Vintners You Should Know

Greg Brewer's On the Move

Greg Brewer Heads for the Hills

At a recent wine tasting in Miami Beach, I had the chance to chat with winemaker Greg Brewer.  His Brewer-Clifton winery is recognized as one of the finest producers of pinot noir and chardonnay in the Santa Barbara district.  Specifically, he farms over 80 acres in the Sta. Rita appellation, and his wines consistently earn 90+ points from critics.  His 2012 pinot noir was #8 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list of 2014.

He and his original partner Steve Clifton put together $10,000 to establish their winery in 1996 and he currently farms the four distinctive vineyards he owns.  Today, partnering with Master Sommelier Ken Fredrickson, the winery produces four single vineyard chardonnays and six pinot noirs in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation outside Santa Barbara. The annual production is around 10,000 cases. 

Originally a French instructor at the University of Santa Barbara, Brewer began working in the Sta. Rita area in the 1990s as an assistant in a winery, and “became seduced by the incredible winegrowing area.”  He made it his goal to produce his own wines in the district. “What really attracted me,” he remembers, “was the fact that every wine I produce will be different.  There’s a certain humility in never being able to reproduce one’s work.”

Even though pinot noir is known as the “heartbreak grape” because it’s so difficult to grow, Brewer dived in.  “The challenge is the most interesting part of the process,” he maintains.  He ferments whole clusters, with no destemming because the stems moderate the sweetness of the pinot noir.  And interestingly enough, the oak barrels he uses are up to 15 years old.  He is striving for “the pure flavors of the wine.”  According to Brewer, the wines should be in a “neutral state,” with no additives and as little interference from the winemaker as possible.

“I’m after the pure flavors of the wine,” he says.  “I want to remove the winemaker’s signature.  At our winery it’s not about what we do to the wine…it’s about what we don’t do.”  Like every other winemaker I’ve met, Brewer insists on respecting and focusing on the place where the grapes come from.  “We handle the fruit from each vineyard identically from harvest to bottling.  This allows the true essence of the site to best be expressed.”

As I was writing this article, I received word that Brewer had sold his winery to Jackson Family Wines, a worldwide company that owns literally dozens of wineries across the globe.

“I’ve always been dedicated to my work,” says Brewer of the acquisition, “and I’ll still be at the helm of Brewer-Clifton as full-time winemaker and brand ambassador.”

With Brewer remaining in charge, there’s no doubt that his wines will maintain their reputation for quality and purity they’ve enjoyed over the past 20 years.  If you see them on the shelf, buy them.

Let’s move on to some new discoveries…

Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2016 ($16) – A quintessential New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with a characteristic nose of grapefruit, pineapple, and citrus.  Light peach flavors on the palate.  Great with seafood.  WS 89-90

BR Cohn Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard ($24) – If you like ‘em buttery and oaky, this is the wine for you.  Deep yellow in the glass, with aromas of butter for days.  Think melon, crème brulee, and caramel.  Nicely balanced for all that.  WW 86

Viansa Chardonnay Carneros 2013 ($45) – The other end of the “butter and oak” spectrum, the Viansa is light, pale yellow in the glass, with a lean and minerally flavor profile.  Tart apple, pear, and white peach.  WW 86