The word "lumen" has multiple meanings, one being the quantity of light visible from a source. That definition and a label that's an ode to a star-filled night sky are representative of Lumen wines. They're bright, honest wines, of brilliant color and a taste that's accessible to nearly every palate.
Barely four years old, Lumen is one of the newer wineries on the Central Coast and it has a distinct advantage — a partnership between winemaking pioneer Lane Tanner and Will Henry who practically grew up in the sales and marketing side of the wine business.
They make their wines in a nondescript warehouse space in Santa Maria. And instead of having their own high-rent tasting room on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos or the El Paseo in downtown Santa Barbara, they make tasting flights and bottles available at the spacious wine bar in the Los Alamos General Store, which is owned by Henry and his wife, Kali Kopley.
That minimal overhead gives Lumen wines a lower price point than most other local wines of comparable quality. All but one of the current releases of their high-scoring (The Wine Enthusiast) pinot noir, chardonnay, grenache and grenache blanc are priced at $30 and under.
Working in the wine industry since picking up a part-time job labeling bottles in 1980, Tanner, who has a degree in chemistry, was the first independent female winemaker in Santa Barbara County. She attained near-legendary status for the pinot noirs she produced under her Lane Tanner label from 1989 to 2009, always referring to her bottlings as her "babies" and describing them as "feminine" or "masculine" in style.
Henry's first winemaking job was in the cellar of a Margaret River, Australia, winery. He subsequently spent years working for his father's fine wine distribution company, The Henry Wine Group, before moving on to photography, journalism and launching the environmental organization Save the Waves (savethewaves.org). Returning to the wine business as vice president of business development for The Henry Wine Group, he concentrated on brand management.
It was that in-depth knowledge of branding that led him to come up with the Lumen name and label concepts in November 2012.
"I realized it would be a very good idea to get some wine in the bottle," Henry laughed. "I went out looking for pinot that met my specifications, which were pretty narrow — low alcohol and or a certain fruit profile. I tasted a lot of stuff and it wasn't good enough."
A friend suggested he contact Doug Circle, owner of Sierra Madre Vineyards, who had some pinot noir in barrel that he wanted to sell. It was spring 2013 when Henry made an appointment to meet Circle and taste the wine. Much to his surprise when he arrived, there was Tanner who was just as equally shocked to see Henry.
Known for her vivacious personality and hair that may be orange one day and lavender the next, Tanner had decided to retire from the wine business in 2010. Despite the many accolades that had come her way, it just wasn't fun anymore, she has often said. Two years later she was lured back in by Circle. A longtime strawberry grower, Circle purchased Sierra Madre Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley in 2001, selling all his production to local winemakers including Tanner. Several years after purchasing the vineyard he decided he wanted to venture into winemaking as well and brought Tanner into the fold.
Unfortunately, Tanner said, Circle "did not have the temperament for this business. There are a number of reasons you get into this. You either absolutely love wine or you are really rich and you want to make some kind of social statement or you need a tax write-off. Doug didn't fall into any of those categories. Every day you could see he was growing more and more frustrated with the business. I wrote him a huge report on why I didn't think this was a good fit for him."
Circle took her advice and opted to bulk out the wine they had in barrel and return to running his vineyard operations without the headaches of making and marketing wine. That's when Henry arrived on the scene.
"I tasted the wines. They were fantastic. They were exactly what I was looking for. It was serendipitous. I fell into this fabulous arrangement with a great vineyard and a great winemaker."
Today Tanner and Henry make approximately 2,000 cases a year from grapes they purchase from Sierra Madre, Garey Vineyard and Presqu'ile in Santa Maria, Martian Ranch in Los Alamos, and Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez.
The business partners bill themselves as co-owners and co-winemakers.
"During harvest, we work side by side," explained Tanner. "After harvest, he focuses more on selling wine and I focus on finishing it."
Still needing to mother every bottle of wine she produces, Tanner has no desire to grow the company to more than 3,000 cases. That suites Henry just fine.
"My dad's desire in entering this business was to represent small family-owned winemakers. I've seen too many great brands start out that way, get really big, get bought out by someone even bigger, not properly manage their wine and get dumbed down. I'm philosophically opposed to that," he said.
As the marketing and branding expert on this dream team, Henry was also adamant about getting Lumen into as many glasses as possible in these early years of the company.
"Therein lies the challenge because we are paying a premium for our fruit. It is definitely the quality of some $60 to $80 bottles of wine. We are being cautious about keeping the price as low as we can. It's strategic to getting the brand recognized as being high quality for not such a high price," Henry explained.
Tanner has never varied from her belief that a well-balanced wine should be low alcohol, not have a lot of oak, and be fruity, and that's how she makes Lumen.
"It's tasty wine," is her simple description.
"Winery of the Month" is published in Santa Ynez Valley Extra, the first Tuesday of each month.
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