The St. Clair-Brown Wine and Beer Garden, evolving from idea dreamed up eight years ago by business partners and co-founders Elaine St. Clair and Laina Brown, comes to fruition with the grand opening on Feb. 11.
To lead up to the big event — and to set the mood — St. Clair and Brown are hosting a series of “speakeasy” nights, which began Friday, Jan. 19. Other speakeasy nights are scheduled from 9 p.m. to midnight on Feb. 16 and March 16.
“Although we call the series ‘speakeasies,’ they’re really not period events,” said Brown, president and co-owner of St. Clair-Brown. “But, you do need to know the secret password to get in. (This is) easy to find. Just click on the peace sign symbol on our website to find the passwords.”
This night-time series began four years ago when an Atlanta-based DJ discovered the St. Clair-Brown garden tasting room in downtown Napa and offered to provide music there.
“It was beautiful, almost tribal,” said Brown. “But one night it was pouring rain, so we had to move the event into the cellar. Everybody loved it!”
Since then, during winter, they’ve continued to transform their winery/brewery cellar, across the street from their tasting room, into a club setting with special lighting and seating. From 9 p.m. to midnight, guests can enjoy St. Clair-Brown wine and beer by the glass while listening to “the best DJs as they create great music that appeals to everybody,” Brown said. “Our speakeasy regulars are people of all ages.”
During July, August and September, they have a similar series with live music in the garden.
The grand opening
The Feb. 11 grand opening will the first official opening of the winery and brewery to the public, Brown said. “It will be a fun way to introduce people to our space, beer and wine. We will be able to let people know we’re here since we’re tucked back here in this light industrial area of Napa.”
Live music, $5-a-glass beers and wines by the glass will be part of the event. Additional food can be purchased from the food trucks that will be parked nearby.
Weather permitting, the event will be held in the garden, Brown said. But if it is raining, they’ll move across the street, to the speakeasy site.
St. Clair, beer-master/winemaker and co-owner of St. Clair-Brown, said, “The grand opening will also give people a way to experience our beers by the glass, to taste and enjoy them.” They will have three of their beers on tap that day.
Until recently, the St. Clair-Brown beers were available only in 750-ml, resealable, bottles, and only for beer club members, due to permit restrictions.
“Just for the grand opening, expect the unexpected, something unique and special,” St. Clair said. “Maybe it will be a few new beers or wines. But, I’m not going to say what it might be right now because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”
Discussing their libations, St. Clair said, “We’re organic and source locally produced ingredients, like the honey for our Honey Wheat Ale.”
Other St. Clair-Brown brews include Red Ale, Farmhouse Saison, Oatmeal Stout, Pilsner, Black IPA and more. All of their beers are made in small batches, using traditional brewing methods with a bit of their own style mixed in to create beers with layers of flavors. Their beers and wines are available only through direct sales from St. Clair-Brown.
Realizing the grand opening required considerable patience, dedication and commitment on the part of Brown and St. Clair.
“It took four years for all of the permit paperwork to be completed and approved by the federal government allowing us to be able to pour tasting of both wine and beer at one location,” Brown said. “It is very challenging to own and operate a company that produces two or more different alcoholic beverages. There are a lot of requirements and restrictions. Plus, you are regulated very closely.”
With all of the permits in place, the St. Clair-Brown Wine and Beer Garden has official approval to pour both libations. Beers are $8 per glass and a glass of St. Clair-Brown wine is $9 and up.
The production of the St. Clair-Brown beverages takes place in the unassuming winery and brewery building. The space is divided in half by large folding glass doors, which separate the winery and brewery. These spaces, designed to be as flexible and efficient as possible, can be easily transformed as needed — from crushing their Coombsville estate grapes to fermentation and aging to bottling. Within the brewery, Brown and St. Clair envision transforming part of this space into a larger tasting area with both beer and wine on tap. “It’s constantly evolving,” said Brown.
A concept for retirement
St. Clair-Brown winery and brewery, its garden tasting room and events are a reflection of Brown and St. Clair’s experiences in the industry, as well as thoughtful planning and friendship. Both women have been a part of the Napa Valley wine industry for about 30 years and have worked together for nearly 20 of those years. In 2010, they began collaborating on a concept for their retirement, or second careers.
St. Clair wanted to combine both of her professional joys: wine and beer making. She had been co-owner and beer-master of the former Napa Ale Works for 10 years until it closed in 1998.“I missed beer making,” she said. “Besides, Napa’s a beer town with its long and proud beer brewing history.”
Brown said, “I wanted to keep things small and manageable for us. But more importantly, (to) find a balance that keeps it interesting and enjoyable for both of us.”
St. Clair added, “We spent a year on deciding what we wanted because we will be spending the rest of our lives doing this!”
With their concept of a Wine and Beer Garden soon to be an official reality, St. Clair-Brown “invites everyone to come by and relax, enjoy the space, our wines, beers and menu of small plate foods, but most especially, each other,” said Brown.