Blurring the Lines Between Wine and Beer

We’ve always taken inspiration from winemakers. Sitting in the middle of wine country, we have been making beer with grape juice, skins and stems since 2012. Conversations with our neighbors around technique and flavor have pushed Barrelworks master blender Jim Crooks to create beers that defy style and dive deep into the complexities of the wine world.

At the same time, there have been other breweries making incredible wine-inspired beers all around the world. Blending grapes into beer has been in practice for centuries, and Italian brewers have even designated a beer-wine style called Oenobeer. To share ideas and inspiration, Barrelworks set forth a proposition in 2017 – The Terroir Project.

Our latest releases from Terroir Project, Terroir Trois and Quatre, are exclusive to members of the Brewmaster’s Collective beer club. Keep reading to learn more about the project, its history, and the making of these two new beers.

Watch the video below about our 2019 event to learn more about the project in general, then keep reading to find out about this year’s release.

The Terroir Project

Each participating brewery was invited to produce its own distinct beer-wine hybrid, but with three binding stipulations: they all had to use the same grain bill; the same methodology of handling the grapes (when possible); and the same co-fermented percentage of wort (51%) and red wine grapes (49%) fermented with wild flora— “this is where we embrace the absolute soul of the vineyard,” Crooks said. The kicker: all grapes had to be grown within 100 miles of each brewery.

“The Terroir Project is all about blurring the genres of beer and wine to explore how ‘terroir’—or sense of place—drives what we taste,” said Jim Crooks, master blender at Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks.

Terroir Through Time

The years of 2018 and 2019 both saw stunning events set in Los Olivos, California where dozens of wine and beer producers gathered to share their results in an intimate setting. Terroir Project participants have included Arizona Wilderness (Gilbert, AZ); Barrelworks (Buellton, CA); Beavertown (London, England); Birrificio Del Ducato (Soragna, Italy); The Bruery (Placentia, CA); Garage Project (Wellington City, New Zealand); Jester King (Austin, TX); Side Project (St. Louis, MO); Sierra Nevada (Chico, CA); Trillium (Boston, MA); Wild Beer Co. (Somerset, England); and Wildflower (Marrickville, Australia). Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, CA), Alesong Brewing (Eugene, OR) and Crooked Stave (Denver, CO) have poured guest beers as well.

“The Terroir Project answers a very intriguing question: ‘What if we each brewed the same beer but allowed our natural local influences to predominate and see how our beers differ?’” Crooks said. We are continuing to uncover the results of collective experimentation.

Terroir Trois and Quatre

Behind the scenes, Jim has been hard at work on the 2020 Trois & 2021 Quatre releases for Barrelworks’ Terroir Project. The state of the world in 2020 allowed us to mature Terroir Trois for another year in barrel and release these two creations side by side. With only 100 cases of each produced and limited to members of the Brewmaster’s Collective beer club, these beers are extremely special.

Terroir Trois features a base beer composed of 49% Zinfandel grapes, picked 10 miles from the brewery at Santa Ynez Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA. After carbonic maceration and spending 18 months in French oak barrels with native flora from Santa Ynez Vineyard, Terroir Trois finishes at 11.3% alcohol by volume.

Terroir Quatre features a base beer composed of 49% Cinsault grapes, picked 10 miles from the brewery at Curtis Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. After carbonic maceration and spending 9 months in French oak barrels with native Flora from Curtis Vineyard, Terrior Quatre finishes at 9.3% alcohol by volume.

Carbonic Maceration

Barrelworks utilizes “Carbonic Maceration” for the Terroir Project, a winemaking technique suited particularly well for light- to medium-bodied red wines.

Most wine turns from grape juice into alcohol as yeast (either naturally present or added) consumes the fruit sugars. With carbonic maceration, the fermentation is caused not by yeast on the outside, but intracellularly – inside out.

With this method, intact bunches of grapes are sealed in a container that is purged of oxygen and filled with carbon dioxide. In this oxygen-free space, the grapes ferment from within through the process of enzymatic fermentation. Imagine a grape full of wine! During the process, the grapes burst, releasing both juice and alcohol. From here, yeast naturally found on the skins of the grapes helps finish fermentation. The result is beautiful grape varietal flavor and aroma with low levels of acidity and tannin.

Carbonic Maceration is another element that pushes The Terroir Project as an unprecedented exploration into how “terroir”—or sense of place—drives what we taste.

Terroir is Time and Place

In the spirit of continued exploration, all Terroir Project breweries are carrying on. While 2020 and 2021 did not allow us to gather to share results, each brewery is sharing still its creations. Keep your eyes out for fun beers from us and our peers and for word on future Terroir Project progress!

If you’re not a Brewmaster’s Collective member and missed out on this Terroir Project release, be sure to sign up for 2022 membership updates here. Barrelworks is a leader in making beer-wine hybrid beers, so if we’ve piqued your interest, be sure to stop in at our three California locations or browse our online store to find other beer-wine hybrids available for purchase.