandarin and an intense stony minerality. On the palate this is a full bodied chardonnay of striking balance and with a fine and classy structure. The acidity is medium intense and fine sweet spices such as cloves, cinnamon and vanilla balance the orange juice and yellow stone fruit flavours. This strongly reminded me of Bâtard-Montrachet. Wow!

2013 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, LUTUM

This has a pale golden colour and offers slightly herbal aromas, such as geranium and a hint of mint, it’s a fine, slightly spicy wine. Dry on the palate, medium bodied, again offering fine layers of herbs and a flinty minerality. It has a medium intense but long finish.

2013 Gaps Crown Chardonnay, LUTUM

Pale golden in the glass with aromas of melted butter, tonka bean, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon. It offers orange, ripe peach, yellow apples and stonefruit. On the palate this is dry and full bodied, it has a medium acidity, citrus flavours, orange juice as well as white mushrooms.

2011 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir, LUTUM (this was the first vintage)

This has a medium ruby red colour with pale orange tinches. It has strawberry and red cherry  aromas as well as a fragrance which reminds me of stalks, root vegetables such as beetroot, white root vegetables and carrot. On the palate it is dry, medium bodied and has a fine, ripe and round tannin, a medium earthiness and mushrooms.

2013 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir, LUTUM

This is bright and clear and of medium intense ruby red colour with raspberry coloured tinches. A very fragrant wine with florals such as violets, a hint of stalks, strawberries, red plums and ripe red cherries, wet earth. It has subtle spices and fine herbs. On the palate this is dry, medium bodied , fruit driven (more dark cherries) and has hints of vanilla and tonka bean. The silky  and fine tannin keeps the wine to a medium plus length.

2013 Los Alamos Pinot Noir, Chanin

This has a medium ruby red colour which is slightly paler than the Durell. On the nose it shows smoky, earthy aromas and an iron minerality which I often get in wines from Volnay. On the palate it has red fruit as well as dark berries, a medium intense, finely structured tannin. The wine is of medium plus length and very parfumed on the finish.

2013 Duvarita Pinot Noir, Chanin

This started off slightly muted with blossom aromas, such as violets, fine herbs and red berries, sour cherries. It is dry, medium bodied, has a medium tannin and a medium finish with flavours such as macerated red berries, mustard leaves and tar on the palate.

2013 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, Chanin

A wine of bright ruby red colour. On the nose it has ripe strawberries and raspberries, an intesne stony minerality, fine herbs such as coriander. A parfumed Pinot which is dry on the palate with a medium, slightly structured tannin, hints of milk chocolate. This has a good acidity and a long finish.

By Anja Breit 

Leave a comment: