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Another Pour from Bruin Vintners


By Bekah Wright

Published Jul 16, 2010 9:20 AM


Fields of grapevines at Spencer Vineyards, Oakville. Photo courtesy of Spencer Vineyards.

Our recent story about Bruin winemakers, The Fruits of Their Labor, received such an overwhelming response, we thought we'd introduce you to a few more. So settle back, pop a cork and read on.

Gavin Chanin '09
Owner, Chanin Wine Company


Bottles from Chanin Wine Company. Photo by Gavin Chanin.

The summer before his freshman year at UCLA, Los Angeles native Gavin Chanin decided to combine work with adventure through a job at Au Bon Climat (ABC) winery located on the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria. It was a decision that would greatly impact his future. "I ended up falling in love with winemaking," he recalls. "After that first harvest, I started to take every fall quarter off from UCLA so I could work at the winery from the start of harvest until December, which let me see the whole process from start to finish."

Even the meaning of the name Au Bon Climat would prove auspicious — "a well-exposed vineyard." For Chanin, this translated to learning and working simultaneously with ABC's winemaker, Jim Clendenen and Qupe Wine Cellars founder, Bob Lindquist. "They're pioneers of Santa Barbara wine," says Chanin. "They were inspirational to me because they started their companies at a young age with very little capital, but did it out of their love for wine."

Chanin Wine Company

Gavin Chanin '09

Mailing List/Wine Club: Yes. Register online.

Tours/Events: Open house wine tasting/party held twice a year. Check website for details.

Wines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay

As for his studies as an art major, Chanin saw winemaking as a complementary adjunct. "You need a sense of touch and instinct in both painting and winemaking," he says. "They both have the potential to transform something unremarkable into something amazing — raw pigment into a painting, grapes into wine"

In 2007, a year shy of graduating, Chanin took a detour to South Africa and New Zealand to work in wineries there. It was also the year he launched his own label. "We're pretty old school," he says of the business. "The winery is basically a steel shed with insulation sprayed in it." Chanin's two loves dovetailed as his art was reflected in his vintages. "Each of my labels is one of my paintings," he says. "They illustrate that wine and art are entwined."

By the time Chanin graduated in 2009, he'd worked eight vintages in three different countries. Today, he's an assistant winemaker for both ABC and Qupe. Additionally, he devotes himself to Chanin Wine Company, through which he works with three vineyards including Bien Nacido, Los Alamos Vineyard and Le Bon Climat. "I was lucky to meet some of the best farmers in the area during my internships," he says. "This allowed me to get my foot in the door and source some of the most sought after fruit."

Marilyn Heise Stolpman, BA '72, JD '76
Tom Stolpman, '72
Stolpman Vineyards

Stolpman Vineyards

Marilyn Stolpman, BA in French '72, JD '76
Tom Stolpman, BA in History '72

Tasting Room: 805-688-0400

Mailing List/Wine Club: Yes, join online.

Tours: Available by appointment.

Tasting Room: Located in historic downtown Los Olivos. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed some holidays.

Wines: Syrah (La Coppa Syrah, Estate Grown Syrah, Originals Syrah, Hilltops and Angeli), Sangiovese Grenache, Merlot (La Cuadrilla) and a blend of Sangiovse and Syrah (La Croce). White wines are made from Roussanne (L'Avion), Roussanne and Viognier (La Coppa Blanc) and Sauvignon Blanc. Rose also available.

Upcoming events: Aug. 14, "Dinner in the Vineyard;" Aug. 22, Stolpman Wine Dinner at The Ballard Inn; Oct. 10, Wine Club Pick-Up Party on vineyard.

A blind date led to the eventual pairing of these two Bruins. When it came to wine, however, the couple had very different introductions. Marilyn spent a portion of her senior year at the University of Bordeaux, a program through which she learned about wines. Back in Los Angeles, friends bearing bottles of inexpensive wine were popping by Tom's apartment to watch color television. When the two married in 1974, they honeymooned in Saratoga and Napa Valley.

A memorable wine acquisition was made two years later. "It was a 1974 Hanzell Pinot Noir," Tom remembers. "It was purchased as a part of a case which was our first 'wine cellar' when we bought our first home." At this point, both Stolpmans were practicing law. Says Tom, "We had the income to indulge our passion and became more interested in food and wine."

Bruin Cathleen Davern Pryor '72 and her husband Joe were integral in the duo's transition from collectors and wine drinkers into winemakers when they invited the Stolpmans to attend the 1984 Napa Valley Wine Auction. "After hours of conversation, Marilyn and I decided to look for property to develop a vineyard as a way to become part of the wine industry," says Tom. "After almost five years of research, looking at property and learning everything we could, we found our site in Santa Ynez Valley."

