Margaret Pearman is a certified sommelier under the Court of Master Sommeliers and is responsible for curating the award-winning wine list at Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte. Here is her sipping suggestion for March:
Farming & Viticulture: Brewer Clifton Wines
Although wine is innately attached to the ground, it all too often seems that the focus is on the score or review it receives in print. Sure, scores give the consumer a clear parameter as to the quality of wine they should expect, but wine industry insiders are not steered so harshly by these measures. There is just too much money poured into advertising to really distinguish those who bought their way in from those who earned it. However there is one award that the industry reveres as the holy grail of success: Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of the Year. In 2020 Greg Brewer of Brewer Clifton Winery in Santa Barbara received the distinguished honor.
Greg Brewer has spent the last three decades working the land of a small four-mile stretch of Hwy 246 of the Santa Rita Hills AVA (American Viticulture Area). In fact he spent one of those decades making the case to define the area for its unique marine influence. Greg accepted the Winemaker of the Year Award as an affirmation that his wine is a true reflection of the distinct parcels of land he farms. Wine is made in the vineyard, meaning the winemaker is a steward of the land. The less intervention in the winery, the more the wine reflects its provenance.
While working as winemaker at Mellville in the late ‘90s, Greg met Steve Clifton. Their working relationship flourished. The two scrounged together a meager $12,000 and started their own label, producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the side. As the business grew, the focus shifted from winemaking to farming. Greg relies heavily on his team of vineyard manager Francisco Ramirez and soil consultant Stan Kaduta. In the mid 2000s the Jackson Family Wine Company acquired the Brewer-Clifton label, leaving Greg at the helm of winemaking and investing the funds needed to own all of the vineyards. The wines of Brewer-Clifton come from four distinct vineyards, and the goal is to “deliver the essence of that vineyard as clearly and honestly as possible.” Thus, all the wines are one hundred percent estate-owned and sustainably farmed.
Back in 2008, I ventured out to Santa Barbara to join a group of sommeliers to learn about the region in depth. At the first tasting, Greg was one of the presenting panelists. His passion for the land was overwhelmingly evident to me then, and continues to grow now. Brewer-Clifton’s Santa Rita Hills bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are a brilliant introduction to the magic in Greg’s wines. Both are a blend of all four vineyard sites. Following the ethos of minimal intervention, they employ whole cluster fermentation and neutral barrels. Integrated ripe stems add structure in harmony with the bright fruit of the Santa Rita Hills. These wines truly sing the song of the vineyards. If you’re lucky enough to find a single vineyard bottling, I hope you take advantage!