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A Platypus Tour Guide Shares Hidden Treasures of the Napa Valley

Posted on December 18, 2013

This Week: St. Clair Brown Winery!

I will share an ancient story to start describing St. Clair Brown Winery: A man was walking on a journey, and was joined by another traveler. The first man gradually told his companion that he was carrying some riches of gold coins. The two travelers went to an inn and shared a room for the night. While the man who possessed the gold coins departed the room and walked downstairs to dinner first, the companion ransacked the room, searching frantically to locate and steal the gold coins. However, he found nothing. The same scenario repeated itself during the next two nights at various inns where the two travelers stayed along their journey. Finally, the two travelers were parting ways and the companion of the first traveler stated: “We are now parting ways and I have a confession to make: I am a thief who learned about your gold coins, and every night in the various inns when you departed for dinner, I searched each room for your gold coins to steal them. Tell me – where did you hide the gold coins?” The first traveler said, “I knew you were a thief, so I hid the coins under your own pillow, knowing you would never think to search there.”

Okay fellow wine lovers, what is the moral of the story here? You may think the great wines are in some beautiful vineyard in the Napa Valley, but one of the greatest has the most humble location right in the city of Napa, in an industrial warehouse, and features no vineyards whatsoever! Welcome to St. Clair Brown, 1601 Action Avenue, Napa, alongside the Wine Train tracks, near the intersection of Soscol and Vallejo Streets.

A view of the winery's garden, with the main building in the background
A view of the winery’s garden, with the main building in the background

St. Clair Brown is a new winery that just opened five months ago, and is co-owned by winemaker Elaine St. Clair and Laina Brown, two long-time wine industry veterans. Elaine St. Clair has an amazing resume of 30 years of winemaking of both still and sparkling wines, and a decade as a brewmaster of craft beers. She was head winemaker for Black Stallion Winery, and was an associate winemaker at Domaine Chandon and Domaine Carneros. She also owned Napa Aleworks for a decade, where she was the brewmaster. Laina Brown was the CEO and founding president of Black Stallion Winery, and former Director of Marketing for Domaine Carneros.

View of the kitchen from the outside
View of the kitchen from the outside

The two owners enjoyed fifteen years of working together, both at Domaine Carneros and Black Stallion. However, they both tired of the large corporate winery experience, and wanted to create something new and unique. Their vision for St. Clair Brown Winery is the most creative one Napa has seen in a long time, and you are now getting informed during the early stages. They have built a greenhouse, kitchen, and raised beds for organic vegetable gardens alongside tables, umbrellas and chairs. On the other side of the street, phase two of their project is underway: A winery, craft brewery, and 60 seat restaurant. The wine and small bites of food are available now, while the brewery and restaurant may not be ready for another year or more.

Some of the wonderful wine offerings by St. Clair Brown
Some of the wonderful wine offerings by St. Clair Brown

Now to the real heart of the matter…the wine! St. Clair Brown makes nine wines, all in microscopic allotments of 200 total cases per year for each varietal…or roughly eight barrels of wine per varietal. The wine is absolutely stunning! One of my favorites is the 2007 Syrah, which is the third release from Elaine St. Clair’s one acre estate in the Coombsville appellation of south eastern Napa Valley. Coombsville is Napa’s newest appellation, and is known for its cool temperatures and unique volcanic soil.

Regarding the winemaking style for her Syrah, Elaine St. Clair said that “With the Syrah, I pull from my background making Pinot Noir. The must is de-stemmed and cold soaked for four days and then fermented using Bergundian yeast. The wine is aged in a combination of my favorite Bergundian barrels that impart the subtle spice characteristics that best compliment the complex Syrah fruit.” When I taste this Syrah, I get aromas of currents, cherry, lavender and plum, with the palate receiving full flavors, bright acidity, balanced structure, and a long finish.

View of the winery's interior
View of the winery’s interior

Another of my favorite St. Clair Brown wines is the 2010 Rosé of Syrah, which is made in a highly unusual way. Elaine St. Clair states that “I find that the standard process of siphoning juice from a red fermentation to create rosé can produce wines that are astringent and lack elegance. I make our Syrah Rosé similar to how we make our Chardonnay; I gently press the whole clusters using a white wine press until the color and depth of flavor I am looking for is achieved. The juice is then fermented in stainless steel at a cool temperature to preserve the delicate flavors. The finished wine is well-balanced and bursting with fruit.” I can truly say this wine is the most remarkable rosé of my life thus far, and it redefines the whole rosé experience. This is a truly serious rosé, far from the typical summer “patio pounder!”

The kitchen
The kitchen

The remainder of the St. Clair Brown wine lineup contains a Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, the best Napa Zinfandel I have ever tried, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Muscat sweet wine. I could go way too long talking about all these wines, but now maybe I have piqued your curiosity to stop by St. Clair Brown and give them a try yourself! After you arrive at the winery, peruse the food tasting menu, and make sure you sample several small gourmet food bites along with your wine tasting experience. Some favorites of mine are the Citrus Roasted Almonds, Cheese Selections and Hummus.

I can’t finish without talking about how NICE the people are at St. Clair Brown! When you visit, you will probably have a chance to meet either the winemaker or co-owner of the winery (or both!) The owners have created a wonderful, relaxing atmosphere, with great wine and food, and are open daily from 11:00 am – 8:00 pm.

Written by tour guide Steve Hunter

Next Week: Tedeschi Winery!