St Clair Brown Winery opened an urban winery and tasting room in the city of Napa in 2012. But with a twist. This little oasis is surrounded by various auto body shops and other industrial type businesses. We counted some 5 auto-body shops seen from their gardens. This is not your typical urban standalone tasting room. Farm to table is a much-practiced concept in Napa Valley but is not always able to be put into practice in an urban environment.
Despite being on the fringes of downtown Napa, the winery has plenty of space to work with – across the street are raised beds, a patio for tastings and a former greenhouse for rainy day tastings. Wine tastings are paired with seasonal dishes – much of which is grown on site in raised beds. Local gardener Peter Jacobsen, works with a number of premium restaurants in the valley, including managing the gardens for the French Laundry in Yountville. He was brought on to consult for their raised beds – helping decide what vegetables to plant seasonally as well as which fruit trees to grow on site.
During spring and summer (weather permitting), tastings are held outside in their small patio or on tables or benches strategically located among their vegetable beds. It is a nice feeling here – knowing you are in a somewhat industrial part of town, but this little cocoon of greenery offers you a respite from the surrounding urban environment. Often staff can show you what is ripe and point out a number of various fruits, citrus and vegetables.
The winery is a partnership between Elaine St. Clair and Laina Brown. Elaine has a long history making wine in the valley. She and her family immigrated to the United States from England when she was 12. Her father was an engineer with a job that required moving locations often. Eventually she moved to Davis to attend UC Davis. She was initially attracted to this school because of their strong Environmental programs and her own love of food – but as fate would have it, she ultimately became fascinated by wine and graduated with a degree in Fermentation Science.
Elaine has been making wine in Napa Valley since 1986 including both sparkling and still wines. She spent a number of years working at two of Napa’s best known “sparkling” houses – Domain Chandon and Domain Carneros. She developed the Pinot Noir program at Domain Carneros. Later she consulted for Black Stallion and became their winemaker. Over the years she has been awarded numerous medals and impressive ratings from both the Wine Enthusiast and the Wine Spectator for her wines.
Laina met Elaine at Domaine Carneros; both were also at Black Stallion (Laina was their founding president) and when Black Stallion Winery sold, they decided to branch out and form this winery partnership, drawing from a combined many years of experience in the industry working for others. Often either Laina (or her son Cole) or Elaine will be on site helping serve customers in addition to several employees.
Half of their available production space is bonded for a winery and the other half for beer. Elaine is no stranger to making beer; she was the co-owner of Napa Ale Works for 10 years. With Napa Valley known for wine worldwide – locally crafted beer is a fairly rare occurrence; we have never met someone who came to Napa Valley solely for experiencing its beer! For groups who visit to taste wine, invariably someone in the group prefers beer. They currently sell and taste beer brewed on site (3 beers available on tap at any one time – with a selection that rotates weekly) and like their wine club, they also offer a beer club.
The brewery is small, they call it a ‘nano-brewery’ with only 2-barrels that can handle 60 gallons total during each production. Each beer is bottled by hand in 750mL Champagne bottles. And twice a year the brewery is open for the appointment only Beer Boot Camp in which attendees learn how to brew beer with Elaine, enjoy a lunch and beer tastings throughout the day.
The food menu is creative; little petunia flowers indicate any items used from their own gardens. Their wine tasting informational sheets include tasty recipes with mouthwatering pictures on the back – chosen specifically to pair with a particular St. Clair Brown wine. Other products are sourced locally and are from vendors they know personally. To whet the appetite, we recently enjoyed a Duck Confit Salad, Chickpea-peanut and Meyer Lemon Hummus and finished with a delicious Strawberry and Shortbread desert. Wines can be ordered by any size you desire from 1/2 glass to a glass, to 1/2 bottle, to bottle to case. And several nonalcoholic drinks are available including garden sodas as is a flight called Zero Proof.
The winery sources grapes from a number of premium independently owned vineyards from Carneros to Calistoga. None of their productions for each wine are large and in fact no wine made here is over 300 cases. Elaine has access to some of the valley’s premium vineyards using her relationships built over the years. Knowing the vineyard sources, the vineyard managers and their style and having worked with them for a number of years gives her the confidence that the fruit she is working with is of the highest quality.
Elaine has always enjoyed the benefits that blending brings to the “bottle” and incorporates this philosophy into her wine program.
The first vintage from St Clair Brown was a 2005 Syrah from Elaine’s tiny 1-acre vineyard in Coombsville. She makes this wine each year (in a good year its production is about 200 cases). Since this first vintage, St Clair Brown has increased their wine portfolio (all still small production bottlings) with fruit sourced from both Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County. All their corks are printed with the following line, “hasten never…savor always”.
