We were lucky enough to talk to Lane Tanner recently. Lane is one of the pioneers of California Pinot Noir. She is helped to blaze the trail for female winemakers. Lane's newest project is making wine for Lumen Wines in Santa Barbara county. Lane was dubbed the Czarina of Pinot Noir early in her career and we should all be grateful that label is still true today.
California Winery Advisor: How did you decide that Lumen was the right opportunity for you to start making wine again?
Lane Tanner: To be honest, Will Henry spent a very large amount of time and effort convincing me that I should do this project. He promised me all the things a winemaker wants to hear and I felt he was honest in these promises. His idea and my idea of winemaking styles are the same. He has enough capital and understanding of the timeline to make a winery a success. He also wanted to be the sales force and face of the brand. All of these things allow me to do what I most want to do in life...make the perfect wine...without distractions or stress.
CWA: What is the vision for Lumen winery?
LT: Are you trying to appeal to a specific type of wine drinker? Our vision is to make wine that dances on your tongue. We pick as soon as the grapes are ripe, not when they are about to turn into raisins. This allows us to make vibrant, lower alcohol, racier wines than most. I believe our wine drinkers are all the people between the sweet wine drinkers and the people that like their wines to blast out their mouths.
CWA: Which vineyards are you working with?
LT: How do you decide the growers you work with? We are blessed to be working with some great vineyards. Our biggest tonnage is from Doug Circle, Sierra Madre Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley. He provides us with CH, PN and PG. Our other top grower is that crazy nice Nan Helgeland, owner of Martian Ranch. We get outstanding Grenache from her. We work with others too, but those two are my favorite. We make decisions on buying grapes by asking three questions....Are the grapes the best quality, is the grower totally honest and will they work with us as partners...not just sell us fruit.
CWA: How important is the fruit to the quality of the wine? Can great winemaking technique make up for subpar fruit?
LT: What a silly question...the fruit is everything when it comes to making great wine. That is, wine that is outstanding right now and that will be even better in 15 to 20 years. A great winemaker can make good wine out of subpar fruit but never a great wine.
CWA: We read a lot about organic, biodynamic and natural wines today. Do you think these designations should be important to wine drinkers?
LT: I have mixed feelings about these labels. All of our grapes come from sustainable farming. That means that the grower does not use any high-risk pesticides. They have a commitment to environmental stewardship and they practice equitable treatment towards employees. One grower is Biodynamic and three others are SIP Certified but we do not use that on our labels. We try to make the healthiest wines possible. I, personally, am very-very sensitive to many chemicals so our wines have almost no sulfites and absolutely no added chemicals. I think smart wine drinkers are the ones that ask questions at tastings and find out for themselves, not just read a label and assume some tag makes it a superior wine.
CWA: What do you love about making Pinot Noir? What do you love about drinking it?
LT: How much space do I have?? Making PN is like no other winemaking experience. When I start tasting the grapes in the vineyard, I become so excited. There is all of the potential Mother Nature can give. The fruit starts to get ripe then one day we cannot taste any green flavors. That is our pick time. The fruit is at its freshest and the chemical numbers are at their best! The fruit comes in and while it goes through the destemmer, the whole winery is alive with the smells of fruit and spice and musk and dust. Each day when we throw the sheet back from the small fermenter bins there is a new set of smells. Some days it smells like fresh blueberry cobbler right out of the oven and some days it smells like a rat died in that little bin. Each day you get to decide what you want to do with your punch downs to capture or expel the smells. No two bins are alike and no two years are alike. No one can make great PN from an office. It is one grape that Demands your participation.
Drinking PN is only the second act. The first act is smelling the newly poured glass on PN. Sometimes I can get so lost in swirling and smelling the fresh tight nose opening to such odiferous wonders that I feel I don’t even need to put it in my mouth. Perhaps just touch some lightly over my neck and shoulders so the scent can linger. Drinking PN should be done slowly. Great PN has more flavor changes than any other wine I know of. It should always be subtle though and the finish should always make you sit and savor the aftertaste then your body should crave a bit more.
CWA: You were way ahead of the curve when it comes to Pinot Noir appreciation in the US. What took everyone so long to catch up?
LT: First off, Thank You. All winemaking is about personal style. I found the style that suited me in the 1980’s and I never felt a reason to change that to suit others. This style may not have been in vogue back then and actually, it has gone in and out of vogue a few times. Right now it is back in.
CWA: Did any winemakers influence you early on in your career? Are there any that inspire you now?
LT: This is such a loaded question. I have been around so many wonderful and talented winemakers in my life. One learns bits and pieces from them all...whether it is what to do or what not to do. My mentor Andre Tchelistcheff was probably the most influential. He convinced me to stay in this crazy business and he taught me to listen to the wine. It will tell you what it needs.
CWA: Do you feel that female winemakers are better off today than they were when you started making wine? Please explain why.
LT: Most definitely, and here is only one reason why.....Technology. When I started no one had barrel racks or a million other things that current winemakers take for granted. One had to be seriously strong and determined. Now you don’t need so much brawn. It evens the playing field.
CWA: What advice can you give to aspiring winemakers?
LT: Do something else for a living...your killing my retail shelf space.
CWA: Where can we buy Lumen wines? Do you offer a wine club? Do you have a tasting room?
William Henry (Owner of Lumen Wines): We sell about 80% of our wines to restaurants. Currently, we are only available in CA and NV. As for retail shops, we are not in any chains. Locally we are at El Rancho Market in Santa Ynez, Pico in Los Alamos, and Carpinteria Wine Co. in Carp, amongst others. In LA we are at K&L in Hollywood and Mission Wines in Pasadena. My wife and I own Pico Restaurant in Los Alamos, CA, and there are always flights of Lumen available for tasting there. We do have a wine club as well. Details are available on our website.
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