Greg Brewer Sits with B on Hawaii for a Talk on Terroir

Greg Brewer Sits with B on Hawaii for a Talk on Terroir

At the 2008 Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, as "B on Hawaii" publisher, I was asked to host a wine dinner that spotlighted wine-producing regions around the globe. I noted the parallels between the terroir of typical wines from places like Tuscany and Northern Spain, while speaking on the fare that usually accompanied these varietals.

And, as the magic that is Kapalua unfolded, I was introduced to a number of sommeliers and winemakers throughout the weekend who similarly paid great attention to this thing called "terroir". One name kept repeating itself: Greg Brewer. 

"Have you met Greg Brewer yet?" one person asked. "Have you tasted the Diatom wines Greg Brewer brought with him?" inquired another. 

Everywhere I turned, someone was talking about this young phenom making waves in Santa Barbara County (the Central Coast of California was the region most heavily represented at this year's festival, or so it seemed). 

Finally, I was introduced to Brewer at an after-hours tasting, and very quickly understood why he had garnered so much attention. He's not only 38 years old, accomplished in a multitude of winemaking, marketing and sales efforts, but is passionate about the precise flavors pouring out of his three very different labels—and the terroir they represent. His Diatom wines veer towards the Asian and Hawaiian flavor profiles, something very unique for a winemaker with Old World training. 

Read this paragraph, from Brewer's Diatom web site, which speaks about the essences found in his wines: "Vineyards selected for the diatom project are sought out for their ability to serve as voices for place. Through the small and specific sites chosen, there will be a journey through solitude, tranquility and the transitory nature of life."

We sat down with Brewer this week for a little one-on-one with the head winemaker at Melville, the co-owner of Brewer-Cliffton and founder/owner of Diatom. 

B on Hawaii:  Describe to us in your words, what the realization was like when you discovered you would be spending your life in pursuit of the craft of winemaking.

Greg Brewer:  I quickly became enamored with the food and wine industry while working in the tasting room at the Santa Barbara Winery back in 1991.  I was teaching French at the time at UCSB, and really became infatuated by everything wine related.  While I thoroughly enjoy production, it is really the totality of the business that interests me the most.

B on Hawaii:  Can you name a few people, your predecessors, that really paved your way in to the culture of wine? 

Greg Brewer:   Tons of people helped to shape my career both in the U.S. and France.  I also find myself looking outside of the industry for inspiration through chefs, musicians, artists in different media, etc.

B on Hawaii: Care to share a few?

Greg Brewer: In general, I am intrigued by producers who push the boundaries of dynamics and tension between ingredients.  As such, I am a huge fan of techno [music] which harmonizes trancy bass lines with ethereal female voices.  For art, my favorite for some time now has been a woman named Miya Ando Stanoff, who is based in NYC, and she has a cool website [www.miyaando.com] who exhibits tremendous sensuality and vulnerability using stainless steel as a medium.

For food, I immediately think of chefs such as Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, and Grant Achatz at the restaurant Alinea in Chicago.

B on Hawaii: Tell us a little bit about your connection with Hawaii.

Greg Brewer:  Hawaii, like Japan, is all about purity and respect for the land and nature's bounty.  That is the simple driving force behind my work.

B on Hawaii: I know we spoke a bit about it one evening at Kapalua: You mentioned your passion for pairing (or making) wines that go well with Asian food profiles. How'd that come about? And, how do you go about crafting wines that work well with the foods often found in Hawaii.

Greg Brewer:   In the U.S., texture is often overlooked while people simply focus on aroma and taste.  There is a savory nature to Hawaiian and Japanese cuisine that harmonizes really well with the wines with which I am affiliated.

B on Hawaii:  I know you produce relatively small quantities at your three outlets (Brewer-Cliffton releases between 4,000 and 6,500 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir annually); What's happening at Cliffton-Brewer in the near future, as well as your other labels?

Greg Brewer: Brewer-Clifton is slowly growing as is Melville and Diatom.  The majority of our resources are being invested into planting and farming, as that is the single most important part of this entire equation.

B on Hawaii:  Do you travel to the wine producing regions around the globe on a regular basis? If so, where are you keenly interested at the moment?

Greg Brewer: I am a huge fan of Champagne and Chablis for obvious edgy reasons, and for the exploration of the relationship between soil and wine.

B on Hawaii: What, if any, do you predict is the next wave of wine trends coming down the barrel?
Greg Brewer:  More restraint, edge and precision.

Visit www.DiatomWines.com, www.MelvilleWinery.com or www.BrewerCliffton.com to read more about Brewer's winemaking philosophy, plus how and where to buy. 

"In the U.S., texture is often overlooked while people simply focus on aroma and taste." — Brewer