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In Memoriam: Seth Kunin

by Curtis Phillips
November 01, 2017

I have spent the last few days struggling to articulate my thoughts regarding the untimely death of Seth Kunin. Ordinarily, I could simply write a standard obituary stating the facts of Kunin’s life and the cause of his passing. The wine industry is a small world. Spend enough time in it and one starts to feel like one is acquainted with everyone in it. I certainly knew Seth Kunin. I’m probably too prickly and reclusive a person for Seth to have considered me a friend, but he is one my peers that has had a great impact on my own winemaking. And for that I shall miss him a great deal and I find that I regret that I never told him just how highly I regard him. Seth was, I think, one of the best winemakers of our generation. 

Almost twenty years ago, Seth Kunin Wines was a custom-crush client of the winery of which I was the winemaker. From my point of view, Kunin was the ideal custom-crush client. he had very particular ways he wanted his wines treated, but nothing too unreasonable and once they were barreled-down, he didn’t want anyone but himself to touch the wines during élevage. Considering that the winery owner couldn’t resist pulling the bungs on every barrel in the cellar, “Just to see how they were doing,” only the wines belonging to our custom-crush clients got through élevage without being killed by needless oxidation. Seth’s wines were the wines I wished I could have been making.

I’ve been making Zinfandel as long as I have been making wine. I’ve been making Syrah since the mid 1980s. In both cases, working with warm climate fruit. Everything I had been getting might have been from places that were at the time charitably considered Region III, but really closer to Region IV.

One of the things that struck me about Seth Kunin Wines was the emphasis on cool-climate Syrah and Zinfandel. His characteristically minimally interventionist winemaking made me reexamine my barrel topping schedules, SO2 additions, primary and secondary fermentation regimes, and grape sourcing. Encountering Seth Kunin as a fellow winemaker forced me to reconsider my own winemaking.

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