92 Points - Wine Enthusiast magazine
Eric Levin received his first violin at age 3. As part of a gifted musical family, it was considered natural for him to excel in music. By the age of 8, many music aficionados considered him a child prodigy, capable of playing a number of musical instruments. As an adult, Eric became the principle chair cellist for orchestras in San Francisco as well as a top singer with the San Francisco Opera Choir. Eric’s father Bernard was also an accomplished musician who later became close friends with Stephen Zellerbach, the then proprietor of an accomplished Sonoma winery of the same name.
When Bernard retired from the music business in 1983, he became interested in the wine world. Along with his son Eric, Bernard began making home wines. Encouraged by Zellerbach and the fact that the elder Levin still sought challenges in his life, Bernard and Eric were soon making wines professionally.
“What prompted us was the simple fact that we began making wines that were better than the wines we could afford to drink,” Eric Levin, now 60, recently admitted. “When Stephen saw what we were capable of, he made us the winemakers for his winery.”
By the early 1980’s, the ongoing lure of the grape, along with the desire to move from San Francisco’s inhospitable weather brought Eric and Bernard to Northern California for good. Sensing a niche for specific type of his favorite style of wine, Eric Levin produced the first release of Le Vin Vineyards in 1985. The initial release was a mere two hundred cases that was met with great critical acclaim. Eric’s wife Holly Harman Levin, one of the top label specialists in the country, designed the label that was illustrated by Stephen Haines Hall, the widely known wine poster and label artist.
In 1993, the Levin Family purchased an unimproved piece of land in lower Mendocino County along Highway 128, near the town of Yorkville. The incredibly scenic area is more specifically known as the Yorkville Highlands and was given its own wine appellation nearly five years ago.
In addition to the fourteen acres that Le Vin Vineyards has planted in grapes (two additional acres are scheduled for future planting), the Le Vin property also features over 300 olive trees and some 2,000-redwood trees that are the gift of the Levin Family.
“What we have been able to accomplish her is almost magical,” Eric Levin added. “With the gardens, vines and trees we have planted, it all comes together like a vision from a storybook. It must be seen to be believed.”
During the two decades since its inception, Le Vin’s production has grown at a very leisurely pace, and today numbers a bit over 1,000 cases. And Eric Levin intends to keep it that way.
“I can see us reaching 2 or 3,000 cases sometime in the future, but I can’t say for sure when it will happen,” he explained. “I am extremely happy now with my reduced-yield fruit that allows me more intensity of both flavor and color. With this quality of fruit, I can make the kind of wines I love to drink.”
All of Le Vin Family Vineyards wines are made with certified organic grapes, another plus for the southern Mendocino winery.
In Eric Levin mind, it’s all about quality, a topic he is very fond of.
“I always refer to it as smallness,” he added. “Smallness helps dramatically regarding quality. It also helps that we live in the middle of our grapes where we are able to watch them grow every day of the year. When it comes to harvest, I personally handle every single bunch of grapes we pick. If one bunch is off even a little, I throw it out. I’m not sure many other winemakers can make that statement.”
Eric is also quite pleased that his son Jesse, 31, will follow him in the future. Jesse currently oversees vineyard operations and is attending nearby Santa Rose Jr. College majoring in Viticulture and Ecology. In the near future Jesse will transfer to Fresno State and enroll in its creditable oenology program.
Life at this time is particularly sweet for musician turned winemaker Eric Levin. His wines are incredibly popular in all the right circles, his home and surroundings are the envy of most visitors and his son will soon be able to follow in his footsteps.
Would that all of us could enjoy such fruits of our labors!