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Brewer-Clifton: Treasure Trove of Pinot Noir from Lompoc

Brewer-Clifton is a partnership of two outstanding winemakers, Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton. Clifton arrived in Santa Barbara in 1991 and worked as an assistant winemaker at Rancho Sisquoc Winery, followed by a stint as winemaker at Beckman Vineyards. He hooked up with another young winemaker, Greg Brewer, who became the winemaker at Melville Vineyards and Winery when it was started in 1997. Brewer came to wine from an academic background, having previous worked as a French literature professor at University of California at Santa Barbara. He has taken a number of winemaking leads from Burt Williams whom he greatly admires. The duo decided to dedicate their label to single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at a time in the mid 1990s when many Santa Barbara wineries were concentrating on wines blended from multiple sources. They started with their combined meager savings, without assistance from family or investors, and began producing their wines in 1996 in the unglamorous wine warehouse setting of the Lompoc “Wine Ghetto.” They are still based in Lompoc today. Photo below (Steve left, Greg right).

Brewer-Clifton hit pay dirt in 2002 when Robert Parker, Jr., reviewed their wines from the 2001 vintage, and proclaimed the Brewer-Clifton wines to be “the single greatest revelation of my 2001 tastings.” The wines have always been crafted in a full-throttle, ripe, fruit-driven style that Parker espouses and many consumers embrace. The 2010 vintage wines reviewed below show more refinement and complexity. Although alcohols are in the higher range, Brewer is quick to point out that the alcohol percentages listed on the Brewer-Clifton wines are honest, unlike the common practice of many wineries to understate their true alcohol percentage (a 1% margin of error is allowed in wines above 14% alcohol).

Vineyard sites have always been carefully chosen and emphasis has always been placed on the vineyard as the ultimate determination of wine quality. A vineyard management team carefully farms several vineyard sources including Mount Carmel and 3-D vineyards.

Winemaking is aimed at extracting the most possible flavor. A high percentage of whole cluster is included since the partners believe, “Stems play a vital role in Pinot Noir where we view their involvement as not something added to the equation but simply something that has not been removed.” Fermentation follows a 7- day cold soak and is extended over a two week period with a subsequent 10 day or more extended maceration. The bottles are capped with an attractive red wax seal for Pinot Noir and yellow wax seal for Chardonnay.

Both Sta. Rita Hills appellation ($30 -$36) and vineyard-designate wines are offered. The 2010 wines reviewed below were part of the fall 2011 release and are still available.

After Parker’s pronouncements in 2002, the wines were highly allocated, but are now more available to the public online, through a mailing list and via some retail distribution. Visit the website at for more information. A tasting room is open Friday through Sunday at 329 North F Street in Lompoc. Newsletters are offered twice a year.

2009 Brewer-Clifton Clos Pepe Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 270 cases, $46. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Closed for business initially, opening slowly to offer subdued cherry fruit over time. Intensely fruity on the mid palate, flush with black cherries encased in supple tannins. The wine presents a charming elegance and easy drink ability, but the flavor profile is linear and the nose lacks interest. Good.

2009 Brewer-Clifton Zotovich Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 196 cases, $46. Steve Zotovich owns this vineyard planted in the mid 1990s along Highway 246 between Melville and Foley. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Beguiling perfume of red plum sauce, forest floor, spice and the slightest oak becoming more exuberant over time in the glass. Tasty black raspberry and plum fruits with a hint of spice and vanilla. Relatively light in weight and delicate with an appealing softness and charm and some persistence on the finish. Solid the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.

2010 Brewer-Clifton 3-D Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 290 cases, $52. Second vintage from a 3-acre vineyard planted to Swan, Pommard and 667 clones in sandy loam. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Bright aromas of dark pie berries and plum, spice, slate and oak char. Medium bodied essence of darker Pinot fruits including black plums and black raspberries with a hint of cherry and Asian 5-spice. Complex and layered rather than simply fruity. Admirable crispness and smoothly textured with remarkable persistence on the finish. Very impressive composition and highly recommended.

2010 Brewer-Clifton Machado Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 290 cases, $46. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Inviting aromas of plums and dark berry jam. Delicious and majestic in the mouth with flavors that replicate the aromas. The tannins are supportive and the mouth feel is very soft and comforting. Impressive length on the fruit-filled finish. Seamless and beautifully balanced. Still great the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Like rough sex play: it can raise your interest.

2010 Brewer-Clifton Mount Carmel Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 882 cases, $56. Steep slopes of botella clay, diatomite and limestone planted to a quintet of Pinot Noir clones with diverse spacing. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is remarkably nuanced, offering scents of fresh raspberry coulis, fragrant tea, dark red rose petals and spice. Rich and sumptuous on the palate, replete with a delicious core of black raspberry and dark red berry fruit that is looking for attention but still encased in tannins. Very impressive mid palate statement that carries over to the big finish that is sure to get better over time. The least approachable wine in the lineup at this time, but this wine has a very bright future.

2010 Brewer-Clifton Mount Carmel Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay

13.3% alc., 750 cases, $52. · Medium burnished gold color in the glass. Aromas of apple, pear, hazelnut and butter. Soft in the mouth, finishing crisp with enticing flavors of honeyed pear, green apple, kiwi and roasted nuts. Good (+).

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