Lately, I’ve been musing on all the talented rising stars among the younger generation of winemakers around the world. In California, one of them is 26-year-old Gavin Chanin, whose brilliant, balanced 2009 Chanin Bien Nacido Chardonnay I tasted for a second time a week ago with wild sockeye salmon sautéed with shallots, parsley and wine. This white has deliciously concentrated fruit, but definitely leans toward a mineral, focused style, with the racy acidity the French call nervosité. There’s depth, but not heaviness; richness, but also plenty of subtlety.
I liked it even better with dinner than I did at the packed In Pursuit of Balance tasting in New York several months ago.
A wine wunderkind, Chanin got into the business at age 18 working harvest in Santa Barbara County at Au Bon Climat winery (for Jim Clendenen) and Qupe (for Bob Lindquist). He quickly caught the winemaking bug. At 21, he founded his own label; by 25, he had participated in 11 harvests, including stints in New Zealand and at superstar Pinot producer Hamilton Russell in South Africa.
Chanin picked his mentors well: Clendenen, for example, has long been a proponent of lovely, balanced Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, the same varietals Chanin focuses on. Until recently, his day job was assistant winemaker for both wineries.
Lower-alcohol Chanin Bien Nacido Chardonnay
The key to making this lower-alcohol style of Chardonnay, says Chanin, is old vines. He sources grapes for this one from a 39-year-old original block at Bien Nacido, one of California’s iconic vineyards.
The other essential is picking early, up to several weeks before many other winemakers. The combination preserves acidity and ensures complexity.
A minimalist in the cellar, Chanin pressed the grapes directly into a tank, then fermented them in barrel, using native yeasts. Only a third of the French oak is new, which, mercifully, means no slam of oak to the nose and tongue.
Did I mention the art connection? While chasing wine, Chanin was also pursuing a degree in art at UCLA. His talents are featured on his elegant, abstract labels.
In June, he hit a new winemaker’s jackpot: a partnership with entrepreneur Bill Price, one of the co-founders of private equity firm TPG Capital. I’m hoping that in this new project Chanin will stick with his personal philosophy of terroir and balance.
Happily, he’ll continue to make wines under his own name. I’m planning to drink another bottle of 2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay with lobster salad very soon.
Top photo: Winemaker Gavin Chanin reserves the front label of his 2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay for his artwork.