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For those who do not know the term “cult wine”, it is a wine whose supply is limited but which is in great demand. It’s often purchased through a Membership Assignment List direct from the winery, is of high quality and worthy of aging, will gain value over time, and is not in the mainstream – but is on the radar of all major wine reviews and publications.

Tanner DaFoe, whose first vintage dates from 2009, is clearly a “cult wine” estate. We had the chance to speak with Jeff Tanner, half of the winemaking team that makes the coveted Santa Ynez Valley wine, at his Venice Beach home – and we found out how a guy from LA became a winemaker. worship in Santa Barbara without moving to the land of wine.

A former New York law graduate investment banker, Tanner quit his suit and tie in 1994 to pursue a more creative life, landing his first job in Los Angeles as a set production assistant.

Soft-spoken, with a thick beard and long, sun-streaked hair topped with a trucker cap, Tanner appears to be most at home in a vineyard surrounded by nature, tending to the vines. and cultivating barrels of wine, that he would be on the set of a shoot. But as a producer of commercials, movies, and music videos for artists from AC / DC to Sean Combs, Tanner is no stranger to the industry that rocks LA.

Now trying a new career path with what he calls his ‘third act’, Tanner and his winemaking partner Rob DaFoe brew a cabernet sauvignon and red blend called ‘Rogue’s Blend’ that have caught the attention of restaurants, collectors and Wine spectator magazine.

What was your first wine experience?
It’s a pretty funny story. When I was still in school I went on a date to a pretty fancy restaurant for a student near Shelter Island and wanted to order an expensive bottle of wine so I ordered a zinfandel – we ordered steaks or something. And when the wine arrived, honestly I was expecting rose wine (it was probably like 1986), but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and say nothing.

What is the experience that made you interested in becoming a winegrower?
I think my first trip to Napa was kind of a pivotal moment, and it became a daydream to have a winery one day. A few years later, when I had time, I thought I might start taking classes at UC Davis, because I don’t know anything about it. And so I would be better prepared when that day comes, not knowing how I would ever get there.

What was your greatest influence in becoming a winegrower?
I would say my biggest influence in wine making is Rob [DaFoe], then by default the people who influenced it. If I had been on my own I would have done something different than what we have, and I think the same for him. What we do is an amalgamation of what I was looking for in wine and what he likes in wine.

Jess Tanner during crash season;  Credit: Steven Lake

Jess Tanner during crash season; Credit: Steven Lake

How did you meet Rob DaFoe?
A friend of mine, Paige Clay, owns Flake, that little breakfast spot on Rose. She is a former professional snowboarder, and so is he. They had lived together and were friends in Tahoe, Squaw, where all the action sports stuff came out, like all those snowboard movies. All these people there were traveling around the world and snowboarding, and so they got to know each other because of that. So he came over here and we sat on the upstairs deck one night and just talked about snowboarding and surfing and wine for a few hours. He was already making wine on his own, so that relationship started. Every year he would say, “Do you want to make wine? I wanted to do it, but it seemed too complicated. But when I took that last trip to Napa and spent the day with George Hendry [of Hendry Winery], I had enough fire under me to make a pretty brash decision and call Rob and say, “Let’s do this thing.”

Did you buy any fruit? If so, from where?
We have the grapes [for the first vintage in 2009] from the same place where we get our grapes now, which is a vineyard called Estelle. I just wanted to make wine and see if we could sell it. I didn’t know enough about wine to know what was possible at the time. I was just like, “Let’s do what we love.” And he [DaFoe] said, “There is a vineyard that I know called Estelle, and Brian [Babcock] was making a cabernet from that little hillside trail that he thought had potential. I’ll talk to Brian. He will probably sell some of those grapes to us. So that’s what happened.

Do you have a particular style in mind when making your wine, or do you let the grapes speak for themselves?
Well I think the most important thing is the harvest, and when [to harvest]. The most stylistically important thing that we are looking for is the structure of the wine – what the mouth feel is. We want to have something that has a great flavor profile, but is not overripe to achieve that flavor profile. I think we allow the grapes to express themselves with the caveat that we are looking for a certain thing when we bring them. We don’t do a lot of manipulation. I think the most important thing for us is the acid balance. This is the most important thing, to keep our acids in a place slightly higher than they want. If you let your grapes reach full maturity – full flavor – then your acids are going to be low and your pH is going to drop, so it’s that very difficult balance – that moment when you decide it’s time to bring it in and go. through the crush.

Tanner DaFoe is considered a cult wine in Santa Barbara. How did you get to this level so quickly?
When we started it, we didn’t have a plan. We were making a quantity small enough not to treat it as a commodity; we treated it as a project. It remained in barrels for 28 months. Nobody does that. We waited and waited and waited until it really felt like it’s done and ready to bottle. Everything had to be the best. It was a hope and a dream out of naivety. We thought it was amazing, but how do you do that when you come out of Santa Ynez making some cabernet? We just thought we could, and then people started using that word, “worship,” and putting it [Tanner Dafoe wines] in tastings with wines like Scarecrow ($ 500 a bottle) and Screaming Eagle ($ 2,200 a bottle) and Harlan ($ 800 a bottle). It was kind of a daydream and now the daydream is coming true.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a winegrower?
If I was talking to someone like me who doesn’t have a lot of money and won’t be able to graduate and start at the bottom I would say get some education – whatever course you can take – then buy some grapes and start doing it. Find someone who can help you. I would say go surprise someone and give them some time to help them make their wine, and you will learn how to make wine. Enter the cellar. Volunteer or get a summer job or something like that. But educate yourself, because chemistry is really important. Do it and don’t look down – and don’t look up – like, one step at a time. Make a commitment and start doing it.

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