A boutique urban winery, nano-brewery, and culinary garden.
St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery is one of downtown Napa’s best kept secrets. It’s tucked away across the railroad tracks behind the Napa Valley Register building in the Rail Arts District (RAD) and features a mesmerizing mural “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by artists Natalia Rak and Bezt.
Hidden in plain sight, with its small unassuming signage, St. Clair Brown’s name honors co-owners Elaine St. Clair (winemaker and master brewer) and Laina Brown (president).
It bills itself as an urban winery and brewery based on its location in the city limits of Napa. Esthetically, nothing could be farther than the truth. The tasting space (weather permitting), which opened in 2013, is an organic culinary garden with tables and chairs. There’s also a greenhouse that serves as the base for the hospitality team.
Upon entering the greenhouse, one is greeted by a member of the hospitality team. Guests are seated at one of the tables in the garden to enjoy tasting flights, glasses, or bottles of wine, beer, and non-alcoholic sodas.
These are accompanied by shareable food dishes with organic ingredients grown in the garden or locally sourced.
St. Clair makes limited quantities of 10 to 12 wines annually, all of which sell out quickly. Her winemaking approach is to craft wines that show balance and restraint and are meant to pair with a variety of foods.
A few must-try wines are her Meigs Vineyard (Wooden Valley), Sauvignon Blanc, a proprietary White Blend, Simpatico Vineyard (Bennett Valley) Chardonnay, Luchsinger Vineyard (North Coast) Muscat, Estate (Coombsville) Syrah, a proprietary Napa Valley Red Blend, and a Ferrogiaro Vineyard (Coombsville) Cabernet Sauvignon.
The labels are botanically-themed to reflect the wines’ characteristics and the garden. A tasting flight includes four wines.
Initially, St. Clair Brown was only a winery, it added the nano-brewery later. With the assistance of Bren Westerland, Brown’s son, St. Clair makes tiny batches of beer seasonally, like Kölsch-style, red, and brown ales.
Her beer-making philosophy is like that of her winemaking: create traditional-style beers that pair with many foods. A tasting flight includes three beers, or one may choose a flight of two wines and two beers.
St. Clair Brown also offers Zero Proof Garden Sodas – switchel-based, natural electrolyte drinks made from raw vinegar, ginger, lemon, raw honey – to which Brown adds organic fruit, herbs, and produce from the garden. According to Brown, Switchel, also known as Haymaker’s Punch, originated in the Caribbean and was brought to America in the 1600s to nourish farm workers.
“I worked with two herbalists for over five years to develop the Garden Sodas,” said Brown. “They’re high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes – and are extremely popular with our guests.” The tasting flight is a lineup of three.
Insider secret – St. Clair Brown also makes amazing lavender bergamot lemonade and peach ginger iced tea.
To accompany the beverage program, Brown created foods to pair with the wine, beer, and sodas.
The current menu includes irresistible dishes like fig olive tapenade, hummus made with chickpeas and peanuts (in lieu of sesame seeds), pork rillette and housemade pickles, lavender citrus panna cotta, and citrus pistachio chocolate bark.
“The approach is to have a balance of fruit and savory, sweet and tart. I find that this flavor balance, which compliments the balance that Elaine strives for in our wines and beers, makes all our dishes pair perfectly,” shared Brown.
Elaine St. Clair graduated from U.C. Davis’s fermentation science program in both winemaking and master brewing – the first woman to do so. Early in her career, she co-founded one of Napa’s original breweries, Napa Ale Works, and served as its master brewer.
Later she would meet Laina Brown – an industry leader in marketing and sales, and the two would find themselves working at the same wineries for nearly two decades, first at Domaine Carneros, then at Black Stallion Winery, where Brown was the founding president.
When Black Stallion was sold, the two asked themselves how they envisioned their lives and careers going forward. They decided to work for themselves, founding St. Clair Brown Winery in 2010, then the brewery in 2018.
At an unlikely location on the corner Vallejo Street and Action Avenue – once a deserted lot and a machine shop – they created this dream for themselves, the local community, and visitors to Napa Valley.
“Coming together over wine or beer is such a communal experience,” said Brown. “St. Clair Brown is meant to be a comfortable and inviting place where people enjoy world-class wine, beer, and food. Our experiences here reflect what we wish was out there for ourselves.”