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Friday, June 3, 2016

Winery Diversification into Craft Beer

Craft beer is hot. Anheuser-Busch/InBev is buying established breweries in a big way, Heineken bought half interest in Sonoma County's Lagunitas Brewery. Some local Sonoma/Napa wine folks have moved into beer or have plans to.

Hops growing among the vineyards at Carneros Brewery
image from
One of the better local stories is probably from the Ceja Winery family. Ceja is a Hispanic family-owned winery, that's unusual enough, in the Carneros region of Napa County. Several years ago several of the brothers got the bug to get into the beer business so they opened the Carneros Brewery next to the winery.

In the late 1990s a young brewer name Vinnie Cilurzo was hired by Gary Heck, owner of Korbel Winery, to make beer in a tiny building on the winery property to have brews for their onsite deli and a few other local establishments. It was called the Russian River Brewery. Vinnie eventually bought the name from Gary Heck, opened his own brewery, and now makes some of the top-rated beers in the world.

Also in the late 1990s the Benzigers, of Benziger Winery, opened a brewery at their Imagery Winery. Sonoma Mountain Brewery lasted just a couple years. First time I tried one I recall thinking that it seemed like a really clean version of Budweiser so possibly they were going for the American lager style.

The latest to jump into craft beer is Christopher Jackson, son of Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall Jackson Winery. It will be located in Santa Rosa and is expected to be called Seismic Brewery, a name he bought from another craft brewery. (The Jacksons can afford to buy pretty much anything they need). He wants a 25,000 barrel brewery. That's about twice the size of Russian River Brewing.

Yes, some days you feel like Pinot Noir and craft beer are taking over -- and that's not a bad thing!