Brasswood Cellars (formerly Cairdean Estate) is located just north of St. Helena (one mile north of the Culinary Institute) in what used to be the St. Helena Premium Outlet shopping center (clothing, art galleries, the old Shona sculpture gallery etc). Visitors, including us, who used to frequent these outlets (built in the 1970’s), will no longer recognize the property; the structures have been completely renovated, a 17,000 square foot cave has been drilled on site and the winery was completed by early 2015.
Incidentally, the amount of revisions we have made to this post and the physical trips to the property to photograph and update all the changes over the past few years has been significant. By mid 2017, almost everything seems to be settled in including their name change.
The winery was founded by husband wife team Edwin and Stacia Williams. Stacia first developed an interest in wine while working on the East Coast. She made her first wine in 2000 from Napa grapes that were shipped in to a local wine shop. Soon after she met Edwin who is from Fresno, California. The “wine bug” took hold; she and Edwin moved back to Fresno where Stacia enrolled at Fresno State and ultimately earned a degree in Enology & Viticulture.
This is a very unique Napa property. It is approximately 50 acres and straddles two sub appellations – Spring Mountain and St. Helena. While no grapes are currently planted commercially – they have up to 20 acres to develop in the future. The property also comes with a variety of valuable permits – one being the extremely rare Napa permit to allow weddings on site.
This “campus” if you will, has four tasting rooms – the main tasting room (where most walk-in visitors will taste wines), The Winemaker’s Den – appointment only room across from the main tasting room, one near the cave and one in the winery.
Brasswood focuses on their own wines but behind the scenes this has become one of the Napa Valley’s top wine communities. As a visitor to the property you won’t necessarily see this, but their cave winery is home to wine making greatness – some of Napa’s finest producers (who do not own wineries now make their wine here) – and it is common to see winemakers or people associated with the various brands produced here pulling into or out of the winery parking lot.
Along with their focus on wine – food is an integral part of the property. Brasswood Bar + Kitchen is a Gastro Pub – the large window behind the bar looks north towards the actual winery facility; you can watch harvest activities on the crush pad during September and October from your bar-stool seat! Their founding chef has Michelin three star experience; he joined them previously from The Restaurant at Meadowood, also located in St. Helena. The sizable commercial kitchen easily has enough space to accommodate both the restaurant and the cafe’s needs.
Brasswood Bar + Bakery is a small cafe and deli featuring fresh pastries, a number of creative soups and salads and other locally prepared cuisine – some of the items from the menu are prepared next door from their kitchen and brought over to the deli (our top choices for lunch here are their beet salad and some of the best fried chicken in Napa). Limited indoor seating is available as well as a larger outdoor seating under a shaded covering next to an outdoor fireplace and several trellised grapevines (their tiny demonstration vineyard). If the weather is just right – the doors to the cafe will be fully opened creating a nice vibe between both the indoor and outdoor space.
Also note that for usually more intimate dining, picnic tables are located on a wooded hillside behind the hospitality center and deli (near the rear parking lot).
A large wine cask was purchased from a winery in Sonoma County, cut in half and now forms the centerpiece in the courtyard. This is the ideal spot on site to hold weddings. A pizza oven and fire-pit are also located here as well as their eye-catching ‘ice’ water sculpture.
A very unique offering for the Napa Valley is their Sensory Room. Select wines made from specific varietals are displayed throughout the room next to glass coverings which contain a variety of fruits, plants, spices, earth/moss as well as finished artisan products. The smells contained within these offerings are supposed to roughly represent the aromas you might find in that particular wine. A tasting paired with artisan cheeses is offered here by appointment.
Drivers take note – a lounge is setup specifically for designated drivers and tour operators. The parking lot is huge – it dates from when there were multiple stores on site. Both bus and limo parking stalls have been added.
Shoppers looking for an International inventory of fine products take note of Redolent Mercantile. This small store offers a collection of hand selected products from around the globe – it is a unique shopping experience for this part of the Napa Valley. Both men and women’s fashion, home décor, artisan jewelry, culinary tools, fine textiles, ceramics, hand-blown glass, specialty cosmetics and even a few electronics are available.
An art curator has been hired and their art gallery opened at the end of 2015.