The 2021 St Clair Brown Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley was sourced from Meigs Vineyard in Wooden Valley and was fermented in stainless steel. This wine is medium gold in color; the bouquet offers aromas of honeycomb, honeysuckle, lemon zest, guava and citrus blossom. Give this wine time to evolve in the glass; it will continue to develop, opening to additional aromas which are tropical including pineapple, lychee, passion fruit and sugar mango. The palate features a light creaminess of texture from start to finish with flavors of mandarin, peach and pineapple. It is very well balanced. This is not a green nor grassy bottling; it features plenty of Napa Valley sunshine.
The 2021 St Clair Brown White Blend, Napa Valley is a unique blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc from Wooden Valley, 25% Chardonnay from Coombsville, 7% Chenin Blanc and 3% Viognier – both sourced from the Oak Knoll District. This wine is deep straw in color; the bouquet is immediately inviting with aromas of honeysuckle, lemon meringue, citrus blossom, Golden Delicious apple and lemongrass rubbed between fingers (a smell we are intimately familiar with as we have been growing this for years and is a smell that can also exhibit a slight sweetness). Richly flavored, but balanced and with bright acidity, the palate offers flavors of red apple, ripe pear and citrus with subtle notes of ginger and caramel on the finish. Rather than a traditional front label, this wine is simply bottled with a small paper tag tied to a string bound around the neck of the bottle. It was fermented and aged without any influence of oak (unoaked).
The 2020 St Clair Brown Merlot, Coombsville Napa Valley Andre Vineyard is medium ruby in color; offers plenty of aromatic punch and intrigue including of dried rose petal, violets and fresh fruits picked at the peak of perfection, but not overripe (raspberry, plum and blackberry). The bouquet also shows some non-fruit aromatics including dried herbs, lavender and some sweeter dessert spices. This is a fun wine to smell. This wine is seamless across the palate without any harsh edges; the tannins are highly supple, finely grained and well-integrated into a wine that is less than 2 years old at the time of our tasting. Lingers with brightness and flavors of red berries. The grapes for this wine were initially cold soaked before fermentation, then fermented in one ton plastic t-bins and aged for 15 months in French oak barrels of which 30% were new. The label is worth noting; it is a beautiful image of a blooming lotus flower.
Sryah is arguably the flagship wine for St. Clair Brown. The 2020 Estate Syrah Coombsville, Napa Valley was sourced from Shearer Estate, a site owned by Elaine’s parents. This wine is deep purple in color and noticeably opaque. The bouquet sports intense fruit driven aromas of blackberry, blackberry jam, dark plum and dark cherry. It also features sweet baking spices along with chocolate, mocha and toasted cedar. It is opulent, rich and juicy across the plate with loads of long-lasting flavor. This wine lingers with both oak and grape tannins, neither of which are overly gripping. This Syrah was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, of which 33% were new.
The 2007 St Clair Brown Syrah features an intriguing and complex nose with notes of green olive, black pepper and other dark spices initially showing; over time as the wine breathes the fruit comes forward with sweet aromas of cherry as well as cassis. On the palate, the wine is rich in flavor, yet balanced with mouthwatering acidity and tannins that are rather fine grained.
The 2010 St Clair Brown Zinfandel is sourced from Wooden Valley in eastern Napa County. The nose shows a pleasing gravelly or dusty component; the wine is dark in the glass with some plum characteristics on the palate. The flavors hint of jam including blackberry along with black currant. The tannins are well-integrated into the finish. The focus on this wine is clearly the variety rather than showcasing oak aging. The wine has a depth and richness of flavor often typical of Zinfandel but without being overly “ripe”. They continue to produce Zinfandel every year, although not necessarily from this specific vineyard.
The 2010 St Clair Brown Muscat is sourced from Calistoga. The bouquet is very floral – think springtime with honeysuckle, jasmine and citrus blossoms. It is rich in flavor and sweetness on the palate but not overly viscous. It has a clean finish packed with plenty of flavor which lingers for some time. The residual sugar is 10% and the alcohol is 8.5%. This is a wine they produce every year.
Guests staying at the River Terrace Inn, or the Westin Verasa hotel are within easy walking distance of the winery. Further, yet still well within walking distance, is the Oxbow Public Market and downtown Napa. The wine train is a close neighbor, and it passes directly behind their outdoor garden. This section of the city of Napa is known as the Rail Arts District.
Guests are a nice mix of long-time locals as well as visitors to the valley. The space can get busy Friday and Saturday late afternoons. Select days in the summer feature their Garden Music Series (local musicians perform on site with no charge for guests). When it’s cold outside but the sun is shining, the inside of the greenhouse with its limited seating is an ideal place to hang out for a while. When it’s warm outside, the inside of the greenhouse can be quite hot.
For more information or to join their wine or beer club, visit: www.stclairbrownwinery.com
Greenhouse + Gardens
Our Brown Ale is on tap till it's gone!
Dark malts, buckwheat, oats, and rye in the mash contribute a hearty nuttiness and spice: toffee, hazelnut, baked apple, and subtle pumpernickel. Only 60 gallons made.
video: Justin M. G. Mendez
music: Fritz Montana
Posted by St Clair Brown Winery & Brewery on Wednesday, April 18, 2018