Sweeney Canyon Vineyard

2011 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay, Sweeney Canyon Vineyard


It is often said that wine is made in the vineyard. To make great wine, the grower and winemaker have to work in harmony, or be one in the same. This is why we only make wine from grapes we grow ourselves, from a vineyard that we planted specifically wines.

Location Description

Located in the heart of Santa Barbara, California.


  • Producing great wines.

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Three generations of the Marks family have worked Sweeney Canyon Vineyard over the past 31 years. Currently, Chris Marks is the vineyard manager, with assistance from Krska Farming, and Kristi Marks is the winemaker. We only make wine from our own vineyard and only from vines we planted ourselves. The vineyard was planted to 18.5 acres of the Wente clone of Chardonnay on its own roots and is farmed without irrigation. Our location on a bench overlooking the Santa Ynez River and the minimal annual rainfall combined with “dry farming” has caused the vines to sink their roots deep into the alluvial soils, and give their fruit rich and complex flavors unique to Sweeney Canyon.

Throughout the years, we have made small amounts of wine for our own consumption, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from cuttings we made ourselves. In 2000 and 2001, we made a somewhat larger quantity of Chardonnay, fermented in stainless steel, and bottle aged ever since. As it has aged, it has developed elegance and complexity, which pleases us and our palates immensely. In 2002, we grafted an acre of Chardonnay to Pinot Noir clone 777. Grapes harvested from 2003 to 2005 were blended into others wines, but in 2006 we made 75 cases ourselves under our own label. In 2007, we grafted 4 acres to Pinot Noir clone 115, which graced us with a small crop the following year. Our Pinot Noir has never been irrigated, so the yields are small, but the flavors intense.

We are very proud of out 28 year old vineyard, one of the oldest in what is now known and heralded as the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. In fermenting and aging the wines, we have endeavored to retain the unique character of our vineyard. The vines are old and the yields are small. It is a site with sunny days, cool nights, and a long growing season allowing the grapes to ripen very slowly, retaining their high acidity even as sugars climb. The result is a rich blend of spices and fruit flavors that just get better in the barrel, the bottle and the glass.

Estate Vineyards / AVA

When we began planting Chardonnay cuttings in 1980, there were no vineyards in our far western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, except for the famed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard about two miles to the east. We were told it would be difficult to ripen fruit in the cool, maritime climate. But we believed that the sunny days and chilly nights would allow the grapes to mature slowly and develop flavors and texture that the only come with a long “hang time.”

Our experiences in the vineyards of Burgundy taught us that the vineyard should be planted on its own roots, rather than grafted onto American rootstock, and irrigated as little as possible. There is the risk of Phyloxera, the root lice that destroyed virtually all of the original vineyards in France, but as virgin vineyard, we felt the threat was minimal.

We planted in the deep alluvial soils just above the flood plain of the Santa Ynez River. After a few years, the new vines had sunk their roots deep into the riparian aquifer, and we no longer needed to irrigate. With a deep root system, the vines pick up the minerals and flavors that are unique to our particular site which, in turn carries through into the wine. In years with low rainfall this can make for a very lean harvest.

We have always tried to keep the vines we introduced in harmony with the indigenous flora and fauna of the Santa Ynez Valley. We have maintained the natural “green” cover crop that nature spent millions of years developing. We know that the various burrowing rodents prefer the natural and native roots, such as wild radish, to our grapevines. We have never sprayed insecticides or pesticides. We have found this minimalist approach to farming helps maintain the natural balance of nature in the vineyard.

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PO Box 2226
Santa Barbara, California 94558
United States

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