The 220-acre estate in Ballard Canyon consists of rolling hills, limestone soils and a cool climate just right for producing world-class wines. And produce it did. After wines made from Stolpman fruit began winning awards, the Stolpmans decided it was time to bottle their own vintage. Their efforts were rewarded with a gold medal and Chairman's Best of Class Award at the 2000 Long Beach Grand Cru International Wine Competition. Stolpman Vineyard wines continue to win awards to this day.

Gary Conway, '60
Marian McKnight Conway '65
Kathleen Conway '84
Owners & President, Carmody McKnight Estate Wines

Carmody McKnight Estate Winery, Paso Robles

Gary Conway '60
Marian McKnight '65
Kathleen Conway '84
805-238-9392 ext. 3

Mailing List/Wine Club: Yes, join online or phone 805-238-9392 ext. 3.

Tours: Contact winery regarding visiting their tasting room, gallery of Gary's terroir-tectonic art and straw-bale winery.

Wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Bordeaux Blends, Late Harvest wines and Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wine. All wines are estate, limited production, sustainable vintages.

Upcoming events: Oct. 15-17, Paso Robles Harvest Wine Tour; Oct. 18, Carmody McKnight's 7th Annual Cork & Pork. Sunday brunch lakeside is by reservation, featuring estate "méthode champenoise" crafted by hand and riddled in the straw bale winery.

Much like their college majors of art and drama, when Gary Conway and Marian McKnight met at UCLA, they found they had a lot in common. To their surprise, years later they'd also discover the world of winemaking was a perfect fit for them both. "Making wine is like theatre," quips Marian. "There's always drama."

Drama, indeed. Gary first saw the 320-acre, Adelaida ranch that would become Carmody McKnight Estate Wines from a helicopter — right before it crashed. When others might have seen the accident as a harbinger of bad luck, Gary embraced the land's beauty and bought the acreage on the spot. As a result, in 1986, the Conways added "farmer" to their already impressive resumes that ranged from actor/filmmaker/artist for Gary and former Miss America/actress/philanthropist for Marian. Says Gary of the experience, "Everyone should plant a vineyard."

The family had grown by then, too, with the addition of children, Gareth and Kathleen. Today, Gareth is an executive producer for Voice of America in Washington, DC and has launched his own estate-derived label and wine. Following in her parents' footsteps, Kathleen graduated from UCLA and is the current president of Carmody McKnight. She's formed an entourage of sorts at the vineyard, bringing in free-range chickens, horses, alpacas and exotic sheep. Her philosophy — the greater the variety of species, the healthier the ecology.

From picturesque landscape to estate wines, there are myriad reasons to visit the Central Coast property. Recently, though, a slew of visitors have arrived for another reason – the soil. Flocking to the estate have been top viticulturists, geologists and oenologists from universities around the globe. Because of its soil, Carmody McKnight Estate Vineyards was the only vineyard in the United States chosen to be the subject of a collaborative study by the State of California, John Deere Global Ag. Services, Motorola, Inc., Earth Information Technologies, Inc., and Cal Poly University. The project goal — to usher in a new age in agriculture, agronomics, and earth science technologies.

Soil, science, alpacas, grapes — in the end, for Carmody McKnight, it always comes down to the wine. Says Gary, "At its most fundamental, wine is a food, wine is health-essential, wine is culture, wine is art. We enjoy opportunities to bring even scant illumination to the subject."

Gregory Spencer '01
Sales, Marketing & Business Development, Spencer Vineyards, Oakville

Spencer Vineyards, Oakville

Gregory Spencer '01


Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon

When Gregory Spencer's parents purchased vineyards in Oakville in 1983, he had no idea he'd become involved in the family business. At the time, he was merely enthralled by the atmosphere. "I have a lot of memories of walking the land and vineyards as a kid," he says. "The scenery was quite different in that there were not as many wineries around."

Just as Spencer was beginning his freshman year in 1997, the vineyard had its first vintage, a 100 percent estate grown Cabernet. Nevertheless, when he packed his bags for UCLA, his mind was set on a career in business and accounting versus winemaking. It wasn't until Spencer's junior year that his interest in wine evolved. "I participated in a study abroad program and spent six unforgettable months in Sienna and Florence, Italy," he recalls. "I was exposed to some of the best vineyards and time-tested farming techniques. It was then that I began to appreciate the history and business of wine."


The house at Spencer Vineyards, Oakville. Photo courtesy of Spencer Vineyards.

After graduating from UCLA, Spencer went to work at an investment management firm in San Francisco. Six years later, he attended graduate school at UC Berkeley. Afterwards, he landed at the real estate investment firm in San Francisco, where he currently works. "All the while I was becoming increasingly interested in wine."

Today, Spencer is in charge of the sales, marketing and business development of Spencer Vineyard wines. "My focus on business and accounting proved to be paramount in the pursuit of any entrepreneurial activity." His admiration of the property has changed, too. "Oakville's soils and climate combine to create an ideal place to grow grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon," says Spencer. "The days are sun-drenched and the nights are cooled by the Pacific Ocean fog."



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