Winemaker of the Year

Food & Wine: Thomas Rivers Brown makes high-end Cabernet for 15 different labels. Photo © Carol Schrader.
Thomas Rivers Brown makes high-end Cabernet for 15 different labels. Photo © Carol Schrader.
F&W honors a Napa winemaker known for his hands-off style.

Thomas Rivers Brown

On his first pilgrimage to Napa Valley as a recent college graduate, Thomas Rivers Brown was star-struck: "All those people and wineries I'd read about back in Virginia—you could actually meet them and visit them!" He promptly moved to California and threw himself into the winemaking life. His new education began when winemaker Ehren Jordan at cult Zinfandel producer Turley Wine Cellars gave him an entry-level job in 1997. In the past few years, Brown has become one of the most sought-after consulting winemakers in Napa Valley, making high-end Cabernet for 15 different labels at the Black Sears and Outpost wineries on Howell Mountain, with clients like Schrader and Maybach. There is even a Thomas Rivers Brown method—a non-interventionist style that eschews technology and, he says, "all those elements that contribute to sameness"—but beyond a common generosity and roundness in the tannins, there's no Brown signature present in the wines themselves. "We pride ourselves on there not being a recognizable trait," he says.

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