World of Pinot Noir for the first time, like Balletto. And then there's a winery like Lumen, which is new (2012 is yesterday in the world of wine, and just imagine what the French might say), but the project of two wine veterans, Will Henry, who had 20 years of distro experience with his family's The Henry Group, and esteemed winemaker Lane Tanner, whose first vintage in the area was 1981 when she was oenologist for Firestone. She later made some of the region's best Pinots under her own label until she retired it in 2009.
"Being a newer winery certainly has its challenges," Henry admits. "For one, we have to make a name for ourselves in the marketplace, and we have done so by keeping our prices very low--which isn’t exactly easy in terms of getting a return on our money." And he does mean low--it's hard to get a Pinot this good at $29, or a Chard that good at $25. "Lane thinks I’m nuts for selling our wines for what we do, but I am more interested in long-term success than short-term gain. And I can’t tell you how much I learn from and SB vet like Lane--the education is invaluable. Regardless I think we are poised for great things ahead, and that we are part of a group of wineries that will certainly make big waves in the world of Pinot."
Henry doesn't think Lumen is alone with the wave-making, either. "I love making wine in a region that is on the cusp of becoming something much bigger than it currently is," he enthuses. "Even though we have had some pioneers (like my partner) making killer Pinot here for decades, Santa Barbara County has just in the past few years become more widely recognized as a producer of some of the world’s best wines. And unlike Napa, we aren’t selling an image--it’s all about what gets into the bottle. We have such an amazing group of winemakers here that are utterly dedicated to the craft, and are more focused on the quality of wine they produce than building monuments to their egos. SBC is the real deal, and I’m proud to be part of it."
It doesn't hurt he gets to work with a master like Tanner, who made food-friendly non-monster wines even before it had become cool to do so. No ego, indeed. "The message I most want to impart about Lumen Pinot is that it is real," Henry says. "This wine is not manipulated in any way. We source the very best fruit from cool-climate vineyards and make an extremely honest bottle of wine out of it. Lane’s winemaking abilities are truly phenomenal, and she has one of the most developed noses (yes, the one on her face) of any winemaker I have ever worked with. Her nose trumps any kind of lab analysis, so when we run into challenges in winemaking, we are usually way ahead of any problems that might arise. Our wines are super-clean, and extraordinarily well-balanced, due to Lane’s amazing winemaking ability. They also age extremely well."
Since Lumen is small and young, their table at Friday's tasting won't be huge. "We currently have only two Pinot Noir’s on the market--our Santa Barbara County, and our Sierra Madre Vineyard--and those are what we will be pouring," Henry explains. "The SBC is a great representation of Santa Maria Valley, where we source all of our Pinot fruit. We take from three vineyards there, and it is a fantastic (and affordable) cool-climate wine. The Sierra Madre Vineyard represents the apex of what Lane and I can produce. It has, over the past three decades, become Lane’s favorite vineyard, because the wines that it yields are the prettiest, most complex and interesting, year in, year out. This bottle contains a barrel selection from Sierra Madre Vineyard, from the best vintage of the decade so far (2013), and WOPN is a unique opportunity to taste it. More single vineyard Pinot’s are online for next year, though."
Even though Henry is also in the midst of another big project, opening up a restaurant, Pico, in Los Alamos, that doesn't dim his excitement for World of Pinot Noir. "There is a reason so many people are fanatical about this grape," he says. "It produces the most seductive wines in the world, and can have so many different personalities. I also love seeing how our little wine region of Santa Barbara County has become an important player in the world of wine, especially concerning this varietal. We truly are producing some of the best Pinots on the planet right here in our backyard."