Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring rockstar winemaker Greg Brewer, who produces some of Santa Barbara County’s top wines.
Greg came to the wine industry from academia.
In 1991, while teaching French at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Greg saw a “Help Wanted” sign at Santa Barbara Winery. Wanting a second job to supplement his income, he applied — and within a year, he quit his teaching job and was named Bruce McGuire’s assistant winemaker.
In 1995, Greg launched Brewer-Clifton with his close friend, Steve Clifton. Two years later, he added winemaking duties at Melville to his résumé. And in 2005, he launched a new project — Diatom — to focus exclusively on Chardonnay.
Check out our interview with Greg below the fold.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
Our primary objective is allow the vineyard and appellation to speak with lucidity always being mindful to avoid any distraction or distortion that would come as a result of our involvement in the process.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Currently there is an open bottle of Fe Ciega Pinot Noir from my dear friend, Rick Longoria, and a Riesling from our assistant, Graham Tatomer.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
Historically I have been so fortunate to have encounters and relationships with very creative pioneers in our industry who have been more than generous with their time and experience. The short list would certainly include Bruce McGuire, Burt Williams, Josh Jensen, and Bruno D’Alfonso. They were all critical, particularly in my earlier formative years.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
As for the “newer” generation, I think of individuals such as Graham Tatomer mentioned above, Matt Dees from Jonata, Ryan Deovlet and Pierre LaBarge from LaBarge Winery. Not only are they all extremely talented and committed to the craft, more importantly they are extremely sincere and kind which resonates through their wines.
How do you spend your days off?
For days off, I love time with my girlfriend and our collective three girls as well as quiet time alone to reflect and recharge (I’m pretty introverted in that regard).
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
“Best” is hard to define, but I have certainly been fortunate to be exposed to really special things. Typically, whites revolving around Chardonnay both from California and France would be the typical standouts. I often think about the double standards of what is “best” within the paradigm of Europe vs. the “new world” where I feel double standards frequently abound.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The oldest bottle in the cellar is probably some Bordeaux generously offered to me by other collectors as gifts. I likely have a few from 1970, which is my birth year. (Though I’m still trying to convince my kids it’s 1980…)
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
If I needed to drink one white and one red every night for a month, I would likely aim for something that wasn’t too specific so as not to grow fatigued by a particular character in something. Perhaps village level Chablis or a clean and tight California version and for the red, Pinot Noir raised without too much force or elaboration.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
The biggest challenge is to remain relevant while staying true to an original course of action. In any field there is always excitement about what is fresh and new and I certainly took advantage of that back in the day. At this stage of my career, it is challenging and important to stick to our course while at the same time not becoming stayed.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?
Other than Sta. Rita Hills, I really enjoy concise and compact regions that focus on a single thing. Chablis and the Chardonnay driven areas of Champagne certainly come to mind. I am very simple and find comfort in singularity and focus.
Is beer ever better than wine?
As much as I like beer, coffee is way better. The old saying “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine” is quickly trumped by my version which is, “it takes a lot of coffee to make great wine…”
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Others typically figure me out pretty quick as I’m sometimes predictable to a fault and easy to sum up on a lot of levels. I always listen to trance music and have more tattoos than one might expect.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
If not wine, I would definitely return to teaching which brings me enormous pleasure and gratification. I feel that I am better at that than anything else — it’s kind of a family business, although the rest of my family made it much further in academia than I did.
How do you define success?
I define success by feeling content that I am doing the best that I can, without compromise or regret, and that there is still a myriad improvements and refinements that will reveal themselves as soon as I am prepared to receive them.