By Fred Frye  The Santa Rita Hills

Ken Brown Wines

In the Santa Rita Hills: About seven years ago I enjoyed a bottle of Pinot Noir from a winemaker named Ken Brown. Later that year I viewed a KPBS special called “Wine for the Confused” produced by  John Clease of Monty Python fame. A gentleman named Ken Brown was interviewed as part of the program Ken’s philosophy was “when you find a wine you like buy it and drink it often.  You will not be disappointed.”I thought that was very good advice. Some time after that, a group of friends, who usually dine together for New Year’s Eve, decided to go to Los Olivos  for our annual dinner.   I made a blind call to Ken, explained who we were and asked if we might have a tasting.  He said that his facility was in the “Lompoc Prison Ghetto” and was not fancy, but he “thought he had ten clean glasses, so please come on over”.  So we did.  It was the beginning of an association that has been instructive and a lot of fun.

Ken Brown, a third generation Californian from Sacramento, was supposed to be an executive

Ken Brown

Ken Brown

for IBM but along the way fell in love with winemaking and the whole vineyard business.  He went to Viticulture school   at the California State University at Fresno in 1974.  He led the research program at the school vineyard and winery.  Ken helped determine the commercial viability of wine grapes and make wine from some of the county’s earliest vineyards in Santa Barbara. He become Zaca Mesa’s first winemaker in 1977 and his wines were highly acclaimed.  


 Today Ken Brown (Byron Kent Brown) is recognized as one of Santa Barbara County’s pioneering winemakers.  He was among the first vintners to realize the great promise for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in this cool-climate appellation in the mid-1970’s.

 Lured by the appeal of making great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Ken, with his wife, Deborah and several partners founded Byron Vineyard & Winery in 1984 in the Santa Maria Valley of northern Santa Barbara County. Byron Winery enjoyed early success and gained national recognition for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Ken sold Byron Winery to the Robert Mondavi family in 1990. Over the next decade, Ken and the Mondavi group embarked on an extensive experimental vineyard program featuring various rootstocks, clones and planting densities and built a state-of-the art gravity winery in 1996.”

Our focus at Ken Brown Wines is on very small lots

of Pinot Noir from the finest vineyards of Santa Rita Hills

 not far from Santa Barbara.”  

The wines are produced at our winery in Buellton at the gateway to the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, and most lots consist of 250 cases or less. Total production is about 2,000 cases. Some of the vineyards we

Clos Pepe Vineyard

Clos Pepe Vineyard

work with include Cargasacchi, Clos Pepe, Rio Vista and Sanford & Benedict.  My wife, Deborah, and I make up the staff of Ken Brown Wines, and we enjoy the close relationships we have with our wines and our customers.”

“Most of my career has been spent pursuing the elusive traits that make great Pinot Noir. From my early days at Zaca Mesa Winery to my 20-year tenure at Byron Vineyard to our small family operation at Ken Brown Wines, I have continued to experiment with clones, rootstocks, soils and winemaking techniques, exploring the tremendous potential for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County.”

In 2003, Ken founded Ken Brown Wines,   a venture in which he feels he can optimize the best sources of Pinot Noir with uncompromised winemaking. Together with Deborah they bring a fresh approach to the “Boutique” wine business.:


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