People will soon be able to go wine tasting for the first time at a Napa County winery that is off the beaten track on Howell Mountain east of St. Helena.
The Napa County Planning Commission last week approved allowing up to 16 people daily visit Black Sears winery. Although the county approved the 20,000-gallon-a-year winery in 1988, it originally allowed no visitation.
Reaching Black Sears means leaving the well-traveled routes of the Napa Valley and driving to a property with an elevation topping 2,000 feet at 2600 Summit Lake Drive north of Angwin. The winery is located in an old barn near oaks and in caves.
“It is unusually remote,” Planning Commissioner Terry Scott said. “I mean, literally it’s at the end of the road. It’s a long road.”
Scott said Black Sears is worth the trip.
“It’s a very interesting and scenic property that is representative, I think, in at least in my mind, of Old Napa,” he said. “I am pleased to see bringing this kind up to speed hospitality-wise. It’s just an excellent example of what we need more of in the Napa Valley.”
Joyce Black and Jerre Sears bought their Howell Mountain property in 1979, two years before they married there. Today, their daughter and son-in-law, Ashley and Chris Jambois, are part of the business.
The Planning Commission also gave after-the-fact approval to a Black Sears wine cave expansion. County records show the county in 1999 approved a 3,600-square-foot cave, but the cave ended up being 2,900-square-feet larger.
Commission Chairwoman Jeri Gill wanted to know how this came about. Jon Webb of New Albion Surveys responded on behalf of the winery.
“Essentially what happened to everyone’s recollection is, the cave drillers (worked), there were great soils, things went really well, (they) got to the end of 3,600 feet and essentially had nowhere else to go. Since they got done quickly, they continued on and drilled another 2,900 square feet,” Webb said.
Webb said Black Sears has no records of violations or red tags. The family went to the county in 2002 and won approval to install 20 outdoor storage tanks.
“Pretty small project. And for where they are, it would have been really easy just to put the tanks in … again, they’ve always tried to be above board with everything they do,” he said.
Commissioner Joelle Gallagher said she found the history of the cave construction a little concerning. But she thanked the applicants for bringing the caves into compliance with county rules.
Gill said the history of extra cave construction made sense.
“It was far preferable than stopping and starting a whole second phase of the project, which is something I was concerned about. Those concerns were alleviated,” she said.
The commission in general had nothing but praise for Black Sears.
“We are here to support small farmers and wineries and wine-makers,” Gill said.
Scott went further. He called Black Sears the “prototypical example” of what a small Napa County family winery should be like.