This is another in my ongoing series about our region’s smallest winemakers. They may not yet have tasting rooms, and their case production is easily less than 1,000 cases. But hunt them down, either via phone, email or web: You can thank me later.
Lompoc native and avid surfer Kyle Knapp was working as a butcher in the meat department of Los Olivos Grocery when the winemaking bug first bit.
“I worked with high-end meats and cheeses, and (the chance to produce) quality wine seemed like a natural progression,” he recalled.
Knapp’s first harvest was in 2005, at nearby Beckmen Vineyards. Like others who thrive on the arduous but rewarding experience, Knapp was hooked. Immediately following that harvest, he traveled to Australia for his second round, and enjoyed some surfing there when he was finished.
His first vintage under his label, Press Gang Cellars, was in 2007, but then he took a break. “I skipped 2008 and 2009 to travel,” Knapp, now 33, recalled. “At the time, I was keeping my priorities straight, I thought.”
Despite having wines from 2007, Knapp calls 2010 his “coming out” — the year when he put travel aside and began to focus on making wine. In January 2011, he began working alongside winemaker Mikael Sigouin as assistant winemaker at Beckmen.
Knapp says he chose the name “Press Gang,” from a song by the Murder City Devils, because “music inspires me in most things I do.”
The song is about the press gangs of the British Navy in the 18th and early 19th centuries — sailors would round up young men, sometimes from bars, and force them to work on navy ships, he said. Impressment, or the press gang, refers to the act of taking men by force and without notice.
“I like the play on words: We press grapes to get wine,” Knapp said.
Since the inception of Press Gang Cellars, Knapp has focused his efforts on syrah, grenache and roussane, but in 2013 also produced some tempranillo and sangiovese, he said.
Knapp sources fruit primarily from the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon, and tends to pick “when flavor is optimal.” His methodology includes a cold soak and letting native yeast kick start the fermentation process.
“I like doing some whole cluster, like 25 percent,” he added. His wines undergo extended barrel age, “around 25 to 28 months.”
His current rosé, named for his wife, Savanna Rhea, combines partial oak and stainless steel, and enjoyed a two-day cold soak before being pressed into a bottle of Press Gang Cellars.
Press Gang Cellars has grown to about 300 cases; Knapp says his goal is a maximum of 2,000 per year.
I met Knapp through mutual friends several years back, but only tried his wines during the 2013 Garagiste: Southern Exposure tasting in Solvang. With Savanna at his side, Knapp poured his syrah, Grenache and rosé to acclaim.
Knapp told me he enjoys participating in the Garagiste events, which highlight uber tiny producers, but realizes he needs a tasting room for increased follow through with consumers. Such a site — as well as a wine club — is in the works within the next year, definitely in Lompoc, he said.
Knapp resides in Lompoc with Savanna and their son Milo, who is 9 months old.
Information: (805) 291-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org