For today's Harvest Story we were inspired by the size of this white grape cluster held by winemaker Seth Kunin of AVA of Santa Barbara and Kunin Wines. Wine grapes are interesting. There are thousands of different grapes varieties and clones throughout the world that can be used to make wine. All these grapes have subtle (and not so subtle) differences from the color of the grape skins to the size of the berries and clusters. Next time you visit a vineyard between veraison (the point at which the clusters start to develop color and accumulate sugar) and harvest, walk up to the clusters in the vines and hold them in your hand. Study the color and texture of the skins. Note the size of each berry. Is the cluster compact or big and open? All these clues will help you make a proper identification and your friends will be impressed! Can you identify the type of grape Seth is holding? (Answer is below.) You can follow the ongoing story of Seth's havest on his Instagram page at @SethKunin.
That is one huge cluster! What variety is this and is this cluster size typical?
It is Grenache Blanc (from Coghlan Vineyards). This size and shape are fairly typical for both Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc, although this particular cluster was quite large (hence the photo)…
People often say winemaking is equal parts science and art. What is your philosophy?
Definitely equal parts science and art. You can’t make great wine without a healthy dose of respect for both, and for their contributions to the finished product. In the 80s, with all of the technological innovations happening in the world of science (and trickling down to winemaking), there were lots of “frankenwines” out there. There are also lots of bizarre and unstable wines that were made just for the “art” of it, without understanding the science of what makes a wine stable and enjoyable.
You look a little like a mad scientist in this picture. How much sleep do you get during harvest?
I’ve actually been doing OK sleep-wise this harvest (the photo notwithstanding), but I do live in Santa Barbara and make wine in Santa Maria, so there are two extra hours in every work day for me…
You are one of the most highly regarded winemakers in California. How did you get into the wine business?
I grew up surrounded by food and cooks in the family, and then found myself in the restaurant business, where I really started to learn and appreciate wine on a different level. After running a few restaurants and making some wine for fun, I decided that I liked the wine business and lifestyle better than the restaurant side (I don’t regret being in the restaurant biz, but I don’t miss it either…). I didn’t go to Davis or Fresno, but just applied what I knew from my pre-med studies at UCLA, my tasting experiences at the Wine Cask and other places that I had worked and the knowledge that I had amassed from visiting the cellars of many winemakers – both here and abroad. My first vintage may have been a bit of a crapshoot, but it is looking like I made a good bet.
You enjoy entertaining. When you have friends over what do you like to serve?
Food-wise, I love to grill. There is no substitute for the sweet, spicy flavors that hot wood gives to a piece of meat (or fish or vegetable). Those same flavors also tend to marry well with the bright, savory qualities in the Old-World style wines that I like to make and serve (both domestic and imported). Not to mention that you don’t really need to fuss with things like sauces and the kitchen doesn’t get too hot from the oven being on for hours…