Local winemaker honored by Wine Enthusiast
The cofounder and winemaker of Brewer-Clifton, Greg Brewer, became the first winemaker in Santa Barbara County to be named “Winemaker of the Year” as part of Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2020 Wine Star Awards.
“Winemaker of the Year” is one of the most prestigious global wine industry awards that honors individuals who make outstanding contributions to the wine world.
Stacking up 30 years of experience, including mapping, defining and establishing his own label, Mr. Brewer is one of the most revered winemakers in the state, with his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay bottlings consistently ranking among the most highly-acclaimed wines from California.
Mr. Brewer wasn’t always in pursuit of successful winemaking, however.
After growing up in Los Angeles, he moved to Santa Barbara in 1987, where he attended UCSB and became a French instructor there. However, a job ad at Santa Barbara Winery caught his eye in 1991, and the rest was history.
Mr. Brewer first worked in the winery’s tasting room, where he said he fell “head over heels” and eventually climbed the ranks to working in production and became an assistant winemaker within a year of his employment. He worked under Bruce McGuire, who now has four decades of winemaking experience, where he learned key lessons and received mentorship.
“He gave me an opportunity for a pretty important role with a learning curve,” Mr. Brewer told the News-Press. “I rely on those early years with him daily as far as what I do. Those were key formative years for me.”
Fast forwarding to 1996, Mr. Brewer and Steve Clifton created the Brewer-Clifton label, and then Mr. Brewer went on to design Melville, where he made wine from its inception in 1997 through the end of 2015.
In addition, the winemaker created diatom in 2005 focusing on starkly raised Chardonnay, and Ex Post Facto in 2016 dedicated to cold-climate Syrah.
However, putting Sta. Rita Hills on the map is perhaps most notable, as he led Sta. Rita Hills to be formally granted AVA status in 2001.
He said that the local wine industry in Santa Barbara and California is a little different than historic European wine industries.
“There’s increased opportunity for people to penetrate the industry that come from the ‘outside,’” Mr. Brewer said. “In Europe, historically, it’s more… nepotism and patriarchy.”
He added that coming from a hardworking family of academics contributed to his drive as an “outsider.”
“It’s all about education and sharing knowledge, and doing that was always super important to me, that to this day comes easier in some ways than production,” he said.
Regarding his success, Mr. Brewer said it likely came from mending the divide of the back of the house and the front, like a chef who can work a dining room or a server who’s in tune with what’s going on in the kitchen.
“Those people that can straddle that are those that generally enjoy the most success and they’ve got the most connection with everybody,” he said. “Marrying those two elements is what I think I’ve been able to bring to the table.
“Sensitivity to the entirety of the system and heightened awareness to everybody around me has been important to the whole journey.”
While he received the prestigious award, the wine aficionado hardly takes credit. Rather, he said the award goes to Santa Barbara County wine.
“I’m a product of Santa Barbara County,” Mr. Brewer said. “For 30 years, I’ve worked only in Santa Barbara County, and 99% of that time on the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.
“So, from the age of 21 on, I’m a product of this place. It’s not about me — it’s about the place.”
With this award, the winemaker of the year hopes to shine a light on Santa Barbara County wine and continue to be the community’s relentless ambassador.
“So much of my devotion is really to get the message of this place around the world, training, teaching, sharing and motivating people about how unique, special and relevant this place is,” Mr. Brewer said. “This exposes other people to this place through me as a conduit, and I don’t take that lightly.
“I think I’m in a really good stage in my career where I still have a long way to go but enough time has transpired so I see how special and unique this juncture is to do all I can to keep catapulting Santa Barbara into the global wine scene.”