9 Sonoma Brewers Who Swapped Wine for Beer

These Sonoma brewers tapped into beer after years in the wine industry.

Harvest time in Wine Country has traditionally meant grape picking and winemaking but with the growing popularity of craft beers, hops are becoming our region’s “other” hot crop. As hop varieties and flavor profiles proliferate in beers, brewers have begun to follow the lead of grape vintners and wine bottlers before them by planting their own hop farms to gain more control of their ingredients and finished products. And it’s no surprise that some of the brewers who are taking hop harvesting the most seriously are those who started with grapes. Here are nine Sonoma brewers who swapped wine for beer.

Barrel Brothers Brewing Company, Windsor: Wesley Deal and Daniel Weber
Brothers-in-law Wesley Deal and Daniel Weber both previously worked in wine. Deal worked as assistant winemaker for two years at a winery in Healdsburg before becoming inspired by his father-in-law’s love for home-brewing. He then decided to study brewing science at U.C Davis. Weber worked in sales and marketing in the wine industry and took an equal liking to the beer world when likewise inspired by the same father-in-law, Tom Sather.

Deal’s and Weber’s love for the brewing craft led them to take their hobby to the next level when they opened Barrel Brothers Brewing Company in Windsor. Recently they have begun working with fellow brewer Steve Doty of Shady Oak Barrel House to bring the characteristics of the Sonoma terroir to beer. On their two acre hop farm north of Windsor, the partners plan to create a spontaneously fermented lambic series to share with local beer lovers and travelers alike.

Barrel Brother’s Brewing, 399 Business Park Ct, #506, Windsor 95492, 707-696-9487, barrelbrothersbrewing.com, @BarrelBrothersBrewing

Carneros Brewing Company, Sonoma: Armando, Jesus and Pedro Ceja
Brothers Armando, Pedro and Jesus Ceja grew up in Napa Valley working for their father in the vineyards and learning the wine trade. After paying homage to their father by building a successful winery, the brothers are now tapping into beer at their Sonoma Valley microbrewery Carneros Brewing Company, located near the Ceja Family Vineyards. Head-brewmaster Jesus Ceja graduated from the brewery science program at U.C Davis, and previously worked at Coors in Golden, Colorado, AB-inBev, and Red Star Yeast Company.

The brothers have planted their own hops on the brewery property so that they can obtain nothing but the best ingredients for their beers. Guests of the brewery can enjoy views of Carneros Valley, picnic in the beer garden by the pond and sip on handcrafted ice cold beers.

Carneros Brewing, 22985 Burndale Road, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-938-1880, carnerosbrewing.com @CarnerosBrewing

Fogbelt Brewing Company, Santa Rosa: Paul Hawley and Remy Martin
Co-owners and co-brewers Remy Martin and Paul Hawley grew up working in the wine business – Martin worked grape harvests in California and abroad; Hawley worked at his family’s winery, Hawley Wines in Dry Creek Valley. The two began brewing together during a trip to New Zealand’s wine country, where they were working the harvest. Martin then studied brewing at U.C Davis while Hawley continued to work at his family’s winery.

Four years ago, just before opening Fogbelt Brewing, Hawley planted a quarter acre of hops on his family vineyard in Healdsburg. With farming in his blood, he knew this was the best way to both understand and control the quality and variety of hops for the brewery. Fogbelt Brewing now hosts the “Wet Hop Fest,” an event that features beers brewed with locally harvested hops.

Hawley continues to help out at the family winery. He is constantly reminded that the two industries, wine and beer, have different challenges, “With wine, the main production period is once a year during harvest. With beer, we are always in production-mode, allowing for more experimentation and perfecting of the process and beers, but a lot more scrubbing tanks. After a while, brewing twice a day, you wish you could just have a couple months of heavy production and make enough to last a year. Beer has a shelf life though and wine just gets better with age. I love making barrel-aged sour beers because it feels more like wine-making than brewing…”

Fogbelt Brewing, 1305 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa 95401, (707) 978-3400, fogbeltbrewing.com, @FogbeltBrewing

Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa: Vinnie Cilurzo
Russian River Brewing Company co-owner, brewmaster and Pliny creator Vinnie Cilurzo grew up in Temecula, CA, working in the barrel room at his family’s winery, Cilurzo Family Cellars. After realizing he had more passion for hops than grapes, Cilurzo made the leap to beer and, after acquiring investors, opened Blind Pig Brewing in Temecula, in 1994. It was at this time that he perfected the original recipe for what was to become the famous Blind Pig IPA.

Cilurzo then moved to Northern California where he became head brewer at Korbel Cellars’s Russian River Brewing Company. When Korbel bowed out of the brewing business, Cilurzo accepted rights to the Russian River Brewing Company (RRBC) name and all of the recipes in lieu of a severance package. In 2004, Vinnie and his wife Natalie opened the RRBC brewpub on 4th Street in downtown Santa Rosa. Natalie, who left a job in the wine industry after the pub’s opening, now oversees the business side of the brewery and brewpub while Vinnie oversees brewing and distribution. A new brewery in Windsor is slated to open in the fall of 2018.

Russian River Brewing Co., 725 4th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404, (707) 545-2337, russianriverbrewing.com, @RussianRiverOfficial

Seismic Brewing Company, Santa Rosa: Christopher Jackson
Christopher Jackson, son of philanthropist Barbara Banke and the late Jess Jackson (founder of Kendall Jackson), has adopted his parents’s love for a grape-to-glass approach in wine and applied the concept to his grain-to-glass philosophy at Seismic Brewing.

In partnership with friends Patrick Delves and Andy Hooper, Jackson’s dream to build a sustainable brewery, operating on a clean and green scale to produce the highest quality beers, has come to fruition. Jackson’s custom-brew house is built with energy efficiency and a “clean to can” approach. The brewery emphasizes the three “P’s” of sustainability: “people” (by paying and treating employees fairly while providing a healthy work environment), “planet” (by maximizing energy and water efficiency), and “prosperity” (by adopting a policy to partner with the community and local businesses). While the brewery does not currently have a taproom, Seismic beers can be found on draft at Confluence Taproom in Santa Rosa, Brewsters Beer Garden in Petaluma, and other establishments throughout the Bay Area.

Seismic Brewing, 2870 Duke Court, Santa Rosa, California, CA 95407, 707-230-5014, seismicbrewingco.com, @SeismicBrewingCo