To enter the nondescript commercial building complex in Ventura’s industrial area, you might expect Four Brix refers to a building material supply house rather than a winery. The stylish wine bar with a party vibe revealed upon opening the door rapidly dispels first impressions. Despite the off-Eastman location, Four Brix Winery has become a destination for both locals and visitors alike. The combination of great wines, the convivial personalities of owners Gary and Karen Stewart, Tracy Barrett, Jim Noonan, Barry Fisher and Laura Peters and their event-centered outreach has made Four Brix the place to hang out, sip some splendor, meet with friends and occasionally grab a bite or attend one their many popular theme gatherings.
From a hobby to a Ventura County winery
Though difficult to believe, the energetic founders weren’t “born” into the winemaking business. In fact, they were at-home hobby winemakers with a shared passion for the process and for the focal point that good wine provides in bringing people together. From this and the desire to focus their enthusiasm, a winery was built. The partners prefer the complexity and nuances that blended wines offer. They would harness their creativity and center on wines from France, Italy, Spain and California, hence the name Four Brix, with brix referring to the scale of measurement used to determine grape sugar content. Brix helps winemakers decide when to harvest the grapes in order to achieve the ideal balance of flavor and alcohol content in the wine that will result, a concept not lost on Gary Stewart, a roofing-company owner turned winemaker.
While most of their grapes are among the highest quality offerings from Santa Ynez, Sonoma and Paso Robles, locating in Ventura County was never a question; the owners are county residents. However, Four Brix was the first “winery” in the City of Ventura, despite the presence of other tasting bars like The Cave at Ventura Wine Company, Paradise Pantry and the Wine Rack. Others have since joined as well as a standalone tasting room for Labyrinth.
Fun marketing concepts pay off
With the marketing genius of Karen Stewart, a former realtor, Four Brix has evolved into a number of fun concepts that add to the trendy appeal of the brand. Their wine club, Brix Heads, is represented by bricks personified with expressive cartoon-type faces. With blend names like Zeductive, Rhondezvous, Desirous, Smitten and Baubles, they invite more than a taste and inevitably a purchase. Themed-release parties like “Three Years of Spanish Rule”, complete with flamenco guitarists and dancers, a delicious Spanish-food buffet, pirate costumes and their first-ever vertical tasting of their wine Temptress was a three-day sold out event.
Despite being open only on weekends, the Four Brix tasting room is always humming. Monthly on the first Friday, local Chef Tim Kilcoyne’s Scratch food truck pops by with delicious offerings to pair with the wine. Trunk shows, blending parties and holiday boutiques are regular features and the owners are ever-present to discuss the wines, perfect pairings and give impromptu tours of the facility.
Yet to hire an employee, the Four Brix selections are poured by volunteers affectionately referred to as the “Cru.” Cru members are treated to advance-release tastings, quarterly field trips to the vineyards where grapes are sourced and tastings at other wineries that use the same grapes as Four Brix to create their wines. Four Brix’s success comes as no surprise to long-time Cru member, Jeff Hata. Hata joined the Cru two and a half years ago when Four Brix first opened and says he always feels much appreciated. He spends between two and four days a month pouring wine samples and interacting with customers, often working many more days during harvest and he considers the owners and other Cru members “family.” “Four Brix has done an excellent job of creating a community not only within the Cru, but also with their clients,” says Hata. “Not only do they make really good wines, but people who visit Four Brix leave feeling like it’s their winery.” According to Karen Stewart, “Investing time educating the Cru with trips to ‘our vineyards’ has really paid off. It’s a better “share” with customers when you have walked the rows of ‘our Syrah’ in Santa Ynez.”
Partnering with Totally Local VC
True believers in community partnerships, Four Brix has been a member of Totally Local VC since they opened and their wines have been poured at the always-popular Totally Local VC dinners. The Four Brix founders credit Totally Local VC with knowledge they’ve acquired about the local farming and business environment as well as developing key relationships. They are anticipating a limited release of a new port, a combination of the Touriga Nacional Portuguese red grape varietal and figs from Petty Ranch, in conjunction with Chris and Melissa Sayer, Petty Ranch owners, whom they met at a Totally Local VC event.
“Four Brix is a Ventura County gem,” according to Totally Local VC founder Kat Merrick. “The Stewarts’ exuberance for their craft is contagious. They have set a very high standard for other Ventura wineries. I know we will continue to see great things from Four Brix both as solo releases and in partnership with other fantastic Ventura County businesses.”
A bright future
As its wines mature, Four Brix also continues to gain prominence. The popularity of their rock-n-roll-themed labels (think 60s Dazed and Confused and Celebration Day) will result in the expansion of Four Brix BlendZ Wines and the opening of a second tasting room in 2014. More exciting themed-release parties, cooking classes, pick-up events and even a Four Brix owners’ escorted wine tour of Italy are already planned for this year. With each brick in the foundation, like the perfect blend, Four Brix just seems to age impeccably. And we’re certainly thrilled that they call Ventura County home.