Wine country beer people - the series


This is a series all about the folks who make wine country such great Beer Country. Just as leading winemakers have long been revered and avidly followed by wine aficionados, craft brewers are the rising stars of today’s brewing industry.

California wine country seems to have developed and attracted a disproportionate share of these talented artisans. Among the brewers, some are already getting known by name around the country—Matt Brynildson, Vinnie Cilurzo, and Dan Gordon, to name but a few. No, those names may not be on par yet with the likes of Mondavi, Phelps or Robert Young, but craft brewers have the momentum.

You can’t live and brew in central or northern California without being profoundly influenced by the rich artisan wine and food culture that is this region’s signature. These articles will explore the interconnections and influences that permeate beer people in this wine– and food–centric region. The articles will explore the their sources of inspiration. You will will see what it’s like to be a brewer outnumbered 100 to 1 by winemakers.

As might be expected, cross pollinations are many. Brewers are influenced by vintners, and vintners are also learning from craft brewers. Look no further than Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and his annual anniversary beers for which he and leading local winemakers collaborate on the final blends. Or take Ken Mee’s regular Brewers’ Dinners at Silverado Brewing Company at which the majority of attendees are winery people and their spouses. How about Vinnie Cilurzo’s popular Russian River specialty beers aged in used wine barrels. We are in an exciting period.

California’s craft brewing industry is relatively young, only truly recognized as an industry in the 1990s. But from it’s pioneer breweries of the 1970s to the new start-ups of today, the region’s craft brewers are breaking new ground, creating new tastes, and building new synergies, all rooted in the diverse melting pot of wine country soil.

It’s worth your time to get to know them better.


It’s all about the people

21st Amendment brewer and co-proprietor Shaun O’Sullivan takes a few minutes to meet with a wine country tourist from
West Virginia

At Sonoma Springs Brewing Company
in Sonoma,
Tim Goeppinger sometimes doubles as your bartender.

Wine Country Beer

People Series

Brad Smisloff

  1. Brewmaster
    Napa Valley Brewing Co.
    Calistoga, CA

Yashpal Singh

  1. President/CEO
    Mendocino Brewing Co.
    Ukiah, CA

Ricardo Norgrove

  1. Brewmaster

  2. Bear Republic Brewing Co.

  3. Healdsburg, CA

Matt Brynildson

  1. Brewmaster

  2. Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

  3. Paso Robles, CA

Ken Mee

  1. Head Brewer & Co-proprietor

  2. Silverado Brewing Company

  3. St. Helena, CA

  4. Denise Jones

  5. Former Brewmaster

  6. Moylan’s Brewery

  7. Novato, CA

Next profile coming soon

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Meeting craft brewers

Even wine country’s larger craft breweries are still pretty small operations compared to many of the region’s wineries. Craft brewers and brewery owners tend to be directly involved in the day-to-day, on-site operations, making them fairly accessible people.

Because craft brewery tasting rooms and brewpubs are most often physically located in the brewery building, they are the natural places to meet brewers and brewery proprietors who tend to hang out there. Don’t hesitate to tell the bartender that you would like to meet or say hello to the brewer or proprietor if he or she is around. Be sure and tell them what state you are visiting from.

Craft breweries haven’t developed the pushy sales-oriented tasting room mentality that plagues most wineries these days. Craft brewery tasting rooms are extremely laid back in comparison.

At smaller brewery tasting rooms, the brewer may even double as a part-time bartender. The brewery owner may be walking through or sitting at the next table meeting vendors. As a group, brewers tend to be passionate sorts who like to talk beer. Don’t be shy about engaging them, no matter what your level of beer knowledge.

Festivals and community fairs

Craft brewers are ardent supporters of community fairs and festivals. Certainly beer festivals, but also many other community fairs and festivals, feature brewery booths or tents.

At local festivals, you will commonly find the brewer or owner herself/himself pouring your beer. That makes them good places to meet and talk with brewers. Always check the schedule of local fairs and festivals when planning your wine country visit.