Associate winemaker Cody Stacey was an integral part of this project (he no longer works at Brasswood) since almost the beginning and along with Stacia, are the ones we met when we first toured the property. Oddly enough Cody is from Utah – not generally thought of as a state that produces winemakers. Initially he was pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Working the graveyard shift at an aerospace company in Utah made him realize that type of work was not what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing. He was making wine in his garage as a hobby. He changed his major to general science – finished his degree and then moved to California to study Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State. He met Stacia in one of his classes.
After graduating Fresno State, Cody moved to New Zealand and worked hands on in the wine industry there. After Stacia and Edwin purchased their St. Helena property in January 2011 they contacted Cody to discuss the possibility of he becoming their winemaker. Cody remembers plenty of initial Skype calls when plans were being discussed for the property. He played an integral part in the design of the winery and the cave design.
The cave features three tunnels of which the main tunnel is one of the largest single tunnels of any wine cave in Napa Valley – both in height and width (very tall ceiling). Unlike many wine caves that drill through nearly solid rock – this cave was drilled through rather soft sediment and alluvial soils. It remains a constant 59 degrees. A lot of thought went into its design; parts of the cave can be isolated for temperature control during fermentation as needed and the cave tour route for visitors was designed to avoid the often busy production facilities.
The winery was built next to the edge of the hillside. It contains a sizable tank room with large windows looking out onto the valley. Much of the roof is “living” – various plants and grasses grow on top. This rooftop garden is watered with water that is recycled from the winery building operations. The only other wineries in the Napa Valley that have the living roof that we are aware of are Quixote and Odette Estate.
The winery is as high tech as you can find in the valley – much of the operations can be controlled from an iPad remotely using specialized winery software created for winery operations. Things like controlling tank temperature, water use, pump-overs and automating certain processes like pressing can be controlled off site if needed.
Their grapes are sourced from two estate-owned vineyards – one in the Russian River Valley of neighboring Sonoma County and the other in Coombsville in Southern Napa. They produce quite a few different wines and varietals with a focus on wines that are meant to age, have good acidity and are meant to be paired with foods.
Highlights of a recent tasting include the 2012 Napa Valley Haley Margaret. Stacia lost her cousin to cystic fibrosis and this wine is made in her honor every year (with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation). This wine is a blend of Pinot Gris, Rousanne, and Viogner – each varietal brings a certain component to the wine. The viognier provides lovely aromatics that are somewhat floral in nature – along with orange blossom. The Rousanne brings a wonderful creamy and rounded mouth-feel to the palate.
The 2011 Carneros Pinot Noir shows an earthy component to the bouquet along with notes of white pepper. The palate is flavorful including notes of raspberry. The tannins are extremely well integrated for a young wine – they are dusty and linger for some time on the back of the palate.
The 2010 Merlot and subsequent vintages were sourced from the Truchard Vineyard in Coombsville; the Truchard’s are long time growers producing much sought after fruit. Cairdean gets to source several rows of this varietal each year – these grapes have great natural acidity so no adjustments need to be made during the wine making. The alcohol is nearly 15% but doesn’t feel like it – the fruit is more red berry than dark but it is big fruit with plenty of flavor. Big dusty tannins linger for some time.
The 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet was sourced from vineyards in Atlas Peak and Calistoga. It is a Bordeaux style blend; the nose shows some dustiness along with just an herbal hint. Big ripe black fruit shows on the palate – cocoa, hints of cedar linger with robust wood and fruit tannins filling the mouth and anchoring a long finish.
The 2012 Leannan Suisun Valley Riesling is a sweet wine – but not overly sweet. The residual sugar hits your palate on the front and then drops off mid palate to the finish. This is a lighter style wine with great floral aromatics even when served cold.
Looking to incorporate an aspect of wine that they value most – the bonds of friendship that are formed over wine – they chose the name “Cairdean” for the original name of the winery – which in Scottish Gaelic means friends. They changed their name to Brasswood Cellars in 2016. Visit: www.brasswood.com
Tasting Rooms (Main, Winemaker’s Den & Upper)
Brasswood Bar + Bakery
Brasswood Bar + Kitchen