After working together more than 10 years at two different wineries, veteran winemaker Elaine St. Clair and winery executive Laina Brown have joined forces to open an “urban winery” near downtown Napa, according to a news release.
St. Clair and Brown are not new to developing wineries. As founding president of Black Stallion Winery on Silverado Trail, Brown developed the initial business model, managed the completion of construction and launched the winery for its opening in 2007.
Prior to that, she was director of marketing and hospitality for Domaine Carneros Winery, where she met St. Clair. At Domaine Carneros, Brown designed and opened two tasting rooms, started the private dining program and designed and launched the winery’s website and e-commerce business.
St. Clair joined Domaine Carneros in 1998 to help develop the winery’s pinot noir program and was involved in the planning and construction of the new pinot noir facility built in 2004. St. Clair went on to join Brown as winemaker at Black Stallion Winery in 2008, where she developed the winemaking program and the new cellar for the fledgling winery. But when it came to starting their own project, St. Clair and Brown wanted to do something unique, according to the news release.
“Most of our team lives in the city of Napa, and the majority of us are within 15 minutes of downtown. In creating this project, we wanted to bring everything that we love about the Napa Valley into the city where, as locals, we have access to it on a daily basis,” said president and co-founder Brown.
They approached the Redevelopment Agency and Planning Department in Napa about opening a full production winery in the city. The pair worked closely with the city for more than a year to work out the logistics of operating a production facility in city limits and to find a property with appropriate zoning. The project required four use permits to cover everything that St. Clair and Brown planned for the site. It went to a public hearing in June 2011 and won unanimous approval on all four use permits by the Planning Commission.
St. Clair Brown Winery brings together “a harmonious blend of hand-crafted small lot wines, micro-brew beer, world-class culinary gardens and a garden-to-table experience that rivals anything in the Valley,” according to the release. It will all come together in the winery’s 60-seat eatery, scheduled to open next year, and in the glass-paned greenhouse tasting room that just opened.
“We wanted to create an inspiring space; one that reflects the way we live in the valley. There’s nothing better than sitting around a table with friends for hours on end, eating great food and sharing great wine,” said Brown.
The greenhouse tasting room also offers a small food menu created around the fresh produce of the garden.
“Where else could you be in the middle of the city sitting on the terrace of a greenhouse surrounded by raised beds and espaliered fruit trees, eating fresh-picked food and drinking hand-crafted wine that was made 100 feet away?” added Brown.
St. Clair Brown Winery is on Vallejo Street across Soscol Avenue from Cuvee restaurant and the Westin Verasa; a few blocks farther is the Oxbow Public Market. The winery building, which will also feature the micro-brewery and eatery, used to be TEM Machine Shop.
St. Clair Brown’s culinary gardens sit across the street from the winery. The 4,500-square-foot garden will include 58 fruit trees and 18 raised beds surrounded by 6-foot-tall espalier trellised fruit trees.
Local architect James Jeffery of James Jeffery Architects AIA, who designed the recent remodel of Hotel Yountville, was the architect for the project. The owners worked with Jeffery to convert a classic, English-style greenhouse into the small tasting room in the garden. The glass-paned structure is easily visible from Soscol Avenue.
For the winery building, St. Clair and Brown said they wanted to capture the industrial nature of the buildings in San Francisco.
“The design for the winery building will include two-story windows along the south and partial east elevations to allow more natural light into the restaurant and brewery areas. Stucco and steel finishes will give the building a contemporary industrial design, appropriate for its urban setting,” said Jeffery.
St. Clair brings her signature elegant winemaking style to the brand, which she developed from years of working with sparkling wine and pinot noir. Each wine is approached differently based on what will best support the unique character of the vineyard lot, according to the news release.
The St. Clair Brown Winery portfolio includes nine wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Rose of Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and a sweet Muscat. The winery makes less than 200 cases of each wine. All of the wines are hand-crafted from small, independently farmed vineyards across the Napa Valley.
“We currently work with about 15 different growers, which is a lot for a program as small as ours,” said winemaker and co-founder St. Clair.
The relationships that St. Clair has developed over her 28 years in the industry allow the winery to obtain grapes from some of the top vineyards in the valley, according to the news release.
“Working with vineyards across the Napa Valley gives us the ability to select the best vineyards for each varietal. At times we work with vineyard lots as small as two choice rows,” said St. Clair.
“Some of the techniques that we use might seem completely impractical for what we charge for our wine, but we decided from the start that we will not make a wine if we cannot make it the best way we know how. That’s what inspires me,” she said.
The wine menu features half-glass, full glass, half-bottle and table bottle options. The half-glass pours allow guests to try a different wine with each course or essentially create their own tasting.
Executive chef Norma Whitt was most recently at the Bardessono Hotel in Yountville, where she developed an affinity for cooking from on-site gardens.
“We were astounded by the delicate and distinct layers of flavor that chef Whitt achieved in her cooking, and how similar that was to the style of our wines,” Brown said. “The food and wine paired naturally from day one.”
The eatery menu will feature a California cuisine that will change daily, and seasonally, based on what is fresh in the garden. The greenhouse will also feature a small food menu with a selection of appetizers, small plates and salads such as grain salad with farro and red quinoa, rose pickled radish, mustard greens, Sylvetta arugula, pinot grigio soaked white raisins and a carrot ginger vinaigrette.
Organic culinary gardener Peter Jacobsen, of Jacobsen Orchards in Yountville, who grows for several top Michelin-starred restaurants in the valley including the French Laundry, was brought in to ensure that the gardens had the healthiest start possible. Jacobsen worked with St. Clair, who designed the garden, and Whitt on the selection of the fruit trees and vegetable varieties best suited for the growing site and for the menu requirements of Whitt.
“It's been a huge learning process and also satisfying to be able to start the produce from seed. Watching it grow every day and envisioning how we're going to use it has been very exciting,” said Whitt.
“Working with the talent of the team at St. Clair Brown has been amazing,” she added. “Everyone has the same vision of wanting the best, not only in the wine, food and guest experience, but in each other as a team.”