Friendship and Camaraderie Among Pinot Noir Producers Along Highway 101

This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register.

The 18th annual World of Pinot Noir took place in Santa Barbara this past weekend. More than 250 wineries from around the world showcased their Pinot Noirs at seminars, lunches, dinners and the grand tastings. Everyone in attendance was friendly and shared the common love of Pinot Noir. I was reminded how overall, the wine industry is one of camaraderie, friendship and support.

Winemakers share their wines and taste each other’s wines, offering their feedback. Winemakers buy fruit from each other and sometimes work in the same facility, sharing equipment. They travel together for events or on sales trips.

Even as competitors, they are friends and that was showcased at a dinner I attended featuring winemakers Wells Guthrie of Copain, Jonathan Nagy of Byron, Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton and Adam Lee of Siduri.

From the Alexander Valley to the Santa Ynez Valley and in between, these four winemakers have each been making wine for more than 20 years each and their relationships go back as far.

As the dinner was celebrating these four winemakers who have each made their mark somewhere along Highway 101, they took a different approach than a typical winemaker dinner. Instead of each winemaker getting up to describe their wines and maybe tell a little story about themselves, at this dinner the winemakers were introduced by each other.

The common theme of the night was shared passions and admiration. It would be easy to see them as competitors as they are all making Pinot Noir, but instead it is about mutual respect.

Wells Guthrie, Copain

Wells Guthrie came to the Anderson Valley after working in France’s Rhone Valley. He started at Copain with the first vintage in 2000 and has been the only winemaker there. He is focused on the purest expression of an AVA and his wines honor the place where they are from and are inspired by French winemaking traditions.

Jonathan Nagy said that when you taste Well’s wines, “you taste the soul of his wines. He is a great winemaker with great passion.”

Greg Brewer described Wells as “academic, poignant and thoughtful with a deliberate nature to all that he does.” He also said that Wells is someone who stands by what he believes in, and this security in his beliefs influenced Adam Lee, who recalled Wells making his first wine at the Siduri winery.

Later, when they shared a distributor in Florida, they would travel together and share ideas. Adam had always been against using whole clusters but Wells explained to him that you get more of a backbone and aging potential. Since then, Adam has adjusted his own winemaking.

Jonathan Nagy, Byron

Born and raised in Santa Barbara County, Jonathan Nagy joined Byron Winery in 2001 and worked with winery founder Ken Byron Brown. Working with vineyards in both Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills, Jonathan is focused on making site-expressive wines. One of the vineyards in the estate is the revered Nielson Vineyard, the first commercial winery planted post-prohibition in 1964.

Because of his youthful looks, Greg Brewer calls Jonathan Doogie Howser. But joking aside, he described him as “gentle, kind and aware, a member of the community with generosity of spirit and commitment to awareness of others.” Adam Lee agreed about Jonathan’s commitment to wine and shared that he believes that Jonathan saved his 2002 vintage. Jonathan tasted it out of barrel and had the honestly to say that he noted brett in the wine and Adam was able to stop it from getting worse.

Greg Brewer, Brewer-Clifton

Growing up in Los Angeles and studying in France, Greg Brewer moved to Santa Barbara to teach French at UCSB. He started working at Santa Barbara Winery starting in 1991 and created Brewer-Clifton with original partner Steve Clifton in 1996. Living in France taught him about being prideful of a place and from the beginning he has been entirely dedicated to the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. He considers himself a product of the Sta. Rita Hills as that is where he grew up professionally.

Jonathan Nagy, who has known Brewer since 1998 when he worked dosage at Brewer-Clifton, appreciates Brewer’s passion for wine. It is that passion for “what we do in Santa Barbara County. It is a passion for an area and a willingness to grow roots.” Wells Guthrie met Brewer shortly after starting Copain and has also admired Brewer’s singular mantra of focusing on Sta. Rita Hills and being consistent. Adam Lee added his admiration for Brewer’s ability to intellectually talk about wine how his passion affects how he lives. “You need great grapes; you need a good winemaker, but you also need to be engaged both in your heart and head, like Greg is.”

Adam Lee, Siduri

For more than 20 years, Adam Lee has specialized in Pinot Noir. While the Russian River is his adopted home, he makes wine from Oregon to Santa Barbara. Lee said he believes in vineyards and focuses on giving us a sense of place. Today, Lee produces more than two dozen single-vineyard Siduri Pinot Noirs, vinifying each lot separately by block and clone.

Wells Guthrie, who recalled meeting Lee when he was working as the tasting coordinator for Wine Spectator and noted his “generous spirit, affability and dedication. His joking underlies his dedication.” Nagy called him a road warrior and Brewer added that he brings wines to the people.

Four winemakers who work in different parts of the state, who choose different winemaking techniques, such as stem inclusion and picking times, share common values. The believe in a sense of place. They show mutual respect and admiration and most importantly they are passionate. Talk to other winemakers and I am sure you will find some of these same qualities as that is the nature of the industry.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.