For a long time I have been asked by the GOTN group to do a road trip for one of our monthly adventures. Recently, Gary Stewart (owner/vintner) of Four Brix Winery, offered us an opportunity to come to their tasting room and sample as well as educate us on the art of winemaking. Gary and his wife Karen are no strangers to GOTN as they attend whenever possible, schedules permitting. The day/night was informal with education intermixed with tasting wines that were recently released by Four Brix.
Gary was educated in the best ways possible when it comes to wine making and operating a successful winery. He was mentored in wine making which he reinforced by taking online courses from UC Davis, which has one of the best wine education curriculum in the country. It shows, Four Brix produces really good wine that is the result of trial and error as well as experience over the years. When Gary started out in his garage with another couple they bought inexpensive grapes at about $200/ton, which is very cheap as tons go. However, being new and not knowing they had the idea that the end product was in the process and not the grapes that makes the wine. After some input from successful wineries on wine quality based on grape quality/price he learned a new philosophy, GOOD GRAPES=GOOD WINE. He went back to his friends and said they had to buy better grapes to get better wine and next time spent $1000/ton. The difference was significantly noticeable. Today, he searches out the best grapes available for his wines.
Later in his career, Gary met Ryan Horn from Justin Winery in Paso Robles who became his mentor. In 2007 Gary began importing equipment from France and Portugal. Gary worked with Ryan and together made many trips to Italy and Spain thus continuing his knowledge and skills in the old world wine making processes. It is because of these travels and experiences that led to the name Four Brix. Gary explained that “the winery name Four Brix pays tribute to the four wine regions we have traveled to and experienced the beauty, culture, and manner in which blended wine fits into everyday life: France, Italy, Spain and our home, California.” Brix refers to the amount of sugar in the grape juice.
In talking to Gary about his path to where he is today, one realizes quickly that his passion is to share and watch people enjoy what wine is all about. To me it is not difficult to refer to wine lovers as a cult. To verify this statement go to a gathering or wine bar and see how people review and strive to understand the artistry that the vintner put into the bottle for us to enjoy. We are not talking about people that are drinking for effect but the ones that are dissecting the wine to see it change over time as oxygen infiltrates the glass and the fruits and spices that come to one’s nose via the aromatics. This is then followed by the taste on the palate where the flavors explode (California wines) or lay subtle in layers of complexity (French and Italian wines). This is how I see Gary’s view and passion for wines.
What is very interesting is that ALL of their wines to date are blends, however, Gary told me that there will be some single varietals available for club members in the future. I had an opportunity to barrel sample their Tempranillo, Sangiovesse and Petite Sirah. I asked Gary if he could bottle me a case of the Tempranillo and I would take it home, unfortunately for me I will have to wait just like everyone else. It was spectacular. The Sangiovese was right there with the Tempranillo. The Petite Sirah is being its normal self and still needs time. I will hopefully get a chance to revisit it in the future. Listed below is the list of wines that we tasted during our visit:
- 2011 Smitten – Viognier from Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez. Beautiful Green apples and grass that you expect from this style. Crisp and exciting.
- Grenache Blanc – Pulled from a barrel. The barrels used were purchased from Silver Oak Winery and are American. These barrels imparted a buttery and creamy profile to the wine. This was very evident in this wine. Very good.
- 2009 Temptress – 44% Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Grenache and Graciano.
- 2010 Rhondezvous – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise.
- 2010 Scosso – 64% Sangiovesse and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. This wine was given 89 points by Wine Spectator. Excellent wine.
- 2010 Zeductive – 89% Zinfandel and 11% Petite Sirah
The day was interesting with group questions ranging from general to technical. I was extremely happy by some of the technical questions about various strains of yeast as well as their alcohol tolerance. I never expected these types of questions from the group. Maybe I am rubbing off on them as they are really looking at the details of what goes into producing fine wines and how much difficulty there is to being consistent and repeatable.
I also want to add a quick note about another Ventura Trail Winery that Gary recommended that I visit. It is called Plan B and has only been open since October 2012. It is owned by Marlow and Janis Barger. They had five wines open for tasting, a 2010 Mourvedre, 2010 Grenache, 2010 GSM, 2010 Shiraz and a 2010 Syrah. My two favorites were the Mourvedre and the Grenache. Typically you see these wines in blends, if not blended they can be touch and go if they are enjoyable as a single varietal. These two wines from Plan B were light and very good. Though lacking in a long finish, they made up for in a nice clean enjoyable sipping wine. The Mourvedre was my favorite as well as Tracy’s, her brother Mitch and his new wife Jan. It was especially fun for Mitch and Jan as Plan B was their first wine tasting ever.
To sum up the experience, everyone needs to try the wineries on the Ventura Wine Trail. It is quite evident that they are on track to becoming recognized wineries. Four Brix has already done this by gaining recognition from Wine Spectator, 89 points for their 2010 Scosso. They also have a large group of dedicated followers. I hope that this article entices you to try these wineries, they are definitely worth the trip. They also make you feel like a family member and good friend as soon as you walk in. I know Gary has always made me feel that way and he is all about making and educating people on wines in hopes that they find and share his passion. Four Brix is about blends at the moment, but they live up to their motto, “Not just another brix in the wall.” They want to explore and push the limits of wine making and production through creative blending practices. Visit them, you will not be disappointed and tell them Rusty sent you.