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The Terroir Project: Wine Meets Beer in Los Olivos

Barrelworks Hosts International Tasting of Grape-Laced Ales on September 21

Barrelworks master blender “Sour” Jim Crooks invites brew buddies from around the world to be part of The Terroir Project, whose tasting festival from last year is shown at right. | Credit: Courtesy

Given the regional preponderance of world-class vineyards and adventurous, ale-loving winemakers, Central Coast breweries have been making wine/beer hybrids for quite some time. Yet the trend is now global in scope, often including regions where wine grapes aren’t so ubiquitous. 

To explore the impact that an area’s grape-growing can have on a finished beer, Barrelworks — the Buellton-based sour beer and oak-aged wing of Firestone Walker — challenged their brew buds around the world to follow the same basic ale recipe, but only using grapes — and the subsequent native yeasts — found within 100 miles of their headquarters. 

Terroir Project

The results of The Terroir Project, now in its second year, will be shared on September 21 at a private ranch near Los Olivos. Of the 12 participating breweries this year, I asked brewers from Missouri, Australia, and England about what they created this year. 

Side Project Brewing, St. Louis, MO

“My first love was wine,” said Cory King, who sourced vidal blanc from Noboleis Vineyards in the Augusta AVA in Augusta, Missouri, where he’s worked for a few years with winemaker Brandon Dixon. “It’s a delicate white with a fantastic acidity that can hold up well in a mix-fermented beer,” said King, who said the grapes added flavors of under-ripened green fruit, some minerality, and a rich, glycerine mouthfeel. 

He’s been making wine/beer hybrids for six years and believes that they are on the upswing thanks to the rise of natural wines. “I want to believe that these beer/wine hybrids and their flavor profiles, which align with a lot of the natural wines and pet-nats, will pique a new interest to these unique malt-based beverages,” said King. “I can say that the interest has increased over the years, although in small amounts.” 

Wildflower Beer, Marrickville, Australia

“I am a huge lover in wine and am intrigued at how to stoke varietal character into beer,” said Topher Boehm, who opted for sémillon from Tyrrell’s Estate, which was founded in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales in 1858. “This grape is synonymous with the Hunter Valley and these vines produce some of the finest examples of sémillon in the world,” said Boehm, who allowed the entire grapes to macerate with the fermenting beer over six months. “It’s lent to the beer an amazing structure and mouthfeel. The aromatics are largely familiar to aged sémillon, with bright honey-floral aromatics and classic preserved lemon.”

He doesn’t like calling these beer-wines or vice versa. “That really reduces both of the products to something lesser than they are,” he said. “I do believe, however, there is a strong and growing interest for utilizing wine grapes as fruit for refermentations in barrel-aged, mixed-culture beer. It’s an exciting space and yields exciting flavours.”

Beavertown Brewery, London, England

Photo: CourtesyTerroir Project

“To have the opportunity to push the boundaries of what beer can be has always been a primary goal at Beavertown,” said Logan Plant, who worked with both pinot noir skins and bacchus grapes grown at Forty Hall Vineyard, about six miles away in Enfield, and turned into pressed juice by Chapel Down Winery. Originally a Germanic variety, bacchus is reminiscent of sauvignon blanc, said Plant, and the skins added color, tannins, red berry, and floral character to the mix. 

“We have worked with grapes and wine yeast in the past, so to get the opportunity to be part of such a forward-thinking concept and to explore the ‘terroir’ that makes us all unique was a no-brainer,” said Plant of signing on to The Terroir Project. “The event is also a wonderful, intimate occasion where we as brewers get to serve our brews and chat to the drinkers through the nuances and process we have gone through. This to me is so important and a defining value of craft beer. Taking the drinker on a journey through the flavour spectrum adds so much more weight to their experience.”


4•1•1 | The Terroir Project is September 21, noon-3 p.m. at West Ranch outside of Los Olivos. Tickets are $65 and very limited. See firestonebeer.com/brewery/terroir-project.php

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