On Cloud Wine
As my tires kick up dust around me, I find my eyes wandering to the bounty of plump grapes crawling up the vines alongside the path.
With the windows down, I am already imbibing the majesty of Brick Barn Wine Estate before even touching my lips to a wine glass. With the way the faint ocean air is infiltrated with the ripe scent of freshly turned soil, I sense an oncoming harvest that could not be topped anywhere else in the Santa Ynez Valley or beyond.
Santa Barbara County’s stock in Californian winemaking is a prominent one, and the jewel of such a prestigious practice is Brick Barn, situated a mere ten miles from the Pacific Ocean. The estate, which is open daily to visitors and available for private events and tours by appointment, is nestled off Highway 246. Once I arrive, notified simply by a surreptitious sign on the right side of the road, I am enveloped in a sprawling green labyrinth. Vineyards transcend the hills as far as the eye can see, spiraling from the epicenter of this estate—a 1970s brick barn-turned-winery, outfitted inside and out with a tasting room, masterful tile work, and grandiose iron chandeliers.
At Brick Barn, the history is as rich and flavorful as the wine. What began as a rancho during the initial Spanish settlement of California was purchased by R.T. Buell, eventually developing into the town of Buellton. When Norman Williams acquired the estate, it began as a 36-stall Arabian horse farm. The Williams’ stable was crafted out of brick, an artful landmark from which Brick Barn Wine Estate would obtain its name 40 years later.
After tasting a 2017 Grenache Rosé as well as the 2016 Chardonnay, the property’s winemaker, Rob DaFoe, personally chauffeurs my girlfriends and I to Brick Barn’s highest point. Here, he cultivates the grapes for the winery’s selection of red wines, which benefit from the increased sun exposure and sloping. White wines, on the other hand, are composed of grapes in the lower lands, close to the Santa Ynez riverbed, which allows the grapes to reach their full potential in sandy soil and cool temperatures. Though the varied terrain on which Brick Barn rests has a great deal to do with the elevated quality of their wines, a passion for the earth, the grapes, and the wines play a big part as well.
It’s in these serene moments I understand how Brick Barn breathes life into its wines and its wines breathe life into the estate and its guests...
Not only were owners Norman and Kathleen Williams confident in the potential of their land, but Rob DaFoe had also devised a process that promotes ethical use of the property’s natural elements and harnesses the entire flavor profile of these uniquely grown grapes. DaFoe’s elimination of the use of chemicals, pesticides, and poison in the maintenance of Brick Barn’s fruits benefits both the nature of the wine and the wellness of our earth. The winery debuted their first wine created from these conscious processes in 2016, opened to the public in 2018, and is on track to be certified organic by 2020.
With a glass of 2016 Cabernet Franc in hand (DaFoe has been lauded as one of the few “rising stars in California Cabernet”), I marvel at the masterpiece before me—the nature which is so dutifully conditioned for the creation in my glass. It’s in these serene moments I understand how Brick Barn breathes life into its wines and its wines breathe life into the estate and its guests, the endless cycle of an ecosystem at peace.
As we descend the dirt road to Rob’s truck, I watch the sun set on the Santa Ynez Valley, the grapes reveling in that day’s final nourishment. Before the engine starts, Rob receives a call from an industry associate, expertly spewing his knowledge of the winemaking process and offering solutions to the unknown party on the other end of the line. As he hangs up and we start down the hill, Rob remarks with a wink, “Winemaking is a romantic business, isn’t it?” *