Brewer Clifton
Visiting this boutique producer in the Santa Rita Hills, part 2, California tour


greg brewer clifton

Back in 1991 Greg Brewer was teaching French at UC Santa Barbara, and he got a part time job working at a winery in town. He didn't even know that Chardonnay was a grape then, but it was enough to switch him onto wine.

He met Steve Clifton in 1995, and they pulled together a small sum of money  ($10 000), but enough to make their first wine from the Santa Rita Hills. In 1996, they made 240 cases. At this time there were just 400 acres of vines in the Santa Rita Hills, and most of that fruit was spoken for.

Brewer Clifton gradually evolved. From 2000-2007 they made their wine in the Lompoc whine ghetto, but since then have had their own facility. From 2007 they began planting their own vineyards. 'Purchasing fruit is a beautifully codependent relationship,' says Greg, 'but it brings vulnerability.'

Small fermenting bins

The first vineyard was 3D, and this was on a 30 year lease with a 15 year renewal option. 'It's the only way we could do anything,' says Greg. 'I just wanted a lifeline for the project.' From 2012 Brewer Clifton became solely estate, and now have 60 acres of vineyards. Shortly after this visit, Brewer Clifton was purchased by Jackson Family Wines, but Greg is still on board and making the wines.

They are big believers in whole cluster ferments for Pinot Noir. First they leave the fruit to chill for 24 h to let the cut to heal. They have 80 fermenting bins, and usually begin fermentation with a 6 day cold soak. Ferments are inoculated. 'The vital chapter is extended fermentation post maceration,' says Greg. The total time in the fermentation bin is 40 days, and then there is no pumping: the fermentation is dumped into the press, and then the wine goes to barrel.

'Stem inclusion corsets the fruit,' saus Greg. 'Destemmed can be more opulent. But with whole berries, the blues become red. There's a spicy element; it's the architectural feature in the wine. The stem is a skeleton. To source the tannin in the cluster allows me to obviate the need for new oak. It gives a savoury nori, tea-like persistence – a different providence of tannin. It can give a more vulnerable message of place.'

The justification for the maceration post-ferment is that structure is resolved: the wine gets very tannic during fermentation, and then it resolves.

Greg is a big believer in lees. 'They are protective and nurturing. Contact with lees is like being in the womb of a mother.' SO2 is only added once the wine is off its lees. 


'I don't want to be a cover band,' says Greg. 'People are chasing a European reference point, while in Europe they are chasing ours. Everyone is chasing each other.'

He has some interesting things to say about ripeness, believing that some are now picking too early. 'You can't corset something that doesn't have enough curvature. Low alcohol colleagues who are using whole cluster will find this. There needs to be some lushness of fruit to handle the corset.'


Brewer Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay 2013 California
14.5% alcohol. Sweetly fruited nose with pear and pineapple. Rich, bold palate with pineapple and citrus fruit, and also some warmth, and a fresh finish. Plenty of flavour here with some citrus peel and a saline edge. 92/100

Brewer Clifton 3D Chardonnay 2012 Santa Rita Hills, California
15% alcohol.
Very fine, lemony, salty nose with some green tea notes. The palate is concentrated, fresh and salty with tangy, bright citrus fruit and some tea and herb characters. Freshness and warmth at the same time. 94/100

Brewer Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay 2012 Santa Rita Hills, California
14% alcohol. Toast, honey, meal and bread notes on the nose. Textural palate with a salty edge to the broad fruit, and tangy citrus and pineapple characters. 93/100

Brewer Clifton Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2014 California
14% alcohol. Very fresh and floral with vivid cherry fruit nose. Elegant, pure, floral and a but sappy, but ripe too. The palate is textural and silky with some fine spicy tea notes and red cherries and plums. This has equilibrium. 94/100

Brewer Clifton 3D Pinot Noir 2012 Santa Rita Hills, California
14% alcohol. Very fine, pure and elegant floral nose shows sweet, fine red cherries. So expressive with a hint of strawberry, too. Concentrated but fresh palate with sweet fruit and notes of tea leaf and fine spices. Lovely structure and precision here. Incredible finesse and purity. 96/100

Brewer Clifton Melville Pinot Noir 2001 Santa Rita Hills, California
15.6% alcohol. This was a four-year old vineyard at the time. Warm, sweet and ripe, and a bit malty. Sweet cherry and raspberry with a hint of earthiness. Mellow, sweet, rounded and a bit earthy, and despite the ripeness and alcohol, this is actually quite elegant. 93/100


Wines tasted 03/16
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