Brewer-Clifton Winery Sells Majority

One of Santa Barbara’s Top Producers Sells 70% Ownership Stake; Founders Pledge to Keep It the Same

Last week, Brewer-Clifton Winery, which is considered one of Santa Barbara County’s finest, sold a 70 percent ownership stake to an investment group fronted by Chicago-based sommelier and wholesaler Ken Fredrickson.

Founders Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton plan to remain co-winemakers of the 10,000 case-per-year operation, whose 2012 Sta. Rita Hills pinot noir was named the eighth best wine on the planet last year by Wine Spectator Magazine; each founder retains a 10 percent stake in the winery, as does Steve’s wife, Chrystal Clifton, who will continue running sales and marketing for the company. They have pledged to invest more in their estate vineyards and keep the winery, which was founded on 240 cases in 1996, running much the same as ever.

“It’s not an acquisition,” said Chrystal Clifton on Tuesday, explaining that this deal is “apples and oranges” compared to the recent sale by Adam Lee of his Siduri brand to Jackson Family Wines. “We are incorporating someone who will allow us to have four participating, positive partners. We really needed more business focus and capital, and Ken brought that.”

Exact terms remain undisclosed, though Clifton laughed out loud when asked it was anything like the estimated $40 million paid in 2009 for a stake in Sonoma County’s Kosta Browne Winery. “That would be amazing, but no, not even,” said Clifton, who called the sale a “more grassroots” infusion of capital that will allow the winery to focus on estate vineyard projects that were stalled by the recession. “Maybe I should be pretending to shop at Saks now, but that’s not happening anytime soon.”

Instead, Clifton explained, “The deal was not about financial gain. It was really about achieving a new, exciting partner that wanted to help us return to our original vision and goals. Even if we have all won the lotto, we would still be doing what we love.”

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