Lane Tanner Winery

This was so long ago!  I'm not currently making Lane Tanner wines, instead I'm the winemaker at LUMEN, so surf on over and find me there:

Once Upon A Vine: The Secret Stories of California's Artisan Wineries
An excerpt from the Book By Judy Reynolds
Reprinted with Permission

Bette Midler in the Bottle

What do you get when you blend a wry sense of humor with pixy good looks and a yen for chemistry... In the madcap life script that Fate wrote for Lane Tanner, you get a Bette Midler in the Bottle, a winemaking woman who started her own brand in the earliest days of Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ... and lots of laughs.
Lane Tanner

The way Lane Tanner tells it -- the way Lane tells most stories -- left me chuckling at the vagaries of destiny. I visited Lane on one of those sun-washed winter days made for sunglasses. We chatted at the hilltop home she shares with her much younger Australian winemaker husband, Ariki, and Pinot the cat in Nipomo, a coastal town about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara wine country. Her fuchsia Jaguar (the color of Pinot Noir foam) with license plate LYP LANE (it means ...Love, Your Pal Lane...) was parked out front.

As the cat prowled Lane's pride-and-joy garden, Lane sketched the loopy, Lucille Ball trail that delivered her to winemaking via wrong doors, air pollution, a charming Russian vintner and, of course, hard work. Just before her college graduation as a chemistry major in 1976, visiting her mother in Lake County, Lane thought she'd try for work at a local store advertising "free water analysis", but she walked in the wrong door. Instead, she entered an environmental company where she ultimately became a field tech testing air quality. During her last assignment in Glendive, Montana, she would sit in this little cow field and see how clean the air was. It was sooo boring... And lonely. So it was back to mom's couch before starting another job hunt.

Once in Lake County, Lane landed work on the bottling line of Konocti Winery where her mom temped. Learning she was a chemist, Konocti's winemaker, Bill Peese, soon was introducing Lane "to a guy about my height, about my build, one massive eyebrow, rather wrinkled with the eyes of a mischievous elf and this wonderful accent. Bill tells him I'm 'the new enologist'  and I'm thinking, what the hell does that mean... Never having heard the term...

The short little man happened to be Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the founding fathers of California winemaking. A Russian émigré with a royal background, Andre came to California at age 36 and in 1938, crafted Beaulieu Vineyard's first Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the next five decades, Andre would take dozens of California winemakers under his knowledgeable wing and change the face of Golden State winemaking forever.

To Lane, though, he was  "the elfin man". Andre invited her to sit down and taste wine with him and Bill. "I'd never tasted wine before in that kind of setting ... the swirling and sniffing and spitting. If you've never swirled wine before, it goes everywhere. And we women are not prone to spitting." Meanwhile, as Andre quizzed Lane about her background and what she tasted and smelled in the wine, he recognized her raw talent for wine appreciation.

Bill Peese then offered Lane the enologist job "because Andre really likes you." And I really didn't want to do it. I had no clue what this job entailed. I said, "I don't know who that old guy was you just lied to. But I will be this person for you, for a while, but as soon as you can, you've got to lay me off."

Meanwhile, each month, Andre would visit Konocti and mentor Lane's winemaking. Trapped in Lake County's extreme climate, washing barrels by hand, Lane was miserable; the pink slip finally came and simultaneously, Andre appeared. Lane was outside, cleaning barrels. "He shows up all by himself and I thought, 'Somebody is missing Andre!' Because he was this mega-god in the wine industry and somebody was with him wherever he went."

In his thick Russian accent, Andre asked the petite, slightly annoyed woman in the rubber boots if she wanted to stay in the wine industry. "At that point, I knew how important he was. The fact that he had come to find me...I justcouldn't say no. I didn't say 'yippee', but I couldn't say no."

In 1981, Andre opened the door to an enologist position for Lane at Firestone Winery in Santa Barbara County where she spent a tedious 18 months, despite Andre's presence as a consultant. In 1984, winemaker Ken Brown at nearby Zaca Mesa convinced her to take on considerably more responsibility as his enologist, and Hitching Post owner Frank Ostini (then Lane's boyfriend) hired her to make Hitching Post wines. Lane finally said yes to winemaking ... and meant it.

Five years later, Lane's only client, Frank, decided to make his own wines. What to do? Go to a party! Amid the partygoers was a gift from Fate, a tall, handsome fellow named Larry Pearson, who had exclusive U.S. distribution rights for ritzy Salon Champagne. He offered to give Lane a check for all of her wines every year and distribute them with Salon. "I'm just standing there,like, whoa 'nice party!,'" Lane laughs.

This dream distribution deal went on for years. Lane's local connections ensured her the best vineyards for her favorite wine, Pinot Noir. "I make Pinot because I love it, and because we have the climate for it here. It's like Pinot Wonderland." In the '80s, though, Pinot wasn't properly grown in Santa Barbara County. "We had to watch growers like a hawk. Now, they compete with each other to see who can grow the best." Today, Lane continues to contract specific rows in each vineyard. "I control how they are farmed. If the vines are healthy and fully established, then they will provide beautiful fruit without being tortured. I don't believe in extreme withholding of water, or excessive shoot pruning." She is known for picking earlier than mostwinemakers.

Not owning any vineyards, she's always on the lookout for great fruit. "Vineyards get bought and sold," she sighs. Lane doesn't own a winery facility, either, or a tasting room. She makes her several vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs and a touch of Syrah at a local wine co-op, where she doesn't often share technical information. "If you start doing what someone else is doing, it just brings all those wines closer together. And I don't think it's a good thing."

She does, however, share the chores with husband Ariki. He manages the heavy manual labor in the cellar for love, and for free. Lane used to pay him with Pinot Noir fruit before we decided to take our relationship further. He had a three-year plan, mine was a two-year plan. So we compromised --two years. They married in 2005, on her birthday, all part of a dream come true. "I couldn't imagine a more fun life. What other job would let me pretty much wake up anytime I want to, go party as part of my job and, to sell my wine, travel to places where people who don't even know me think I'm special?" Special as only a Pinot Czarina can be. Lane adopted the title in memory of her regal Russian mentor, Andre, and the time she met his sister, a Czarina.

"She was 4'8", pushing 130 lbs., with swollen ankles, smoking a cigarette. Not what I was expecting, but I was impressed. Now that there are no more living Czarinas, I decided to take it on." Surely, there is a smile on Andre's lips as he raises his glass to Lane, the pupil he and fickle Fate practically dragged down the path to Pinot Noir.