As saws buzzed and hammers clanged in the cavernous upstairs space of the Borreo building last Friday, one of the masterminds behind the landmark building’s new incarnation was onsite, getting updated on its progress.
Around noon, Greg Koch, co-founder and executive chairman of Stone Brewing, was huddled with two members of his team over a table strewn with floor plans of the Stone brewery and restaurant that will soon occupy one of downtown Napa’s most historic edifices.
Referencing the floor plans, Koch offered a glimpse of the layout to come in what will be the company’s first Northern California footprint and its most recent stride amid a bout of rampant growth in recent years.
Upon entering on the first floor, patrons will be able to peer through a roll-up door with glass panels for a view of the brewery equipment and kegs. Farther inside, the yet-to-be-floored space will be dotted with tables and a niche where patrons can fill growlers and order beer and food. A forthcoming patio will face across the Napa River to downtown, while upstairs, an elevated view of downtown can be had through three of the six large windows specially cut into the west side of the building earlier this year.
Per a decidedly informal milieu, the restaurant aspect of the set-up will be carried out without a big-name chef, reservations or table service. To Koch, the concept reflects, in a way, the venue’s wine country setting.
“One of the things that I love about Napa is the combination of sophistication and informality,” he said.
Relaxed by design, the site’s sophistication enters “in the qualitative side of the equation.” A menu will be built on high-end ingredients from local purveyors, while on the beer side of things the site’s 10-barrel brewing house will lend special release beers and those made from experimental recipes. Company staples, like its Stone IPA, will be coming from Stone’s main brewery in San Diego.
Also on the drinks menu will be a single brand of locally produced wine, the idiosyncratic St. Mayhem, producers of a jalapeno-and-habanero-aged Lake County sauvignon blanc and a Napa Valley and Clarksburg chardonnay aged with peach and dried ginger root. To Koch, the allure is simple. “It’s a very craft beer approach to wine. A lot more of the ‘why not?’”
As the specifics continue to pan out and the new tenant melds its character with that of the Borreo building, an opening date for December is tentatively being aired.
But, Koch admits, “We’ll have some challenges to get there. It might be possible.”
For several years, Stone has persistently grown in reach and size, opening new breweries and market opportunities on the East Coast in Richmond, Virginia and in Europe via Berlin, while steadily increasing their production year after year. In 2015, the company brewed well over 325,000 barrels — more than 10 million gallons — almost doubling its production from 2012 and almost tripling its 2010 numbers.
And though by comparison the Borreo building’s 10-barrel system will churn out only a mere 1,500 barrels a year tops, the company’s presence alone serves as a massive harbinger of Napa’s growing status as a beer destination.
Once open, the outpost will make Stone the largest independently owned craft brewery with a presence in the North Bay. The company today is the ninth largest of such breweries in the country, surpassed in California only by Chico-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
But why Napa?
To Koch, the answer again is simple. “I love Napa. I can put a lot more words on that, but that’s basically it. It’s a cool building. I love Napa,” he said.
“It’s a way for us to connect to one of literally my favorite places on the planet.”
While seemingly out of step with the company’s strategic growth into new markets and its bolstering of production — although Napa’s tourism draw will no doubt be a boon for reaching new patrons — the site nonetheless fits the bill when it comes to Stone’s zeal for distinct locations.
“One of the things that being independent, remaining independent, allows us to do is it allows us to make impractical decisions,” Koch said. “I don’t think that can be actually understated.”
That impracticality has coursed through Stone’s growth, spurred in no small part by Koch, a self-proclaimed “historical building nut.”
In 2013, Stone opened its World Bistro and Gardens—Liberty Station site in San Diego, occupying a repurposed naval training center dating to the early 1920s. The following year, the company announced Richmond, Virginia as the site of its East Coast production brewery, which opened last year and will be joined in 2018 by an adjacent Bistro and Gardens set in a renovated 1930s building on the city’s riverfront. Stone’s Berlin location, which also opened last year, is housed in a 1901 historic gasworks building.
“It’s the overlay of the DNA of the property itself, meshed with the DNA of the city and the region, meshed with the DNA of Stone,” Koch mused.
Built in 1877, the freestanding Borreo building had been in Koch’s sights for years. A frequent visitor to Napa Valley, Koch said in the six years since it caught his eye, Stone had tried twice to work a deal on the property. “Third time’s a charm,” he said.
But despite being inherently impractical, Stone’s arrival in Napa and fusion to a downtown landmark seems to align clearly with a deeper preoccupation for the company and for Koch.
“It’s very important, because what we do at Stone is art,” Koch said. “If you look at it ... brewing is an art form. It’s capable of being an art form … So if we look at it as art, art is best when it’s a point of view. We’ve always tried to have a strong point of view because that’s representative of us and our taste with our beer.”
“If we’re going to bother to go through expensive and painful construction projects, because you’re in historic buildings and it’s just inherently difficult, then do something that’s special.”