March, 2016 Edition

View current issue

Rockstar Winemaker - Brian Brown

of ONX Wines

ONX winemaker Brian Brown is exactly the kind of character you’d hope would sit down next to you at a hotel bar in a strange place where you know no none.
At first glance, he might look like any young professional doing the 9-to-5 thing. You’d be dead wrong. He can drive a tractor and weave a good yarn with the best of them. A former resident of Los Angeles, Singapore, Western Australia, Switzerland, Wisconsin, and Texas, he has lived many lives (mediatory for spinning good yarns). A fan of 80s action flicks like "Conan the Barbarian" and the old school art of making mix-tapes, he is also surprisingly down-to-earth.
Brown’s winemaking credentials — which include internships at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma, Salitage in Australia, and Napa Wine Company in Oakville, as well as winemaking roles at Round Pond Estate Winery, Vineyard 29, and Trefethen Vineyards in Napa — paint the picture of a well-rounded artisan with an insatiable appetite for adventure. It’s a good thing, then, that Brown has had his hands gloriously full at ONX Wines as of late. Full of grapes. Full of bottles. Full of possibilities.
“In less than 18 months, we've moved from making a few hundred cases in a custom crush facility into a few thousand cases at our own location in Tin City. In the same amount of time, we've nearly doubled the number of acres we have under vine at the ONX Estate,” Brown said.
This zero-to-60 mentality makes sense. ONX Wines aren’t shy. The brash blends are a direct reflection of the winery’s dynamic Westside vineyard, which features several distinct “oasis” spots for sipping and education amongst the vines. The 122-acre ranch property is located in the newly dedicated Templeton Gap District AVA and is planted to about 60 acres of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Malbec, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache Blanc. The new Tin City tasting room and winemaking facility is the ying to this bucolic yang. Housed in a hip, shared industrial setting across from BarrelHouse Brewing Company in Paso Robles, the vibe is energetic and fresh. Brown likened the first harvest at Tin City to living in the dorms while he worked to gain his Viticulture and Enology degree from UC Davis:
“There is activity at all times of day with people working around the clock. You see your neighbors early in the morning before the caffeine has kicked in and you're pretty sure they're wearing the same clothes from the night before. Friends of friends show up on the weekends to hang out at your crush pad. There is also beer.”
Don’t let his humor fool you. Brown is intensely focused on the wine at hand, even if he sometimes needs a beer break at the end of a long day. First and foremost, he

ONX Winemaker Brian Brown is focused on place rather than pretension. He listens to the vines and strives to create a unique blend that is a true reflection of the land. The results are, more often than not, wild and wonderful.

focuses on making the product taste delicious. Simple, right?
“I believe it’s important to listen to your customers, your critics, your friends, and your foes, but you ultimately have to trust your own palate,” Brown said. “I believe that wine should always be pleasurable. Simple can be pleasurable, complex can be pleasurable, serious can sometimes be pleasurable. Pretentious rarely is.”
For this reason, Brown is happy to be humbled in the face of nature. He does not force a square peg into a round hole. Instead, he looks at the environment at hand and tries to hear what it is telling him. There is always a story blowing in the wind.
“I know the direction I want to go and what the destination smells and tastes like. However, I never force a wine to go a direction that it doesn't want to go,” Brown said. “It comes down to respecting the product. I feel like you can tell when a wine was forced to become something it didn't want to be; these wines are disjointed or lacking in someway. When possible, always defer to place over process. The best wines make themselves.”
That isn’t to say that Brown doesn’t obsess over one key ingredient: balance. Onx wines can swing wildly from style to style with a range of unique blends. However, hey all share a common thread: The wine knows who and what it is and doesn’t waver.
“Wines can be high or low in alcohol and still be in balance. They can be high or low in acid and still be in balance. They can have huge mouth filling bodies or can be lean and nimble and in either case they can be in balance,” Brown said. “One hundred percent new oak or zero oak, in either case, you can find balance. Balance is matching all of the aspects of the wine so that when aligned they produce a complete and seamless wine. If you can achieve these things then you should end up with a delicious product that is unique.”
a mix of corrugated steel, reclaimed wood, and unexpected, earthy textures, the new ONX tasting room is as unique as the wines. Brown encourages folks to come out and meet the team. Every member of the family comes together to create his dream, just as every flavor comes together to create an unforgettable blend. For those looking to experience unapologetic wines that deliberately defy convention, ONX is a natural destination. These days, more and more people are stumbling down the rabbit hole.
“We still see plenty of people looking for ONX before they get to Paso, but now we get to share our wines with folks that hear about us once they arrive in Wine Country,” Brown said. “Consumers and collectors once had to seek ONX out. Now, they stumble upon us.”
For more information on ONX Wines, visit