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Chris Whitcraft
updated: May 25, 2014, 10:32 AM

May 25, 2014 12:48 AM

Chris Whitcraft, considered one of Santa Barbara County's pioneer winemakers, and a household name among pinot noir and chardonnay aficionados around the world, passed away Friday in Santa Barbara.

He was 64.

Mr. Whitcraft's foray into the Santa Barbara wine scene dates back to 1975, when he joined the celebrated Mayfare Wines retail shop along Coast Village Road in Montecito.

He began making wine in the late 1970s - a time when the winemaking industry in Santa Barbara County was in its infancy - and launched his eponymous brand in 1985 with his former spouse, Kathleen Barnato. By then, pinot noir and chardonnay had become his calling card.

His unabashed commitment to a natural, hands-off approach to winemaking - no filtering, no pumping, no electricity, bottling by gravity, stomping by foot - created wines with character and finesse.

"Wine should not be f*&%ed with," he told the News-Press, in classic Chris Whitcraft style, in a 2012 interview.

Starting in the late 1970s, Mr. Whitcraft also spent more than 10 years on the radio hosting a popular wine show on KTMS-AM 1250, which that was heard up and down the California coast. In 2006, Mr. Whitcraft opened a winery and tasting room along Calle César Ch·vez, a few steps from the beach. It was one of the original five founding members of the popular Urban Wine Trail in downtown Santa Barbara's Funk Zone. The facility is currently run by his son, Drake, 32, who formally took over winemaking duties for Whitcraft Winery in 2008.

The younger Whitcraft has championed his father's winemaking philosophies and has expanded the label's portfolio to include wines like syrah, grenache and nebbiolo.

Chris Whitcraft is also survived by his daughter, Alyssa. Funeral plans are pending.

 

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