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by Fred McMillin
for March 26, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

Lord Byron


Prologue

"Glory, the grape, love and gold...in these are sunk the hopes of all men of every nation."

...Lord Byron, noted English poet, 1788-1824


The Rest of the Story

Byron Winery  
We have a modern "Lord Byron," Byron Brown, one of those men who sunk his hopes in the grape. I've dubbed him the "Lord of the Santa Maria Valley." None can claim a greater role in bringing the valley into prominence in the wine world than Byron "Ken" Brown and his Byron Winery.

Master Sommelier Steve Morey (Ernie's Restaurant, S.F.) introduced me to Byron Chardonnay about a decade ago. There's a standard and a Reserve; critic James Halliday regards them both as "absolutely outstanding." My panel has always been impressed. For example, when Conundrum was selected BEST WHITE at the S.F. Wine Fair, we tasted it blind vs the Byron Reserve Chardonnay. The Byron missed a tie by a single vote.


Burgundy West

The marine-cooled Santa Maria Valley in northern Santa Barbara County is Burgundy West. Not only does Burgundy's Chardonnay love it, but Burgundy's noble red, the Pinot Noir, is just as comfortable. However, Ken is not satisfied. He believes he's reached only 85% of the quality potential of his winery-vineyard. Most of the last 15% will come, not from winemaking techniques, but from grape selection and growing methods. So, it's back to the lab.


The Lab

The lab is rather large...you can set up a lot of experiments on thirty acres! There are 15 clones from France, California and an Oregon State University clonal-quality study. Part are growing on their own roots; part on selected rootstocks. Another aspect is competition for nutrients. Ken has vine spacing ranging from 1,500 to 4,000 vines per acre. Generally, tighter spacing means higher quality and lower profits (due to harvesting difficulties, less grapes per acre, etc.) Anyhow, Here's our Winery of the Week.


Just the Facts

Byron Vineyard and Winery, voted Winery of the Year by a major trade publication not so long ago.
5320 Tepusquet Rd, Santa Maria, CA.
Phone—(805) 937-7288
Founded—1984
Vineyards—641 acres adjacent to the winery, most vines are 25+ years old
Winery—Signs of success...an exciting, new, gravity-flow winery was completed in time for the 1996 harvest.
Production—Currently at 32,000 cases...small enough so that "Lord Byron" can do his quality thing.

 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin

 

Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

 

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