Chris Kiranbay is a winemaker for a new generation. By combining the classic styles of Old World wines, and the artistic, and often, hands-off practices of the New World, Kiranbay has created something beautiful and unique: Saint K Wines.
A native of Arlington, Virginia, Chris spent 15 years in the restaurant business before working his first harvest at Delaplane Cellars, a Virginian winery off Route 66. After the harvest ended, it didn’t take him long to pack up his belongings and follow his passion out west to make wine. He had a dream of working with Rhône Valley varietals, and so he found himself in Paso Robles, what he appropriately calls, “The Rhône Hub of America.”
When he talks about the move he says, “I didn’t know anyone, no job, no place to live. I had never even been there before, so it was kind of an epic adventure.” He landed on his feet though, working with some of the Central Coast’s most notable winemakers, including Russell P. From at Herman Story, Vailia Esh at Desparada, and Curt Schalaclin of Sans Liege. Chris says these incredible winemakers began as inspiration, “Now, I’m lucky enough to count those guys as friends.” In addition to Saint K, Chris is now the Head of Sales at both Herman Story and Desparada.
Q: “Where does the name Saint K come from?”
A:“Every restaurant I worked in had fifteen guys named Chris, so everyone called me K. I was always one of those people that trouble was attracted to, so putting Saint in front of my name was just a funny deal. The real reason is the only grandparent I ever knew was my mother’s mother, Kathleen. We always had a strong connection, which was weird because I was the fuckup of the family. Maybe she just knew I needed the extra attention. When she died in 2010 at the age of 100, she left me a modest amount of money, which is what I used to get to California. So the name really has a double meaning for me.”
Saint K’s bottles are as interesting as the wines inside. Each label is unique, bold, and artistically emulates the character of the wine it represents. For example, Chris always dreamt of making a classic, Old World style Syrah, and the result was deliciously rich, juicy, and shockingly tannic. True to form, the label for his latest 2016 vintage tells you exactly what you’re in for before the bottle’s even open: it depicts a man in a Hazmat suit surrounded by fire and rubble, with an aggressive crimson stripe stretching across the otherwise black and white label. There is no way to pass by this bottle on a shelf and not turn your head in curiosity, and once it has your attention, you know you’re definitely getting something explosive.
Q: “Your labels are so wonderfully eye-catching, who designs them?”
A:“They’re all plucked out of my mind, but I have had the help of so many wonderful people to put them together on paper. Starting in 2017, my friend Dane Curley is doing all the actual artwork while I come up with the concepts.”
Another of his most interesting wines and labels is Chris’s “Flower Bomb,” a mouthwatering, beautifully floral and creamy Malvasia Bianca. Malvasia is not a common grape to find in California because of its obscurity.
The origin of the grape is highly debated, because there are a whole family of mutations in the Malvasia family. It is currently believed to be from the northwest corner of Italy, where it is usually used as a blending grape. It requires a warm, dry climate, which is why the only place you can really find this in California is the San Joaquin Valley, and, of course, Paso Robles.
The label depicts an Atom-Bomb explosion full of bright yellow and white flowers, which, in a way, is exactly what it tastes like.
Q:“I’m absolutely in love with the “Flower Bomb,” but Malvasia Bianca is such an uncommon wine in California. Why did you choose that grape?”
A:“After working with Grenache Blanc for 3 years I wanted to try something new. I had been drinking a lot of Cal-Ital whites from up north and the only Italian white I could find around here was the Malvasia.”
All of Chris’s Wines are equally incredible. When asked which of his wines he was most proud of, he replies, “It sounds cheesy but I’m proud of all of them. So many things had to fall into place to get to this point, and somehow it has all worked out.” It’s true, Chris’s story is one of dedication, determination, and taking a leap of faith. And it really paid off.
Q: “Any big plans for the future of Saint K?”
A:“My day job is running the sales and Wine Club for Herman Story and Desparada, which keeps me super busy. For now, I’m going to keep Saint K around 300 cases where it has been. I’ll continue to switch up varietals and techniques until I run out of crazy shit to try, but my main focus is on making both of my boss’s companies thrive and become the best that they can possible be. Without the opportunities they have given me, Saint K would never have existed.”
Chris and Saint K do have a couple of special events on the horizon, including a special release of his first reserve wine: a very limited Mourvèdre from the Glenrose Vineyard in Paso Robles, that Chris says he can’t wait to get into the bottle.
Saint K is a line that cannot and should not be ignored. The wines are classic and yet unique, textbook yet artistic. Each one a New World masterpiece. Chris may not be a Saint, but he’s one hell of a winemaker, and if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in his neck of the woods, shoot him an email to schedule a tasting. You’ll be doing yourself a tremendous favor.
Say hello to Chris and his wines at Herman Story, 1227 Paso Robles St, Paso Robles, 03446.
Email Chris: Chris@SaintKWines.com, to set up an appointment.