Exclusive: Jackson Family Buys California Pinot Star Brewer-Clifton

The Kendall-Jackson owner adds boutique Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Chardonnay brand to its expanding portfolio
Exclusive: Jackson Family Buys California Pinot Star Brewer-Clifton
The deal includes Brewer-Clifton's 60 acres of vines in the Sta. Rita Hills. (Courtesy Jackson Family)
May 18, 2017

Wine Spectator has learned that Jackson Family Wines is acquiring Brewer-Clifton, one of Sta. Rita Hills' top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers; the winery's 2012 Pinot Noir earned the No. 8 spot on Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2014. Brewer-Clifton is the third Pinot Noir–based winery Jackson Family has purchased in the span of a year. The deal includes Brewer-Clifton's second brand, Diatom, 60 acres of estate vineyards and a long-term lease on a winery and tasting room in Lompoc, Calif. Founder Greg Brewer has sold his shares in the company but will remain at the helm and continue to make the wines. The sale price was not disclosed.

"I couldn't be happier with this evolution as it relates to myself personally, Brewer-Clifton and the appellation as a whole," Brewer told Wine Spectator. Brewer calls it an ideal fit, preferring to work for others while remaining involved in the winery that he built over 20 years. "I'm in it full tilt; I've never been more committed to the project."

A former French instructor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Brewer and his business partner Steve Clifton pooled $10,000 to launch Brewer-Clifton in 1996. They tapped vineyards in Santa Barbara's cool Sta. Rita Hills appellation, focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Starting with a couple hundred cases, the winery has grown steadily and now produces around 10,000 cases a year using 100 percent estate fruit.

In 2015, the partners sold a majority share of the winery to a group of investors led by Ken Fredrickson, who is a partner at Tenzing Wine & Spirits. Steve Clifton and his wife, Crystal, have since stepped back from the winery entirely to focus on their own Pinot Noir label La Voix and another wine brand called Palmina. The tight turnaround in ownership occurred following mutual discussions between Fredrickson and upper management at Jackson Family.

“We acquired the winery with specific goals and started immediately to implement strategic growth initiatives," Fredrickson told Wine Spectator. "Although we did not expect to sell the winery in 2017, we did ultimately have a vision to either find a strategic partner or buyer. I have known leadership at Jackson Family Wines for many years and always considered them visionary."

"I've long been impressed with the purity and intensity of these wines," said Jackson Family chairman Barbara Banke, in a statement. "Brewer-Clifton strengthens our portfolio of singular, site-specific, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while complementing our offerings from the nearby Santa Maria Valley."

The sale builds on Jackson Family's growing range of Pinot Noir brands in the Pacific Northwest and California. It launched a major buying spree in 2015 by snapping up Pinot powerhouse Siduri. The following year, the company turned to Oregon, where it now owns three vineyard properties, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, and then expanded its California lineup with Sonoma's Copain.

Brewer says that Jackson Family will focus on the winery's 60 acres of estate vineyards for now but he is excited about the potential opportunities for both brands. "Going forward we have a lot of things to fine-tune and develop," he said. "There are exciting times ahead."

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