Like many before him, Thomas Brown first discovered Aston Martin on the silver screen, in the form of the iconic DB5 of James Bond fame. But growing up in South Carolina, they were a rare sight on the southern US state’s roads. “And Dad was a muscle car guy,” says the lauded Napa Valley winemaker, so old Corvettes and Mustangs were the norm, rather than the sleek motors suitable for a spy.
Developing a passion for wine — and cars — while at the University of Virginia, Brown took himself off to Napa Valley in 1996 and landed a job at Turley Wine Cellars. The inexperienced student was a natural — today he is one of Napa Valley’s premier winemakers, overseeing some 40,000 cases a year and consistently achieving perfect 100-point scores for his creations.
As his career took off, Brown found himself drawn back into the Aston Martin brand after taking a test drive in a new 2007 V8 Vantage at a Californian dealership. “It was the nicest car I had ever been in up to that point,” Brown says. “I thought it was a piece of art.” It took all of 20 minutes for him to be sold.
The Vantage fit Brown’s understated, refined taste perfectly — it also became the focal point of a subsequent wine-selling trip that he admits was an excuse to get the car “out on the freeway”.
Brown’s passion for the marque was further fuelled by longtime friend and winemaking client Fred Schrader, who collects and races Aston Martins. The two share a 25-year working relationship — indeed, with Brown employed as winemaker at Schrader Cellars, they achieved the only two perfect 100-point scores that Wine Spectator has ever given a US wine producer, for the 2007 Schrader CCS and Schrader Old Sparky Cabernet Sauvignons.
A year after Brown bought the V8 Vantage, the duo went to the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance with Schrader’s 2005 Aston Martin Vanquish S, previously owned by actor Eddie Murphy. “Thomas saw that car and loved it,” Schrader says.
However, following the Concours, Brown settled on a DB9 as the next stage in his Aston Martin journey. His salesperson ended up finding a very special edition, which had been badged for and displayed at the New York Auto Show in April 2009, finished in Brown’s specific colour request of Hammerhead Silver with Sahara Tan interior. The car was on a dock in Georgia ready to be shipped back to the UK; instead, it was sent to California where Brown took delivery.
Eleven years later, he still has that DB9. “It’s tuned super tight and very responsive,” he says. “It’s built like a race car and a blast on the open road.”
In total, four Aston Martins have joined Brown’s stable of iconic cars over the years. He finds the marque somewhat irresistible — after winning a week with the then-new Aston Martin Rapide at a Napa Valley wine auction, he ended up grabbing the car as soon as it became available from the demo pool.
“I wanted something with performance and looks, but with more daily driver-comfort level,” Brown recalls. “Also, Aston Martin hadn’t done a four-door before and I thought I might put my kids in there. They got sick in the backseat, so that ended up being a bad idea,” he laughs.
The V8 Vantage was the nicest car I had ever been in. I thought it was a piece of art.
His latest addition is a new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, delivered in August 2019 in his preferred combination of silver exterior and a mixed black and tan interior. “I’ve never had a ‘supercar’ and I was trying to figure out what that might look like,” he says. “Something like the Valkyrie was more a piece of art to me rather than a driver, so I had narrowed down my choice to the DBS.”
To say Brown is happy with his decision is an understatement. “This is the most magnificent supercar I can imagine owning,” Schrader recalls Brown saying to him.
“I’ve taken it on a couple of road trips to stretch it out a bit, but I haven’t even used it to its full potential,” Brown admits. “It might not have been built to be a daily driver, but you’re not giving anything up driving it around every day.”
As for what’s next, both cars and career continue to keep him busy. He’s set to open his “biggest and most significant” project — he has been producing under the Rivers-Marie name with his wife, Genevieve, since 2002, but a new home in Calistoga will welcome visitors and offer hospitality that Brown expects will give the winery “quite a boost in profile”. He also has his eye on an Aston Martin DBX as a potential replacement to his current daily driver, another nod to a passion fuelled by elegance and refinement.
“Both wine and cars have this incredible blend of practicality and luxury,” Brown says. “Both are incredibly useful while being an indulgence and are priced in the same way. Both say something about the company you want to keep and the loyalty wine and cars can build.”