Robert E. Brittan
A veteran of the wine industry since the early 1970s, Robert Brittan began making wine in his dorm room while he attended Oregon State University. He began his professional winemaking career in the Central Valley of California and after several years of work experience went back to school to earn an enology degree at the University of California at Davis. After graduating from UC Davis, Robert moved to the Napa Valley, where he made wines for Far Niente Winery, St. Andrews Vineyard and Stags’ Leap Winery. He has also served as a viticulture/ winemaking consultant for projects in Oregon, New York and Texas, as well as in British Columbia and France. To study the origins of his favorite varietals, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, he has visited Burgundy and the Northern Rhone numerous times.
While working in Napa Valley, Brittan also owned and farmed his own vineyards, growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay that he sold to top Napa producers. During this period he made small amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under his own label.
When Brittan joined Stags’ Leap Winery in 1988, he was tasked with restoring the 19th Century estate. To match the terroir and preserve the distinct individuality of wines made from this site, he conducted extensive research into the genealogy of the vines and the geology of the property. To accomplish this he worked with UC Davis biotechnology and genetics researcher Dr. Carol Meredith on DNA profiling techniques to meticulously replant this historic vineyard. Combined with the studies he conducted on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while at St. Andrews, Brittan is recognized as an expert on the use of varietal selection to create site-specific wines.
In 2004, Robert left Stags’ Leap to pursue his lifelong dream of focusing on Pinot Noir and Syrah from unique sites in cooler climates. In December of that year he purchased 128 acres in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where he is growing Pinot Noir and Syrah for his own label, Brittan Vineyards, and acting as consulting winemaker for Winderlea. Robert brings to these projects his 30-plus years of winemaking and viticultural experience, along with an undying passion for balanced and elegant wines that express a unique sense of place.
I was first drawn to wine through the window of an Amtrak train crawling through the vast emptiness of central Washington on one of many trips between the University of Washington and my hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho. The odd trailing vines I’d spotted turned out to be Vitis Vinifera, the European wine grape vine, and after many bottles and about 1000 google (and soul!) searches, I was hooked. I wrapped up my undergraduate studies in science and violin, said goodbye to my pre-med friends, and dove headfirst into a Wine Biotech MSc at the University of British Columbia examining differences between yeast strains in Pinot noir fermentation.
The day the 2010 Vancouver Olympics kicked off was also the day that I defended my thesis, packed my backpack and boarded a plane bound for Australia and my first wine harvest on the Mornington Peninsula. Many winemakers fall in love with the craft during their travel years, and I was no exception. I chased new friends, flavors and dreams across the world’s cellars and vineyards, including two 5-month stints in Marlborough and Central Otago, New Zealand, and a very formative harvest in the Northern Rhone Valley that set the tone for a career in winemaking.
I moved to Oregon in the summer of 2012 after a hot and dusty drive across Washington state. I pulled up to a humble but cheery Carlton farmhouse that had a chicken smoking on the patio and a carboy of cider percolating in the kitchen. I felt that I had arrived; that I was home. My first days at the winery the following summer reiterated this sense of community and belonging, and I have been thrilled to grow with the Winderlea/Brittan group and its culture of excellence ever since.