Sutton Cellars Gives Vermouth A West Coast Spin

Sutton Cellars gives a European tradition a West Coast spin

Wine is often spoken of in terms of its terroir. So why not the same for a fortified one?

After almost three years of research, tinkering and tasting, the Sonoma Valley winemaker Carl Sutton has created Brown Label, a dry vermouth that diverges radically from the traditional bar staples.

He infuses his base white wine–Sutton won't divulge any more details–with 17 organic ingredients, using a solera system to achieve consistency. The vermouth is then bottled unfiltered, which gives the finished product a hazy appearance and an uncommon freshness. A whiff of the amber elixir is like inhaling a chamomile cloud with an orange-peel lining.

Sutton likes his vermouth best in his own creation, the "Sutton and Soda." Locally, bartenders have been quick to embrace Brown Label. It's kept on tap at The Alembic in the Haight, and at the Western Addition's Nopa, bar manager Neyah White has created various cocktails with Sutton's vermouth, like the breathtakingly simple 50/50, And Then Some (click here to download the recipe). It's also available for purchase at Bi-Rite Market, Cask and San Francisco Wine Trading Company.

White describes Brown Label as both balanced and rustic and says the "sense of place you get out of the botanicals really speak to where we are." Sounds a lot like terroir at work.