Cofounder and Winemaker, Brewer-Clifton
For Greg Brewer, being named Winemaker of the Year is primarily vindication of the Sta. Rita Hills, as the appellation is now known, the Santa Barbara County region where he’s made wine since 1991.
“It really is an acknowledgement of the appellation in my eyes,” says Brewer, who celebrated his 30th year as a winemaker and 25th vintage of Brewer-Clifton in 2020. “It’s really not me. It’s everyone who has come before and everyone who will come after. The Sta. Rita Hills is my identity. It’s not where I work. It’s ultimately who I am. This shines a really beautiful light on the efforts of everybody in the area. We all should be celebrating in this huge honor.”
Raised in Los Angeles, Brewer went to University of California, Santa Barbara, for college, and was working as a French instructor when he picked up a weekend gig in the tasting room at Santa Barbara Winery. He immediately realized that wine would be his career path, and was soon working in the cellar.
In 1995, he cofounded Brewer-Clifton with his friend Steve Clifton, and focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the hills between Buellton and Lompoc, which would eventually become the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Brewer-Clifton quickly won accolades for being one of the earliest brands to showcase single-vineyard bottlings rather than regional blends.
Meanwhile, Brewer helped start Melville Winery in 1999 and served as winemaker there through the 2015 harvest. In 2017, two years after Clifton left the brand, Brewer-Clifton was sold to Jackson Family Wines.
That deal allowed Brewer to stop his many consulting gigs around the Sta. Rita Hills and again focus on the Brewer-Clifton wines, which he makes in Lompoc. Jackson Family Wines also invested more in the appellation by planting the Perilune Vineyard, and encouraged Brewer to continue making his lean Chardonnays under the Diatom label and cool-climate Syrah under Ex Post Facto.
Brewer’s fascination for the Sta. Rita Hills never wavered, and he’s found freedom in that devotion.
“When you really commit to a significant other or vocation or pursuit, there is something very liberating about that,” he says. “There’s contentment and ease, and confidence and nourishment comes with that.”
Brewer strives to quiet his impact in the cellar as much as possible in order to let terroir speak loudest.
“I’m just transmitting this place, and if that translation has been clean and lucid enough to warrant this attention globally, then it’s just an acknowledgement of how special this unique stretch of land truly is,” says Brewer. “I work hard, don’t get me wrong, and I’m touched beyond measure that I’m receiving this. But I truly do see this as a celebration of the Sta. Rita Hills.”
For his decades of showing off the Sta. Rita Hills terroir and impact bringing the region to the national spotlight, Wine Enthusiast recognizes Greg Brewer as its Winemaker of the Year. —Matt Kettmann