Founded by Seth Kunin in 1998, Kunin are a boutique winery focussing on Rhône style varietals such as Syrah, Grenache, Viognier amongst others. Seth sadly died in 2017, but spent his years as a winemaker running against the grain - as the rest of California, especially in the late 90’s and early 2000’s were playing up to Robert Parker’s desire for huge, extracted, ripe ‘fruit bombs’ in the search for 100 points, Kunin were searching out the best cool clime sites in Santa Barbara, where they could make their elegant, focussed and restrained wines built on acid and structure rather than body and alcohol. This wine is a great example - their homage to the great red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape or CNDP for short, is a town in the Southern Rhône Valley. In the Rhône, there are 19 ‘Cru Villages’ - the top sites in the region. While the Northern Rhône has a number of these villages vying for top billing - Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Condrieu for example, CNDP is undoubtedly the number one in the South - a classic, traditional, charismatic and somewhat esoteric wine. Translating as ‘Pope’s new castle’, this 13th Century town on a hill was built when the home of the Catholic Church was in fact situated nearby in the walled city of Avignon. Famous for its reds more so than the whites (although they are incredible), CNDP can have up to 13 different grape varieties in the blend, although Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre do tend to lead the orchestra more often than not.
As an interesting side note, one of the most famous quirky facts about CNDP is the fact that in 1954 they passed a law banning UFO’s from the region’s vineyards.
What do the wines taste like?
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a great place to start with French fine wine, as it’s at once utterly contrasting, thought-provoking and simply delicious. Elegant, yet intense; brightly fruity, yet secondary, classical and traditional; fun and juicy, yet serious and proper; ageable, food friendly, structured and focussed - the greatest examples are full of inky, balsamic, charred meat and ‘garrigue’ or herbaceous hedgerow character.
Why is Santa Barbara so good for these wines?
Santa Barbara is one of California’s coolest AVA’s, which is brilliant for both Syrah and Grenache. While both grape varieties aren’t averse to the heat, and in fact thrive in it, creating big, fruity, alcoholic wines (think Barossa Shiraz), they are in-fact very aromatic, and in cooler climates this characteristic can be the hero, wines end up being more perfumed, elegant and complex, while still having the structure and acidity to age gracefully.
A classic CNDP style blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, this wine certainly does that great name justice. A truly elegant wine, a lovely translucent red colour, its brilliance now is defined by the fact that there is no overtly dominant feature - subtle incense spice, balsamic, floral and aniseed flavours have room to breathe and the wine is lusciously fruity and chock full of smoky minerality which goes on and on and on. It’s imperiously defined.