Ethan, Samsara, Kaena, Paul Lato, Flying Goat, Kenneth-Crawford, Ampelos…Like so many tasty mushrooms after rainfall, a pleasantly startling number of new wine labels from Santa Barbara County are popping up on wine lists and retail shelves. Aided and abetted in their efforts by the firestorm of vinous interest sparked by an offbeat film a couple of years ago, a fresh crop of winemakers has begun to make its mark. For most, production levels are quite small (<1,000 cases), but commitment to quality is high.
Broadly speaking, we can pigeonhole these winemakers into three general categories: The Next Generation, The Journeyman, and The Change-of-Lifer. In this first of two parts, we’ll focus on two winemakers carrying on the family business.
Who is “The Next Generation” Winemaker?
European wineries have a long and venerable tradition of passing the winemaking baton from one generation to the next. In the wild west of new world winemaking, cowboys and lone (Rhone) rangers more typically set out to “make a name for myself.” So, it should come as no surprise that when next generation winemakers here carry on the family profession they often do so with a twist – they establish their own brands. Such is the case with Chad Melville and Ethan Lindquist.
Young Ethan Lindquist has much to live up to. He is the son of one of Santa Barbara County’s benchmark wine producers, Bob Lindquist of Qupé. He must have felt a few pangs of trepidation upon first introducing his own wines to the world, but you’d never know it from his quiet confidence and calm bearing.
Labeled simply as “Ethan,” he makes wines, like his father, primarily from Rhône varietals commenting that, “they’re what I know and love.” Ethan sources fruit from several vineyards with preference given to those incorporating organic farming methods. 2004 marks his fifth vintage and production is closing in on 1,000 cases with plans to eventually top out around 3,000. His wines are honest and true reveling in luscious fruit, yet maintaining integral structure and balance. And the critics are beginning to take notice.
The Melville Story
Like Ethan, Chad Melville bears a name associated with one of the area’s most highly regarded producers. Melville Vineyard and Winery was established by Chad’s father, Ron, (himself a Change-of-Lifer) in the mid 1990s. Chad’s day job is as assistant winemaker/vineyard manager for Melville. But when the work is done, Chad leaves the trappings of a state-of-the-art winery and heads for his own modest space in a warehouse shed row known affectionately as “the Ghetto” by its assortment of winemaker residents. Here, Chad produces about 500 cases of wine he labels as “Samsara”.
Any Buddhist will recognize the word samsara as describing that aspect of existence characterized by suffering resulting from attachments, essentially the elements of human life that we must learn to let go of before we can ever reach nirvana. Samsara, the wine, serves as corporeal metaphor for balancing the fundamental human desire to control our environment while living in a world full of elements beyond such control…as expressed through a bottle of wine.
So, it makes sense that Chad describes himself as a “terroir-ist” – that is, he is particularly intrigued by vineyard site, in capturing and expressing the characteristics unique to each vineyard. Towards that end, every aspect of winemaking is done by hand, gently and with great care. Quality trumps efficiency. His focus is on Pinot Noir and Syrah and his desire is to produce wines of balance and length. He doesn’t make much, but Chad’s wines are lovely and Samsara is well worth seeking out.
For Ethan and Chad, apprenticeship came as a natural outgrowth of their family’s business. More often than not, however, aspiring winemakers come from non-wine industry backgrounds.
Next month we’ll introduce the Journeyman and Change-of-Lifer.
Photos by Maria Varni