Co-owner, winemaker, and head brewer Elaine St. Clair and co-owner and president Laina Brown founded St. Clair Brown Winery in 2010 and the brewery in 2018. After decades of working for other companies, they asked themselves, “How do we want to spend the rest of our lives and career?” The result is downtown Napa’s combined organic culinary gardens, urban winery, and nano-brewery.
St. Clair graduated from U.C.-Davis’s fermentation science program in both winemaking and master brewing. In the 1990s, she was head brewer and co-owner of one of Napa’s original breweries, Napa Ale Works. She and Brown worked together for 18 years at Domaine Carneros and Black Stallion, where St. Clair made wine and Brown was director of hospitality and marketing (D.C.) and founding president (B.S.). Shortly thereafter, they created their plan for St. Clair Brown. From a deserted lot and a former machine shop, their dream came to fruition – a wine, food, and garden oasis amidst the industrialization of Vallejo Street. “For me, it was about creating a place where people could enjoy world class wine, beer, food, and music in an inspiring and inviting space,” said Brown.
St. Clair Brown is located in Napa’s Rail Arts District behind the Napa Valley Register newspaper building, whose mural, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door (2016),” provides a lovely backdrop to the winery’s organic culinary garden and tasting space, which opened in 2013. Across the street is the production space, where St. Clair, assisted by Brown’s son, Bren, makes around 1700 cases of wine and small batches of 120 gallons of beer annually.
St. Clair Brown produces small quantities of 10-12 wines per year that sell out quickly, such as their Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (170 cases), Sonoma County Rhône blend (90% grenache, 10% Syrah, 195 cases, Coombsville Estate Syrah (119 cases), and North Coast Muscat (97 cases of 375 ml bottles). Other wines in the portfolio include Brut Rosé, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Rosé of Syrah, and Zinfandel. The botanical-themed label designs reflect both characteristics of the wines and the marriage of the wines and gardens. In addition to the two estate Syrah vineyards in Coombsville (1.25 and 2.5 acres), she and Brown source fruit from the same growers and plots for quality and consistency. St. Clair’s approach to winemaking is traditional – the wines show balance and restraint – and are meant to accompany a variety of foods.
St. Clair Brown also offers small bites with citrus and savory flavors that pair well with all of the wines and beers, such as the roasted almonds, pickled romanesco, hummus made with chickpeas and roasted peanuts, and pork rillette and fig mostarda. Ingredients like apple, bay leaf, citrus fruit (leaves, peel, zest), fennel, fig, lavender, quince, romanesco, rosemary, and olive oil come from their gardens.
St. Clair and Brown are now where they want to be. “We wanted to do something urban; allowing us to bring all these elements into the accessibility of the city where we actually live. In a way, to kind of just selfishly create the place we ourselves always wanted,” said Brown. It turns out their “selfishness” is a gift to Napa’s wine, food, and beer scene. “We are real. We are local. This is how we live our life ‘unpackaged.’ St. Clair Brown is for our friends and neighbors.”
Photo Credit of Elaine St. Clair and Laina Brown – Cole Westerland, Brown’s son.
Elizabeth Smith is an award-winning writer by way of a detour through the Napa Valley and Sonoma County wine industries. Her day job is product copywriter at Naked Wines USA. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento Chapter, and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.
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